Where Netbooks Are Taking Us

If you’re working on software development, you should absolutely read Clive Thompson article in Wired, The Netbook Effect: How Cheap Little Laptops Hit the Big Time. Thompson points out that the rise of the netbooks showed us that “traditional PC users…. didn’t want more out of a laptop—they wanted less.”

Says Thompson:

I wrote this story on a netbook, and if you had peeked over my shoulder, you would have seen precisely two icons on my desktop: the Firefox browser and a trash can. Nothing else.

It turns out that about 95 percent of what I do on a computer can now be accomplished through a browser. I use it for updating Twitter and Facebook and for blogging. Meebo.com lets me log into several instant-messaging accounts simultaneously. Last.fm gives me tunes, and webmail does the email. I use Google Docs for word processing, and if I need to record video, I can do it directly from webcam to YouTube. Come to think of it, because none of my documents reside on the netbook, I’m not sure I even need the trash can.

This is big news to anyone designing applications, whether they’re Web-based, cloud-computing SaaS apps or standalone Windows apps in the old-school vein. If you’re designing for the old school, you need to remember: the game is changing. People are expecting different things, and measuring your app against a different yardstick.

And if you’re designing for the cloud? Hey, consider that your users might have a smaller screen… People designing for the Web have always tried to get away with assuming bigger screens than they should. I realize working in such constrained real estate is a hassle, but it’s long past time to get over it.

Thompson has an interesting response to those who say, “But what about Photoshop?”, too.

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