Dell’s decision to stop making netbooks comes as no surprise. The market for tiny, underpowered laptops was under threat from the moment Apple released its first iPad.

I doubt it will take long for other brands to drop them.

Pioneering portability

Netbooks had two things going for them when they first appeared. They were portable – far easier to carry around than conventional laptops. And they were cheap. Some also had great battery life at a time when laptops struggled to last for two hours without a recharge.

Tablets like the iPad do portable and battery life better. The good ones, like the iPad, are more expensive, the extra price is easily justified and not beyond most people in rich countries like New Zealand.

Netbooks a necessary step

It would be easy to sneer at netbooks. They were a necessary step in computer evolution.

Netbooks proved there was a place for stripped down computers with limited functionality. They showed portability and great battery life were possible and demonstration what a difference these two features could make. They also showed computer makers there was a market. In many ways they prepared the ground for tablets.

Lightweight software

They spurred software development. The first models ran Linux and lightweight applications for word processing and other tasks. This put pressure on Microsoft and others to cut operating system and application bloat. Smaller, lighter apps arrived. All of these were good developments.

Netbooks opened the door for personal cloud computing. Google apps and similar first became popular on those tiny machines too feeble to run Microsoft Office. And that put pressure on Microsoft to improve the apps.