Infrastructure // PC & Servers
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7/21/2008
02:50 PM
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What's Wrong With Energy-Efficient Notebooks?

PC makers are exhibiting worrisome signs of the same kind of calcified thinking that has brought the U.S. auto industry to its creaking knees.

PC makers are exhibiting worrisome signs of the same kind of calcified thinking that has brought the U.S. auto industry to its creaking knees.Echoing consumer demand for more fuel-efficient vehicles, PC buyers are looking beyond traditional bloatbooks, and snapping up a newer class of lightweight notebooks. And that has PC makers worried, according to The New York Times.

These more-energy-efficient ultra mobile PCs, sometimes called ultra mobile PCs (UMPCs), or mobile Internet devices (MIDs), are a product category that isn't yet clearly defined, but Bill O'Brien takes a crack at it:

The one thing to remember is that UMPCs are niche devices. They're trying to be something more than a PDA, but not quite a PC, and they're almost succeeding ... the only real distinction right now seems to be that if they're Windows-based you call them UMPCs, but they're MIDs if they run Linux; they are doing an excellent job of muddying the water.

If consumers are buying these power-sipping clamshells and tablets, then they're not buying traditional notebooks, the thinking goes. But not all UMPCs and MIDs are bought as notebook-replacement units. They're also being bought as alternate devices, for checking e-mail without having to boot up Windows, for example.

Instead of rejoicing that a new device market has dropped into their laps, many PC manufacturers are whining about cannibalized notebook sales and low margins. That's like a Honda dealer crying about stagnant Pilot (SUV) sales while he's breaking sales records for moving Honda Civics.

Some of these devices -- you also can call them netbooks or micro notebooks -- eventually will replace shoulder-separating workhorse notebooks crammed with apps. The streamlined machines, some of them running Linux, will plug into the cloud to connect with apps. In fact, a new, slimmer, trimmer version of Ubuntu, called Netbook Remix, and built for this purpose, is ready now.

PC makers need to wipe away their tears, and -- like the scrambling auto industry -- shift gears and try to catch up with what consumers really want: task-specific, energy-efficient devices.

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