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A Look Back At the World's First Netbook

Soulskill posted more than 5 years ago | from the paperweight-before-its-time dept.

Portables 143

Not-A-Microsoft-Fan writes with this excerpt from The Coffee Desk: "Netbooks are making huge waves within the hardware and software industries today, but not many would believe that the whole Netbook craze actually started back around 1996 with the Toshiba Libretto 70CT. Termed technically as a subnotebook because of its small dimensions, the computer is the first that fits all of the qualifications of being what we would term a netbook today, due in part to its built-in Infrared and PCMCIA hardware, and its (albeit early) web browsing software. The hardware includes the two (potentially) wireless PCMCIA and infrared network connections, Windows 95 OSR 2 with Internet Explorer 2.0, a whole 16MB of RAM and a 120Mhz Intel Pentium processor (we're flying now!)."

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Not the first netbook... (5, Insightful)

AdamInParadise (257888) | more than 5 years ago | (#27896089)

... since it was expensive as hell. Small notebooks have existed for a long time. The novelty of the Asus EEEPC was that it was cheap (and flimsy): it demonstrated that there was an untapped market for this kind of computers.

Re:Not the first netbook... (5, Insightful)

smoatigah (1520351) | more than 5 years ago | (#27896151)

Completely. We always have had subnotebooks, ever since they could make parts small enough. The big thing which made netbooks popular was the fact that you could pick one up for a couple hundred bucks and not worry about throwing it in your bag. Totally useless article if you ask me.

Re:Not the first netbook... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27896395)

That's not the point - most computers were more expensive back then than they are now, so comparatively it is around the same price as a modern netbook if you do price conversions.

Re:Not the first netbook... (5, Insightful)

MrNaz (730548) | more than 5 years ago | (#27896741)

Aah the old media statistics game. It goes a little something like this:

1. Decide what conclusion you want to arrive at.
2. Find a few random facts.
3. Redefine your assumptions so the facts suit your previously decided upon conclusion.

Given a population willing to swallow this BS, why should the modern media concern itself with trivialities like truth and objectivity?

Re:Not the first netbook... (1)

timeOday (582209) | more than 5 years ago | (#27898617)

"Truth and objectivity" is awfully high-minded for a subclass of notebooks that isn't well-defined in the first place. "The whole netbook craze" (quoting the blurb) doesn't exist in the first place. Yes, the low-end laptop market keeps getting lower. Big deal.

Re:Not the first netbook... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27899001)

most computers were more expensive back then than they are now

That's absolutely right - most of these people don't understand that $2000 for a laptop of those proportions back then made it the netbook of it's time.

Re:Not the first netbook... (3, Informative)

Crock23A (1124275) | more than 5 years ago | (#27896189)

Agreed. We had one of those libretto's at work and it was definitely not cheap. The novelty of it was amazing though. At some point we tried to load XP on it but it just choked. Windows 2000 installed fairly well though. I wonder if it is still around. I'd like to give Ubuntu a try on it.

Re:Not the first netbook... (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27896289)

Wouldn't say flimsy. I can't count the number of times I've dropped, spilled soda on, or accidentally wedge other items into, my Asus EEE 701 and been surprised when it still booted up fine.

Re:Not the first netbook... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27896329)

Ok, how about Apple's eMate as the first netbook then?
It came out in 1997, and cost $800 at a time when powerbooks were up around $5000.

It was even ARM based, and netbooks are starting to get back into that architecture now.

Re:Not the first netbook... (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27896353)

I wanted a Space Shuttle but I didn't have billions of dollars so I decided to get Fighter Jet for $14 million.... oh wait, still too expensive.

Re:Not the first netbook... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27898549)

Yeah Apple invents everything as the shills, I mean journalists, at The Irish Times tell us.

Re:Not the first netbook... (1)

CarpetShark (865376) | more than 5 years ago | (#27896429)

Not the first netbook... since it was expensive as hell.

Yep. This is like people claiming that CDTVs were the first convergence of games consoles, TV, optical disc players, stereo/surround sound, and front room hi-fi entertainment centres. Aside from that not being true, it was underpowered so that it didn't have the appeal of later devices, it was marketed poorly in a world that wasn't ready (it would have needed to be marketed better). The result is that it was just a cheap console version of an amiga that was too old to run the latest games already, and that no one really saw it as what it was marketed as. Even if it technically could have kicked things off, it didn't. It was much later, when the world was ready, that the playstation 2 etc. really started to make that market. Arguably, the market has actually gone in entirely the opposite direction, as more divergence with things like cheaper hi-fis and ipods and car-dash-mounted mp3 players have redefined things.

Nothing is Ahead of its Time (4, Interesting)

SeinJunkie (751833) | more than 5 years ago | (#27896497)

Aside from that not being true, it was underpowered so that it didn't have the appeal of later devices, it was marketed poorly in a world that wasn't ready (it would have needed to be marketed better).

Right. In the book "Myths of Innovation [amazon.com] ," the author (Scott Berkun) discusses how there is no such thing as a product being ahead of its time (which is what it seems this /. article summary is basically touting). You can't have a great idea in isolation and expect the market to come to you. Part of the invention process is how will your audience accept the product? Aside from patent trolling, the marketplace doesn't allow for financial success in a walled garden.

Berkun also cites many examples and non-examples of famous inventors like Edison not actually being the first to invent something (such as the light bulb), but really being the best one to bring it to the audience. He also demonstrates how you wouldn't be able to bring a modern invention such as the netbook and take it back in time to be as successful as it has been for us. The infrastructure wouldn't be there and the public mindset would have no reference point or paradigm to go from.

Re:Nothing is Ahead of its Time (3, Insightful)

ceoyoyo (59147) | more than 5 years ago | (#27897089)

Sounds like he's being a bit pedantic on whether the "product" was ahead of its time or the "idea" was ahead of its time.

As for not being able to take something like a netbook back in time, nonsense. Take one of our netbooks back to 1996 and tell someone who just bought a subnotebook that they can have this little computer with better specs for a tenth the price (a fifth the price of ANY computer) and it's going to be a big hit. The problem was, we couldn't build something like that, at that price, back then.

Re:Nothing is Ahead of its Time (1)

hamburgler007 (1420537) | more than 5 years ago | (#27897537)

The problem was, we couldn't build something like that, at that price, back then.

We couldn't build something like that at any price back then.

Re:Nothing is Ahead of its Time (2, Interesting)

ceoyoyo (59147) | more than 5 years ago | (#27898361)

1996 wasn't that long ago. Most of the essential bits were available, if not common then. The article itself is about a subnotebook with many of the essential features of a netbook.

Re:Not the first netbook... (1)

mdwh2 (535323) | more than 5 years ago | (#27897941)

This is like people claiming that CDTVs were the first convergence of games consoles, TV, optical disc players, stereo/surround sound, and front room hi-fi entertainment centres. ... that the playstation 2 etc. really started to make that market.

It's also just like people claiming that Playstations 2 did it first.

I can't say I've heard a common argument that the CDTV did things first (except in response to someone claiming something else did it first, at a later date - e.g., "Imacs were the first to drop floppy disks!"). The point is that a lot of "firsts" when it comes to vague concepts like convergence, or netbooks, are ill-defined.

Now the CDTV wasn't first, because at least the CDi came out before it (I think?). But the rest of your arguments don't make sense - if we're talking about what was first, it doesn't matter if a device was poorly marketed or not very good (I remember how the people in Amiga community themselves generally seemed to dislike the CDTV). Similarly it doesn't matter whether it "kicked off" anything. A classification of "First, except for things that were 'too early'" isn't a very well-defined category at all...

And I also fail to see how this is like the netbook issue at all - the OP put forward the reasonable claim that being cheap was a fundamental part of the definition of the "netbook", which doesn't relate to your criticisms of the CDTV.

Re:Not the first netbook... (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27896473)

Can anyone translate this?

                       

Asus EEE PCs not so flimsy (5, Informative)

fantomas (94850) | more than 5 years ago | (#27896607)

I have to stand up for the Asus Eee PCs and speak about my experiences in their defence. I bought 30 x 701s a year and a half ago for a university project working with 11-14 year old school children. They've since been issued to a total of approximately 330 students across 12 different classes, taken out on field trips, and issued for home use. Only one has broken so far, a student dropped it onto a tarmac road while walking and carrying it in her hand, so that's about a metre or so drop. It broke the corner of the screen casing but apart from that was fine, we could pull the data off it and give her a spare to carry on with. We now use it as a test machine back in the lab, it works fine but we don't really want to issue it to students.

A few have started to show scratches on the casing, and that's been it so far. They work ok in light rain, though the touch pad freaks out when they get too wet, we've found for field trips the solution is to get transparent plastic bags and slide them over the laptops and then they are fine (we use our geology department's rock sample bags, thanks guys!).

So I'd say they are reasonably robust given these kind of conditions.

Re:Not the first netbook... (1)

mdwh2 (535323) | more than 5 years ago | (#27897987)

Yes, since the term "netbook" was only popularised with the advent of cheap devices, it's reasonable to consider it part of the definition.

However, that's not necessarily a definition everyone agrees with - you also have to be careful of biasing the result (devices which are "first" will often have been released before a common term for the device became popular - precisely because they were first). So I think it's still interesting to ask "What was the first computer that was as small as today's netbooks, and offered wireless Internet access?" - regardless of cost.

What about... (3, Informative)

anss123 (985305) | more than 5 years ago | (#27896107)

Those Sinclair machines of the eighties: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cambridge_Z88 [wikipedia.org]

Does not fold, but is small light and battery powered. Probably more PDA like though.

Re:What about... (1)

wjh31 (1372867) | more than 5 years ago | (#27896319)

you said it, its more pda than netbook, since it doesnt have any means of accessing the internet, nor any browser software

Re:What about... (1)

MROD (101561) | more than 5 years ago | (#27897161)

Well, it would be tricky to have those seeing as:

(a) The web hadn't been invented yet.

and,

(b) The Internet (as such) didn't exist, it was ARPAnet and restricted to research and US military sites (with a few places outside the USA, such as UCL, having a link).

It did have a serial port, which meant that it COULD be used as a communications device, just as any other personal computer of its day.

Re:What about... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27898849)

Don't forget the Radio Shack Model 100 from 1983 versus 1988 for the Sinclair.

define define define (3, Interesting)

markdavis (642305) | more than 5 years ago | (#27896133)

Determining when "Netbooks" arrived completely depends on your definition of what a Netbook is. In my definition, the Libbreto was/is not a "Netbook". Everyone will argue over what makes something a "Netbook" or not. I prefer to base it on concepts and specs from what was FIRST called a Netbook (which were the original Asus EEE's):

1) Physically small sub-notebook
2) Modest processor (compared to low-end main-line)
3) Smaller/lower res screen (smaller than typical sub-notebooks)
4) Solid state hard drive (Flash-based, rugged, lower power)
5) Runs Linux (no additional OS cost, better performance)
6) Lower costs (compared to low-end main-line)
7) Excellent battery life (compared to low-end main-line)

Those are the 7 things that opened the market and created the concept of the "Netbook". I have been running many small, sub-notebooks for well over a decade (Sony, Dell, etc), yet, none of them combined the above elements. They were generally MUCH MORE expensive than other notebooks, had hard drives, forced MS Windows bundled, and mediocre battery life.

Take a Netbook, add more memory, add MS Windows, replace the flash drive with a hard drive, jack the price up 33-50%, and it is still a Netbook? Not to me- it is just a sub-notebook at that point.

Re:define define define (4, Insightful)

sakdoctor (1087155) | more than 5 years ago | (#27896237)

8) Internal wireless networking.

After all, it is a Netbook. Anything PCMCIA, or dongles hanging out of USB ports, totally kills portability.

Re:define define define (1)

TheRaven64 (641858) | more than 5 years ago | (#27896245)

Sounds like the netBook [wikipedia.org] was the first Netbook according to your definition then. It can run Linux, although it shipped with Symbian (no additional OS cost and better performance still hold, however, since Symbian was owned by Psion at the time).

Re:define define define (1)

bhtooefr (649901) | more than 5 years ago | (#27897165)

Although the Psion Series 7/netBook was rather expensive, especially compared to low-end mainstream laptops of the time.

Re:define define define (1)

jo42 (227475) | more than 5 years ago | (#27897021)

Definition of "Netbook": "Toy laptop" or "Toy notebook" - pick one.

Re:define define define (3, Interesting)

salesgeek (263995) | more than 5 years ago | (#27897301)

Pretty much nailed the Libretto, except the flash drive and Wifi, which in '97 was largely non-existent. Calling the Libretto the forerunner to today's netbooks is accurate. Having owned a Libretto, it immediately came to mind when I first saw what we are calling netbooks.

So far as your standards, the Libretto met them all, save one, which basically didn't exist:

#4) solid state drive. Didn't exist then, and doesn't sell well vs. a hard drive now.

The Libretto would get checks across the board on everything else. Even it's base price of $1,295 with a passive color screen was very cheap back then.

Re:define define define (1)

Jawbreaker4Fs (974108) | more than 5 years ago | (#27897757)

Many versions of the EEEPC fail 4 and 5, so I'm struggling to realize how you can criticize the Libretto for failing 4, 5 and 6.

Re:define define define (1)

markdavis (642305) | more than 5 years ago | (#27898153)

You are correct that many of the more recent EEE's fail #4 and #5, and thus are not Netbooks at all, they are just sub-notebooks. But I was never "criticizing" the Libretto. It was what it was. I liked it, too. I have always loved small machines and have used lots of them.

Re:define define define (1)

Gordonjcp (186804) | more than 5 years ago | (#27899281)

1) Physically small sub-notebook

It's the size of a VHS tape (if you can remember what those were

2) Modest processor (compared to low-end main-line)

Even in 1997, the Pentium 90 was pretty modest. Pentium II in the mid-300s weren't uncommon in laptops by then

3) Smaller/lower res screen (smaller than typical sub-notebooks)

640x480 screen (very clear and readable too) compared to typically 800x600 or even 1024x768 on high-end machines

4) Solid state hard drive (Flash-based, rugged, lower power)

Wasn't invented 12 years ago, arguably not that brilliant even now. If you wanted you could have pulled the Libretto's IDE drive and replaced it with a CF card on an adaptor.

5) Runs Linux (no additional OS cost, better performance)

The first Libretto I ever saw was dual-boot Linux and Windows 95, and mostly ran Linux. Very nicely, too.

6) Lower costs (compared to low-end main-line)
When it came out it was about 2/3 the price of a decent "big" laptop. By 1999 it was down to less than £500.

7) Excellent battery life (compared to low-end main-line)

I can't remember what they were like new, but even now on its original battery my Libretto 70CT runs for about four hours.

So, what was your point, exactly?

I've seen one of those (1)

TheThiefMaster (992038) | more than 5 years ago | (#27896145)

I saw one of those for sale at a computer faire quite a few years ago. I was tempted to buy it for the novelty, but I was young and poor at the time.

Now I have an eee 901.

Don't forget the battery (2, Funny)

mc1138 (718275) | more than 5 years ago | (#27896171)

Twenty minutes of work time and ten hours of charging time!

Re:Don't forget the battery (1)

DDLKermit007 (911046) | more than 5 years ago | (#27899041)

Annnnd this is funny why? The poster obviously has never used one of these. I was mucking about with one a few weeks ago and the damn thing lasted for over 4 hours! Hell I'm sure that battery in it was over 5 years old too. Damn slick machine.

HELLO EVERYBODY (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27896177)

I am an Italian Agitator and I am here to infiltrate the SlasheDot with my Nefarious machinations! Eh he heh he he heh heeeh hehh eehh !!!!! Yoooo cannato stope meee!

Re:HELLO EVERYBODY (2, Insightful)

JockTroll (996521) | more than 5 years ago | (#27896909)

Cagati addosso, stronzetto.

Yeah, they were pretty sweet. (3, Interesting)

sootman (158191) | more than 5 years ago | (#27896187)

I had one for a while. Got it from a friend, then gave it to my dad after barely using it for 6 months. But it was definitely neat. The coolest thing about it (at the time) was being that small but running a full OS, not Palm or CE or anything, and with a real CPU. Mine had a P75, 4 GB hard drive, and dual-booted Win98 and RedHat 7. The former owner was a network admin who carried it around and used the serial port to talk to routers. Having a hardware fetish, I bought it from him when he no longer needed it but I found that, as neat as it was, I really didn't have much use for it. (Before wireless Internet was everywhere, having a notebook on hand wasn't that useful unless you were a writer or traveling to places that had network jacks.) So I gave it to my dad so he'd have something small to take to LUG meetings. One thing--it was definitely a conversation-starter. If you pulled it out in a public place you'd have questions from everyone around you.

Re:Yeah, they were pretty sweet. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27897453)

I've actually still got my Toshiba Libretta! :-) (It's gathering dust...I use an Acer Aspire One nowadays...running only linux, of course :-)).

Bought it in Seoul and used it in a small town called Haenam, South Korea, in the late 90s. It was a godsend, at that time, and I connected to the net using the ethernet connection.

It was (and still is) pretty cool. A complete Win 95 machine in a small netbook size package.

But you'll only get the linux Acer Aspire One when you pry it from my cold, dead hands...:-)

Re:Yeah, they were pretty sweet. (1)

troll8901 (1397145) | more than 5 years ago | (#27897545)

But you'll only get the linux Acer Aspire One when you pry it from my cold, dead hands...:-)

That's okay, I'll use my Linux Sony Vaio P netbook (1.4 pounds) instead.

(Looking at my empty pockets and long nose ...)

Re:Yeah, they were pretty sweet. (1)

troll8901 (1397145) | more than 5 years ago | (#27897527)

it was definitely a conversation-starter. If you pulled it out in a public place you'd have questions from everyone around you.

You'd also have to be handsome too.

I'm short, fat, ugly, and I carry an Eee 901 white. Nobody has ever approached me.

I wonder if I paste pink flowers on it ...

Re:Yeah, they were pretty sweet. (1)

Amazing Quantum Man (458715) | more than 5 years ago | (#27897587)

We did some development for the DoD on some of these things (running NT4).

Very nice platform.

The slashdot effect strikes again (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27896201)

Website is slashdotted :(

Re:The slashdot effect strikes again (5, Informative)

Anthony_Cargile (1336739) | more than 5 years ago | (#27896439)

Pictures and the Mother's day rush killed our 2Mbps cable bandwidth; here's a "mirror":

Netbooks are making huge waves within the hardware and software industries today, but not many would believe that the whole Netbook craze actually started back around 1996 with the Toshiba Libretto 70CT. Termed technically as a subnotebook because of its small dimensions (given below), the computer is the first that fits all of the qualifications of being what we would call a Netbook today, due in part to its built-in Infrared and PCMCIA hardware, and itâ(TM)s (albeit early) web browsing software. The First Netbook Computer

The First Netbook Computer

The hardware includes the two (potentially) wireless PCMCIA and Infrared network connections, Windows 95 OSR 2 with Internet Explorer 2.0, a whole 16MB of RAM and a 120Mhz Intel Pentium processor (weâ(TM)re flying now!).

A further look at the hardware reveals even more Netbook-ish hardware/software trends (and pictures below), given todayâ(TM)s standards for Netbook qualifications.

The Libretto (70CT) was certainly not the first small (8â) form factor laptop produced in the early 90â(TM)s, but it was the first to be considered a Netbook given todayâ(TM)s standards because of itâ(TM)s PCMCIA and Infrared connections, used for wireless network connectivity and possibly even via a phone card. The inclusion of Internet Explorer 2.0 within the software also contributes to its ability to be officially termed a âoeNetbookâ (more on this below).

The hardware includes an 8â wide, 5â deep and almost 1.5â form factor containing a whopping 16MB of RAM, a 120Mhz Intel Pentium processor (with added MMX technology!) and a whole 30-45 minutes of battery life.

The software running on the âoeNetbookâ is Windows 95 OSR2, with Included Internet Explorer 2.0 and the Windows 95 Plus! pack of software. The mouse is the nub/nipple/clit mouse, given the lack of trackpad hardware and the only alternative being the bulky ball-based mice of the time, and the actual mouse buttons are mounted on the back.

I donâ(TM)t consider Internet Explorer 2.0 being the most supported browser for web-based applications (hell, I donâ(TM)t even support 6 or 7), and 16MB doesnâ(TM)t sound like a whole lot of RAM for storing a large web page and JavaScript into memory along with the operating system, but around the year 1996 this laptop/subnotebook/netbook would meet all the requirements given its environment to be called a Netbook as we would today.

Other hardware besides what was listed above includes a (HiFi?) 1/4â sound port on the back, a mono speaker on the front above the mouse, and a proprietary docking port on the bottom.

The Pentium MMX and bulky battery connector doesnâ(TM)t exactly make this ACPI-lacking portable the most environmentally-friendly book of all time, but it is certain that it must have gotten the job done in its time.

The screen was a very low-resolution (640Ã--480) 5â LCD screen, leaving enough room on the front for the mouse, speaker, power button, and all-too-important logos of Intel and Toshiba.

While I write this largely with humorous intent, it is worth noting the satire I intend to make of the industryâ(TM)s buzzwords for modern products that sometimes have been out for quite a while, e.g. cloud computing versus clustering/distributed applications and âoehigh-speed Internetâ versus what a T1/ATM connection was over decade ago.

Also, something patent trolls working for Toshiba might wish to investigate are the 22 patents listed on the bottom of the Libretto model (pictured below). What these patents cover and how many modern netbooks/subnotebooks violate these are unknown to me, although Iâ(TM)m sure you could find a few with the right research as these patents were approved less than 25 years ago.

Picture Gallery

These (possibly slow-loading) pictures display several features of the computer, displaying as many of its features as possible (and probably killing our bandwidth): (and indeed they did)

Re:The slashdot effect strikes again (4, Informative)

WhatDoIKnow (962719) | more than 5 years ago | (#27897045)

Re:The slashdot effect strikes again (1)

Antony-Kyre (807195) | more than 5 years ago | (#27897447)

That's what I'm wondering. I have one, or two of those still. I think there is an issue with the power cord. But I am looking forward to have it up and running, complete with Windows 95. Too bad I think IE is so obsolete it probably won't be able to browse today's humongous webpages.

Re:The slashdot effect strikes again (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27898585)

What? Are you dense?!? That's a Handbook not a Netbook... Jeez, some people...

I thought this was the first Netbook: (5, Informative)

yanyan (302849) | more than 5 years ago | (#27896211)

I thought this was the first Netbook:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Psion_netBook [wikipedia.org]

Re:I thought this was the first Netbook: (1)

b0j3 (678454) | more than 5 years ago | (#27899473)

That's right. I guess Psion's netbook are better known in Europe than rest of the world.

Owned one (1)

Hardball (7605) | more than 5 years ago | (#27896213)

I bought one of these back in 1996 via an importer for ~$1600. It was about the size of a VHS tape. I liked the side-mounted eraser head mouse, but the keyboard was almost too small for touch typing. It was much nicer than the competing IBM model, which (if I remember correctly) had a side-talkin phone built in.

Sold it a few months later for $3000. Good times.

Sharp Muramasa (1)

Tweenk (1274968) | more than 5 years ago | (#27896219)

I once used a Libretto 100CT. It's very small even by today's netbook standards. The trackpoint is placed in a very weird spot. But the portability rocked.

Another interesting "proto-netbook" machines I have seen are Fujitsu B110 Lifebook, the Sharp Mebius line (I still have a Japanese version of it laying around - it was fantastic to use, but now I've moved to a HP TC1100 because the headphone jack broke) and more recently Sharp Muramasa. The latter one is more or less equivalent to a good quality modern netbook (1 GHz CPU, up to 512 MB RAM, long battery life, 1024x768 resolution), but it costed a fortune when it was new.

I also remember owning a very small subnotebook a long time ago (~6 years?) that fried my lap and could be used as an iron, but I can't remember the make or the model.

In a word, the only thing that changed with netbooks is that they made the once exclusive category of subnotebooks financially accessible to the general public.

Depends on how you define netbook (1)

nurb432 (527695) | more than 5 years ago | (#27896229)

We all have our own idea of what a netbook is/was.

I have one of those... (3, Interesting)

warlock (14079) | more than 5 years ago | (#27896231)

A Libretto 100CT in fact, with the widescreen 7.1" TFT display (800x480), Intel Pentium 166Mhz MMX overclocked to 233Mhz, 32MB RAM upgraded to 64MB (couldn't handle more) and a 2.1GB HD which I replaced with a 20GB one. I later added a 802.11b WiFi and made quite a good web surfing machine with FreeBSD + Netscape and Firefox later on...

I've been using it regularly until 2004 and then on and off until 2006 or so. It's resting in a box down at the basement now.

Having used a small machine like that is what made me immune to the netbook craze while everybody around me thinks they're so cool and useful and have been buying small cheap machines and finding out how particularly useless they are...

IMNSHO they're too small to be useful for most kinds of real work and to big to carry around or surf while, say in bed - I'm much better off now with a regular laptop that I can get real work done and an iPhone that I can surf the web casually wherever I may be.

Re:I have one of those... (1)

imp (7585) | more than 5 years ago | (#27896365)

I had a Libretto 50CT, which pre-dated the 70CT. I loved the size (it was almost exactly the same size as a VCR tape) for portability. Had a slow Pentium processor in it. I dropped mine and the warrantee couldn't fix it so it was replaced by a Sony that I didn't like as much.

The keyboard was small, and kinda hard to type on. But I got used to it. I did a lot of development on FreeBSD PC Card and CardBus stacks on that little box. I do miss it, except when I need to see a lot of data on the screen. Then I like my newer laptops better...

There was also this crazy libretto mailing list for hacking the suckers. People posted how to overclock them by soldering and removing 0 ohm resistors, how to build car power supplies (I built one and learned a lot), how to add brightness enhancing films, how to hook up better microphones, etc. These things found their way into lots of small environments before the Soekris boxes became popular for such things.

But having used it, I do know what the limitations of the new crop of netbooks have. They are kinda cool, and all run FreeBSD very well, but I haven't jumped in yet... My life has changed a lot since I had the Libretto and I'm no longer sure it is a good fit. I like the bigger text on my "newer" laptop, but miss all the quirkiness of the Libretto....

Re:I have one of those... (1)

DDLKermit007 (911046) | more than 5 years ago | (#27899083)

Mmmmm I think I had a similar experience with something that killed netbooks. Just allot later. Had a Fujitsu P7120. That thing is what netbooks today wish they could be. Such a shame Centrino was a bust. Today I just use my Fujitsu S3050D. Such a nice & light machine. Certainly a trade-off ditching a traditional keyboard though. Worth it too!

Tandy Model 100 (4, Insightful)

speedtux (1307149) | more than 5 years ago | (#27896261)

The "netbook craze" started with the EEE PC. There was no "craze" before then because small laptops were expensive.

If there was anything like the netbook craze before, it may have been the Tandy Model 100, a small, lightweight, inexpensive computer with built-in modem that's popular even today with writers. In fact, I think a netbook in that form factor (flat, screen and keyboard open, AA battery powered) would still be nice.

http://oldcomputers.net/trs100.html [oldcomputers.net]

Re:Tandy Model 100 (2, Insightful)

Darkness404 (1287218) | more than 5 years ago | (#27896323)

In fact, I think a netbook in that form factor (flat, screen and keyboard open, AA battery powered) would still be nice.

I agree, but I think there will be more people complaining then not. For example while I prefer things to be powered with batteries that aren't rechargeable (because when I'm traveling, its trivial to buy a pack of AA batteries, while hard to be near a power source for any extended length of time that is the correct voltage) but a lot of people will look at that as a flaw. There isn't going to be a way to make the screen really... work, unless you have it be more like E-ink, glare is just too much of an issue, just look at the Nintendo Game Boy. Then there is the keyboard issue. Its going to be hard to make a lasting keyboard that is A) Cheap B) Doesn't get junk in between the keys and C) Has room for a trackpad. I can see this being a great product, but I can't see it being popular with the masses like the Tandy 100 was.

Re:Tandy Model 100 (1)

UnknownSoldier (67820) | more than 5 years ago | (#27896341)

Yeah, the Trash 80 is a good contender. It could be argued that [low] price is one of the defining features of a netbook.

Other contenders...
History of Laptop Computers [about.com]

Yes, there was a craze... (3, Insightful)

Tenebrious1 (530949) | more than 5 years ago | (#27896555)

Yes, there certainly was a "craze". You just missed it because you're weren't living where it happened. The small notebooks have always been popular in Japan but never really caught on in the US. Americans could only buy them through import sites at twice the price, so mostly we just looked at the pictures, read the specs, and sent letters to the manufacturers begging them to bring those models to the US. It was fantastic walking around Akihabara, seeing machines that you only saw pop up as brief descriptions in US magazines. Beautiful machines that never made it to the US shores. Nowadays, with the web, it's all to easy to see the pictures and look up specs, but back then, we only had mere glimpses. So yes, there was a craze. But because the machines were never exported, that craze never made it to the US.

Re:Tandy Model 100 (2, Insightful)

fermion (181285) | more than 5 years ago | (#27896765)

Absolutely. The enabling technology for the netbook craze was not only small processors, but also widespread wireless internet connections with web and email. Given this, dating the netbook to 1996 is a bit early, as the wireless connections were not widely available until nearer to 2000. The idea of such computers is to provide relatively full range of functionality in a small device.

Prior to this we have other small computers, not all cheap. The newton had a PCMCIA slot that could connect it to a network, allowing it to do everything that an average computer user might do. In the previous time frame, Tandy owned the market, with the model 100 and 200. Since the internet did not exist yet in the current form, there was little need for networking on these machines. They provided full functionality for the average user. Even the Tandy pc-6 was a contender in this catagory.

Re:Tandy Model 100 (1)

bhtooefr (649901) | more than 5 years ago | (#27897311)

The Model 100 definitely counts as the first "net"book, IMO.

Onboard hardware to connect to the main method of networking personal computers at the time, low cost, low power, very portable.

Re:Tandy Model 100 (1)

kyoorius (16808) | more than 5 years ago | (#27896771)

I still have my POQET PC, which runs off 2 AA batteries and is smaller than the TRS100.

Was too cheap to buy the serial interface cable, so I found the dimensions, etched a PCB connector, dialed into the university network and accessed the internet via Lynx browser. Does that make it a netbook? Actually it was more like a net-palmtop.

http://www.digibarn.com/collections/systems/poqet-pc/index.html [digibarn.com]

Craze? (1)

danhm (762237) | more than 5 years ago | (#27896265)

That's not when the netbook craze started! The craze is a recent event; that product predates it.

Nope. (1)

saihung (19097) | more than 5 years ago | (#27896287)

My 60CT wasn't a netbook for one very simple reason: no net. The thing didn't have built-in connectivity of any kind.

Re:Nope. (1)

Gadget_Guy (627405) | more than 5 years ago | (#27897611)

The thing didn't have built-in connectivity of any kind.

It did have an IrDA interface. I used to connect to the Internet in cafes by sitting my Ericsson mobile phone behind my Libretto 50CT communicating via infrared.

I'm offended (1, Troll)

50000BTU_barbecue (588132) | more than 5 years ago | (#27896293)

Anyone else get tired of the snide remarks about the hardware? And the stupid "environmental" digs at the CPU? How come no one ever slams software for needing dual core 2GHz processors ... to browse the Web or take notes? How about writing software that can still run on 10+ year old hardware, wouldn't that be better for the environment than needing a world-wide oil-driven infrastructure to make the new CPUs and chips and plastic cases?

Oh but no, that would need actual programmers (instead of drag and dropper "programmers"), and it's easier to mock hardware than admit that there's something deeply wrong with modern software.

Re:I'm offended (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27896451)

You must have a very cushy life if something as piss anty as software not running on ten year old hardware offends you. Can I have your life?

Re:I'm offended (1)

50000BTU_barbecue (588132) | more than 5 years ago | (#27896975)

What offended were all these environmental claims about power dissipation of a 10 year old CPU. As if the energy and resources required to make all the new ones doesn't count. You want to be environmentally friendly? Take it all into account. Don't just pay lip service. That's what offended me. And it's Sunday, I don't work today, so I needed something else to upset me. :)

Re:I'm offended (1)

RDW (41497) | more than 5 years ago | (#27896633)

'How about writing software that can still run on 10+ year old hardware, wouldn't that be better for the environment than needing a world-wide oil-driven infrastructure to make the new CPUs and chips and plastic cases?'

Software bloat it annoying, of course, but a lot of feature-rich 'netbook applications' already exist, if you don't insist on this year's release. I'm probably not the only one to have replaced an ageing P4 notebook with an Atom-based netbook, which in most respects is an upgrade over the original hardware (cpu about as fast, much larger HD, can accept 2Gb RAM - only the smaller screen is a downgrade). When in Windows, I'm running Photoshop 7 and Office 2000, as well as the current Firefox (just as I did on the old machine) and for most purposes performance isn't an issue (I don't miss many features of the CS3 or Office 2007 I might use on a desktop). But it is true that for some applications well outside the intended use of this hardware, a really well written piece of software can make a big difference. Decoding 720p video in real time is impossible with most software, but Media Player Classic in combination with the super efficient CoreAVC codec manages perfectly well.

Older hardware like my P4 laptop would obviously perform similarly, but the new gear beats it soundly in rather important areas like built-in connectivity and battery life. But rather more tellingly, the old laptop is now defunct - this technology isn't designed to last indefinitely, and soon becomes uneconomical to repair (perhaps because we aren't paying the real cost of disposal of the old stuff?).

Re:I'm offended (1)

jones_supa (887896) | more than 5 years ago | (#27896713)

Good point. I bet there's a lot of "synthetic" bloat in modern software. There would not be need for nearly as beefy hardware if things were done properly. And we would save lots of power.

I've been watching the Dillo [dillo.org] project for a couple of years. By design a very smart and light browser, although the web is developing so fast that the guys are having hard time implementing some of the essentials...

2GHz should be the requirement for something like heavy mathematical computation, NOT web browsing.

Re:I'm offended (1)

50000BTU_barbecue (588132) | more than 5 years ago | (#27897239)

Nice! Mod me down instead of debating the point! Thanks Slashbots! I dared defy the groupthink of the cult of programmers! Bad hardware!

Re:I'm offended (1)

PenisLands (930247) | more than 5 years ago | (#27897709)

If I had points, I'd give you an "insightful" rating.

Quick inventory (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27896301)

In this house, just now I counted a Libretto 30 in the kitchen (wife plays games, but I got her a netbook for the other room), and a Libretto 100 as a WiFi LAN print server. The 3 others are in cupboards, 1 sadly zonked by airport x-rays (I used to travel). Nice items, but won't step up to XP and you can't get the extra memory now.

Mac Powerbook Duo 210 (2, Interesting)

beadfulthings (975812) | more than 5 years ago | (#27896311)

Mine is 1992 vintage and actually still works, though it is getting more difficult to move files between it and the newer stuff around here. Its chef virtue is that it weighs practically nothing and can be connected to its dock, which includes a floppy disk drive and place for a full-sized keyboard. Has a reasonably respectable 4mb of RAM and a whopping 80mb hard drive. I used it for years to write up notes. It's no good as a netbook because it can't use a browser compatible with most of today's Internet; it's got an early version of Mosaic on it.

I actually replaced it just this past Christmas with an HP mini netbook. I'm relatively happy with it, but as with its predecessor, all I do with it is carry it around to write up notes.

Let's all get clear on this (1)

mlscdi (1046868) | more than 5 years ago | (#27896391)

In my humble opinion, a netbook is a small, light, cheap computer designed primarily for low-level tasks: writing, web browsing, etc.

A Sub-Notebook is what this is: Small and light, yes, but certainly not cheap. Examples of this would include the MacBook Air.

Sub-Notebooks have been around pretty much since notebooks have been around (as demonstrated in some of the other comments in this thread). Netbooks are a recent phenomenon beginning with the EEE. Just my $0.02

Re:Let's all get clear on this (1)

blackest_k (761565) | more than 5 years ago | (#27896829)

I'm starting to think the netbook has lost its way, The ideal size in my opinion has a 9 inch screen excellent battery life and a modest relatively quick hard drive or solid state drive. Netboooks seem to be progressing to a small laptop with lousy battery life, too big and too limited by fitting too small a battery.

There's a number of things that can improve the current crop, bigger batteries 7 or 8 hours from a charge when new should be a good minimum perhaps more like 10 hours.
Some of the SSD drives are really slow, that sucks, better models could incorporate a touch screen and the option of a tablet mode. Closing up as a clam shell and protecting the screen while bagged up. maybe even allowing the keyboard to un-dock or slide out and be used as an external keyboard could be a relatively cheap option. A few smart keys on the screen edges that can be assigned functions by the user could turn the system into a better than kindle like Ebook reader.
I don't expect these improvements for nothing, the build price would go up but then so would the usefulness of the device.

An advanced Netbook design like this could be a near perfect tool for students.
battery life long enough to last all day without needing to find a charging point, so many places will not allow anything to plug-in without having their electrical safety sticker. the ability to be able to treat this as an electronic replacement of an A4 pad typing notes or sketching diagrams with a stylus. One simple thing would be a Trapdoor usb expansion big enough to fit a Usb hspda Modem maybe a TV Card or just a plain old USB memory stick.

Make the SSD Hdd user replaceable either with a faster, larger ssd or perhaps a 1.8inch hard drive.

Trouble is no ones thinking of what people want, but just trying to avoid impacting the sales of more expensive product lines.

Re:Let's all get clear on this (1)

gujo-odori (473191) | more than 5 years ago | (#27898249)

A Macbook Air is way too big to be a subnotebook. You can only try to call it that because notebooks have grown so large. I was working at an ISP in Japan in the late nineties and we actually had a Libretto (don't recall what model, but it was running Win 95-J OSR2, so probably the one referenced in the article). I found it too small to type comfortably on, but some people - even with larger fingers than mine - thought it was OK. I preferred our main "road computer," a Thinkpad 240 which they are probably still using there today. A couple of years ago they replaced its hard drive when it died.

The Thinkpad 240 was about the same size as a Macbook Air, probably smaller (it was a B5 notebook), but thicker. There were Sony Vaios on the market then that were very thin and light and would not look especially out of place on the shelf today. Very thin, very light, had no serial port because they were too thin. We bought the Thinkpad 240 instead of a Vaio b/c it did have a 9-pin serial port and we wanted to be very, very sure that it would talk over the serial port to any of our networking equipment. Nobody wanted to hundreds of kilometers from Tokyo at a remote site and find out that something didn't play well with USB - serial adapters.

Macbook Airs are neat and all, and I suppose you could make an argument that by today's bloated notebook standards the MBA is practically a subnotebook, but it's larger than anything that is properly a subnotebook.

Re:Let's all get clear on this (1)

mlscdi (1046868) | more than 5 years ago | (#27898635)

I suppose it's all relative -- but compared to some of the crazy [cnet.com] stuff [tgdaily.com] coming out, it seems pretty small.

mo3 down (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27896421)

are almost project faces A set being GAY NIGGERS. performing.' Even and I probably Every chance I got Tired arguments The fruitless they are Come parts. The cuurent

Fujitsu P1200 (1)

wiredlogic (135348) | more than 5 years ago | (#27896501)

The first with the portable DVD player form factor was the Fujitsu P1200. I consider this the first modern machine that fits into the netbook designation.

First? (1)

zoomshorts (137587) | more than 5 years ago | (#27896507)

http://oldcomputers.net/grid1101.html [oldcomputers.net] This was even earlier. I guess what passed for a
netbook today, is well, not quite a netbook, except for the browsing stuff.

I would almost say (3, Interesting)

falcon5768 (629591) | more than 5 years ago | (#27896521)

The eMate from apple could be classified as a netbook, since it did have email and browsing capabilities and has even been hacked to use 802.11b these days on top of its cat-5 and modem abilities. It was after all a low power computer based off the Newton.

I'd forgotten these things existed.... (1)

plazman30 (531348) | more than 5 years ago | (#27896601)

And with good reason. These things were a nightmare to support! I had to support two of them, and I think I'm going to need therapy now that their existence is known to me again...

A twenty year old Twinhead Subnote (2, Interesting)

dmcox (1047964) | more than 5 years ago | (#27896665)

On the road I used a computer called Twinhead Subnote running Windows 3.1, with a built in modem I could connect back to the office. Here is a photo http://tinyurl.com/pybl33 [tinyurl.com]

Re:A twenty year old Twinhead Subnote (1)

troll8901 (1397145) | more than 5 years ago | (#27897565)

Cool ...

Can I load Trumpet Winsock Dialer and Netscape 2.0 on it?

I don't mind Telix or Procomm Plus too ...

Re:A twenty year old Twinhead Subnote (1)

troll8901 (1397145) | more than 5 years ago | (#27897597)

Sorry, that was a joke. On rereading it I realized it sounded offensive. Sorry about that.

Your Twinhead Subnote is cool. Really.

Sony VAIO SR33 (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27896671)

One of the first machines to approach the prices of today's netbooks, not just the specs, was the VAIO SR33. 600mHz Celeron, 128MB RAM, 10.4" screen, 1" thick, slightly under 3 lbs. I bought mine (new) for $900 around the middle of 2001. I finally replaced it 4.5 years later, but I still consider it the best notebook I've ever used.

IBM PC110 (1)

really? (199452) | more than 5 years ago | (#27896693)

_MY_ first netbook was an IBM PC110, which I actually still have. It's now running Windows 98SE from a 1 GB CF card.

Started? (4, Insightful)

gmuslera (3436) | more than 5 years ago | (#27896855)

You could qualify it as netbook, but probably what really started the craze was the XO, the idea of a $100 notebook for every child. It had most of the attributes that make it a not so bad idea, price, long battery life, wifi, etc.

Definition of first... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27896967)

How could the Libretto 70 be termed the first netbook when it followed on from the Libretto 50?

I actually had one once (2, Informative)

dido (9125) | more than 5 years ago | (#27896993)

Well, close enough. It was a Toshiba Libretto 30, which my mother bought for me in Korea in 1996. It was a pretty neat little gadget, a full-blown PC that was good enough (jumping through some hoops that involved use of a Zip drive IIRC, but heck I was in college back then and had loads of free time) for me to install Red Hat Linux 5.0 and do much of my college work on (primarily LaTeX documents, as a host system for MC68HC11 embedded system development, and a bit of Netscape 2.0). It was not much larger than a typical VHS cassette, and as such was very convenient. It had slightly lower specs than the 70CT mentioned in the article (66 MHz Pentium and only 8 megs of RAM IIRC), but that was plenty of power for what I used to do back then. The remarkable thing was that it was only a little less powerful than the desktop I had back then, and the only reason why I didn't ditch my desktop for it was the tiny keyboard and the display which was limited to 640x480x32. It was also very expensive, way beyond the price points of full-sized laptops with comparable specs.

Not the first (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27897413)

There were plenty before that. The Tandy(s), the unbelievable HP Omnibook 300, and many others. Come on, the Tandys and Omnibook ran on AA batteries. The Omnibook had Windows, Word, and Excel on ROM and a built-in mouse.

What goes around, comes around... (2, Interesting)

adosch (1397357) | more than 5 years ago | (#27897471)

About a decade+ ago, a friend of mine in college gave me a Gateway Handbook [wikipedia.org] and I still own it to this day. I upgraded the RAM to 24mb and put in a 1GB hard drive in it and whatever Linux distro I had around at the time. It was definitely usable when I was in college to take notes on, but using as a daily application for my life is where it failed; 802.11b was *just* emerging and playing Doom on it during class quickly tired. It's comical to see how laptop industry flops back on itself (much how fashion has went back to calling 80's straight leg pants and moon boots the new 'in'). I remember when all the hype a few years ago surrounded the netbook. It's cool, don't get me wrong (and I do own a Acer Aspire ZG5), but definitely not a new idea. Just a regurgitation of what failed the first time around because there wasn't enough technology infrastructure to support it (e.g. wi-fi, internet for the masses, etc.)

I used Bill Gates' Libretto once (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27897659)

The Librettos may not have exactly been netbooks (concept didn't exist at the time, and 802.11 was basically non-existant), but they were certainly the forerunner of netbooks:

Similar size
Similar weight
Reduced performance compared to full featured notebooks of the same era
Could run a real OS (these were not overgrown PDAs)

I still remember the first time I ever got to see / use a Libretto. This was before they were releasing them in the US - this particular one was a gift from the head of Toshiba to Bill Gates. Back in 1996, I knew a guy who worked for Microsoft IT's Executive Support team who was getting it setup for Bill - it was a bit of a pain to get it setup with English Win95 OS and Japanese Win95 drivers (Toshiba didn't have English drivers yet as they weren't onsale in the US), but he finally got it working.

Only predated by Atari Portfolio 1989 (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27898477)

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Atari_Portfolio

Re:Only predated by Atari Portfolio 1989 (1)

LoTonah (57437) | more than 5 years ago | (#27898525)

Yeah, I was about to say that! Amazing how people gloss over that.

I loved the Portfolio. I had Turbo Pascal on mine, wrote some fun stuff. I also wrote several short stories on the Skytrain going to and from work on that crazy little keyboard. Good times!

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