Meanwhile back in the engine room of creative destruction . . .

I continue to be amazed at the way the market for computer laptops evolves. Around eight years ago I bought myself a fantastic little Sharp with an external CD drive which meant that since you don’t use the CD drive much, you could cart this little beauty round in your briefcase like it was just another book. It weighed around 1 kilo. When I’d take it out of my briefcase people would ogle over it, and think it was something special.

So I figured that this was the way of the future. Alas, when it came time to replace it, there were a few ultra-lights on the market, but they were bloody expensive and the specs were not that good. I ended up with a cheaper much heavier one, because I don’t travel nearly as much as I did then. So it’s no big deal. In fact I bought a couple because I bought one a bit later when the first one was playing up as a backup. It’s amazing what you can get for around $1,000. And a good ultra light is around $4,000 so this set up still saved a couple of grand.

But I remain amazed seeing executives pull out highly expensive but heavy laptops. It’s surprising how little premium the market will bear for light weight. (And how many ultra-lights still have the CD installed). When I look at specs for a laptop one of the main specs I want to know is weight, but that’s not often given in advertising or often even in reviews.

Meanwhile, here is a small, lightweight laptop which I’m tempted to go out and buy. It’s ultra light – which is usually a a huge premium – and it’s made for school kids. It comes with a Linux OS, Firefox and Open Office, weighs a tad over 1 Kg.

It sells in the UK for £170 or £182 depending on what part of the article you read. That’s around $400 here, but the next ‘price point’ in the Oz market seems to be AUS$499 which is still screamingly good value. While you can now send batches of One Laptop per Child Foundation laptops to kids for US$200 per laptop (so long as the batches are 10,000 units at a time!), we ought to be doing something similar in developed countries.

Schools ought to jump at little micro-laptops. You can buy the Asus laptop pictured above for around one quarter of the annual computer rental fee we pay our daughter’s school. For that she picks up a new top of the line Fujitsu laptop every couple of years with full Microsoft software on it. The laptop is lightweight, but not ultra-light and weighs about twice what the Asus weighs which is really bad for her back as she lugs it around with everything else.

I might buy one myself. If I was reasonably confident of the compatibility of Open Office with my (and others’ Word and other Office files), if I knew it hooked up easily to an external keyboard and monitor for regular use – I’d use an outboard hard disc and it would be a great backup machine giving me a Linux box to play with as well.

Odd that they don’t also produce a version for the executive market – perhaps with another $500 worth of goodies including Windows software on board.   Perhaps they will. In the meantime, here’s a picture of the One Laptop per Child laptop. A very pretty and inspiring sight.

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8 Responses to Meanwhile back in the engine room of creative destruction . . .

  1. Niall says:

    I’m not one for picking up the latest & greatest in techno wizardy, in fact, I’ve always found the ultra-compact laptop-type computer to be clumsy in it’s miniaturisation. My fingers are only so small, and I prefer a near-standard keyboard being a two finger typist.

    On the issue of miniturisation for the deprived nations at reduced cost, I suppose the technology has merit, but only in a very narrow band of acceptance. My laptop weights two-point-something kilos and has everything built-in that I could want. Why would I want to go smaller for the same equipment capability and a smaller keyboard which my fingers fall all over, if only to save a few hundred grams?

  2. harry clarke says:

    I have bought two lightweight laptops for kids and need a third for my son soon. One was a Dell and the other a Lenovo. They were about $2200 each and weighed under 2kgm. With 13.5″ monitors and running Windows Ultimate with 2B Ram and 120G hard drives they are great little machines – when I’ve paid them off I’ll get myself one!

    Lightness and small-size are key attributes in laptops. I bought large attachable monitors for both machines and kept old large scale keyboards but they are never used by my kids. They use them on desks, in bed while reading and at the dinner table as I seek to converse.

    My own machine is a monster Dell weighing about 5 kgm with 17″ screen. I hate it everytime I carry it through an airport. It doesn’t do anything I need that a much smaller machine will do.

    A good post that I will check out thouroughly. A $500 machine woiuld be a dream.

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  4. Yobbo says:

    The reason lightweights aren’t so popular is that for most people they are completely unnecessary.

    Laptops don’t really need to be so portable. They are most used in hotel rooms or in actual buildings, very rarely on airplanes or actually on a work site away from the office.

    They only need to be portable enough to be carried easily from place to another before being set back on a desk. That is to say they are mostly used in the same role as a desktop computer is, but on 2 or more different desks in different locations.

    Price isn’t the only trade-off either. You are also trading away screen space and quality (for longer battery life) which most people are unwilling to give up.

  5. Carrying laptops between their alternative offices. I see a lot of people doing that in their briefcases – not their hold luggage, which means they have to carry them and they’re heavy. At least some of us notice an additional 2 kilos and we’d rather do without it. And if these machines are just going from one office to another, why do people mind trading off long battery life – given that they can take the charger to their second office? (Personally I don’t crave long battery life, but I do crave small size.

    Still other people have their (different) preferences. Obviously they’re entitled to them, but I am surprised by them.

  6. conrad says:

    At least for airports, the reason I don’t care about the weight of my laptop is that excluding BA (who I wouldn’t take anyway given their punctuality/serivce), I can take it on as a separate piece of luggage. That includes airlines like Qantas, who I have noticed have begun to weigh carry on luggage of late. Since I inevitably carry more weight in books/papers, the overall weight isn’t a problem (in fact size is a bonus — as I can shove heavy things like books in the laptop bag).

    In addition, if I really wanted to have something portable and lightweight because I was just flying in and out (which I do sometimes), a PDA with Powerpoint is probably a better bet.

  7. David Rubie says:

    Even lighter is a subscription to something like GoToMyPC and a desktop back at the office. Then beg, borrow or steal access to the net wherever you are. Not quite as convenient as a laptop but an alternative if most of your work is not luggable.

    I have one of the old Macintosh Plus machines out in the shed – the carry handle on the top and the MacPac bag it came in indicate a certain amount of portability, but including the HDD the setup weights about 25kg. Complaining about 2kg seems strange once you pick that lot up.

  8. HeathG says:

    I looked at an ultra-portable when purchasing my current laptop (now 1 yr old). At the time there was (and perhaps still is) quite a price differential if you wanted a really powerfull laptop that you can use as a desktop replacement.

    Re: the carrying weight- I use a backpack, rather than should bag for my laptop, so the weight isn’t as much of an issue. My “work” laptop is a bit of a clunker (Toshiba with 15″ screen). but again, it spends most of it’s time in use on a desk, and even on the train I don;’t find it a bother.

    As conrad suggested, if you want really portable, get a PDA, or even a smartphone such as the Nokia N95 or Samsung Blackjack.

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