In terms of design, size has been adjusted, and 10 inch screens seem to be the de-facto design now. (The Dell Mini 9 was great, but the keyboard was a tad too small.) Performance has traditionally been an issue, but it's constantly being addressed by software or smarter hardware (see: nVidia ION, a mini GPU doing 1080p). But even with 2010 looking like the year of the tablet, it may also be shaping up to be the battle ground for netbooks. Plus, with Google Chrome OS looming in the background, the stage is set for a Linux distro shoot out, too. So here's the deal...
The Lenovo Skylight is looking to do two things: Be your constant companion and be always on. Lenovo has put their own custom version of Linux on it, along with their own custom GUI. The experience is built to provide seamless shuffling between videos, web pages, multimedia, and work space. No one has gotten their hands on it yet, but after CES 2010, I'm sure there will be a considerable buzz whether this new gadget is worthy. It's an interesting offering from Lenovo, who's been trying to differentiate themselves from the rest of the computer manufacturing masses. If successful, it could mean big things for their custom OS and their new product. Will it be a Lenovo-only distro, or will they unleash it on the masses? More on this latter...
Dell is still shipping their Mini 10V's with Ubuntu Linux, and that's good news for the Linux world. Since netbook hardware can be hit-or-miss with big name Linux distros, it's nice to see Dell officially supporting the product. Although the reception to the Ubuntu Netbook Remix has so-so, it's still a move in Linux direction.
The new HP Mini 210 is working on the Windows platform still, and aims to provide an easy to use experience. But for some reason HP has abandoned the Linux model. Once upon a time, they had a fancy GUI for their Linux distro, but it never went anywhere. So now HP is sticking with what they know. Will the success of Windows 7 differentiate themselves?
Next up: Google Chrome OS. Can it be the end-all replacement for all netbooks, while at the same time, looking to be a platform and a brand all its own? There's already solid rumors about the Google Chrome Netbook floating around. Will this become the standard for Netbook OSes? And maybe this is where Lenovo can come in. Call it wild speculation, but Skylight could be testing grounds for an entirely new OS for Netbooks, and it's incredibly more stylish than Chrome OS, it could be a hit, for that reason alone.
Of course this is all wild conjecture, but it makes you wonder about the the state of the netbook union. Is it going Linux (again)? Is it going to not matter as users pick an OS of their choice? Is it going to be less about the hardware and more about the software on it? All these questions and more await this coming year.
My money is actually on Lenovo. It's something really different. Keep your eyes open.