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NetbooksNetbooks have become one of the largest sectors of the hardware market since Asus introduced the Eee PC in late 2007. Asus has enjoyed phenomenal success with their netbook range and the early models sold out instantly (I tried to buy one without success). Every major PC manufacturer now produces a netbook and the market continues to expand.

Netbooks typically use slower hardware and older software, which makes them ideal for children or those with more modest computing requirements. However, thay can also provide web developers and freelancers with an ideal accompliment to their existing PC setup.

1. Portability
Like many people, I use a full-sized laptop for my primary development tasks. However, I have so many accessories attached, that it might as well be a desktop PC. If I want to move the machine, I need to unplug a second monitor, external harddisk, keyboard, mouse, and various cables. Even when that’s done, the machine remains too heavy to carry for long periods.

I now take a netbook when visiting client sites. It has all my essential software and can be plugged into projectors or monitors just like a normal laptop. There’s no need to disassemble my office hardware and the device can be carried all day without causing a hernia.

2. Communication and quick tasks
Netbooks are great for checking email, running Skype, or performing quick tasks. Most netbooks are wifi-enabled and are provided with a fast OS such as Windows XP or an optimized version of Linux. The devices can be started up, used, and shut down quicker than most Vista laptops take to boot.

Incidentally, do not be afraid to buy a Linux-powered netbook. Once you are over the initial “it’s not Windows” shock, you will find Linux to be a highly-capable and usable OS which can run Windows software if you install Wine. Even if you do not like the OS supplied, you can download and install an alternative such as the excellent Ubuntu Netbook Remix.

3. Working on the move
Mobile phones and Blackberry devices are useful, but the small screen, tiny keyboard, and limited software makes it difficult to do real work. The majority of netbooks are powerful enough to run software such as Apache, PHP, MySQL, OpenOffice, and a simple IDE or editor such as Notepad++. I even know of people who run Photoshop (although it was more to prove a point rather than do design work!)

4. Photography
The majority of netbooks have built-in memory card readers. This makes it easy to take a netbook to a shoot, copy/backup files, and examine photographs on a larger screen. Most netbooks have webcams, so it’s even possible to take a few shots without a camera.

5. Backup and synchronization
A netbook provides you with another computing device in the event of your main PC failing. That happened to me a few months ago, but I was able to carry on working.

Software such as Dropbox is also invaluable for backing up and synchronizing files between all your PCs.

6. Price
The first Asus Eee PC was a fifth of the price of similarly-sized machines. Although the hardware specifications and prices have increased, it is still possible to buy a netbook for $200: far less than a decent mobile phone. You could even use one as an alternative to a Kindle!

Replacing a netbook will not cause significant cash-flow problems, so you will not be as afraid to lose or break the device.

This blog post was written and posted using a MSI Wind U100.

Do you use a netbook or are you considering one? Do you find it useful? Have you experienced other benefits?