If you knew me quite well (but you don't, as I started this blog ... well, yesterday), you knew I would sell my soul for one of these. I have been desktop free for ca. two years now because upgrading the box resulted in a 23% increase of power bill with me basically doing the same internet, programming and graphics editing work as before, at exactly the same speed.
My current primary workstation is an Asus EEE 701, upgraded to 2 GB of RAM, hooked up to a 19" widescreen monitor and a bunch of peripherals attached via a 13-port active USB hub. As I found out by measurements, the netbook draws about 12-16 watts under normal interactive workload and about 22 watts when the integrated Intel graphics have to do 3D. I verified the battery runtime to be about 3½ hours, including some gaming and some WLAN use. Arch + KDE 4 + desktop effects are really speedy on it.
Thus, I learned to love netbooks as reliable universal gadgets at an irresistible price point. Then Windows was dumped upon the market for free, and netbooks became slightly shrunken laptops at a price point that would make you rather choose the full-size laptop. Voíla, more Vista sales for Microsoft, Linux killed off, netbooks killed off, mission accomplished.
Today I realize netbooks were not just a random trend out of nowhere. Linux had been taking off large scale in embedded years before as a means of keeping microprocessor costs low. Software license costs are obviously an issue if your electronic goods sell for somewhere between 0.10€ and 10€ per unit. Also, smartphones had become more powerful and full-featured but still suffered from small screens and limited methods of user input. Netbooks basically emerged as the missing link between high-end embedded and low-end non-embedded.
When they came out, I immediately bought one because it was the first time I saw preinstalled Linux on a store shelf, but foremost because I knew they wouldn't be available forever, being vulnerable because of them being x86 based. They were (sort of) capable of running desktop Windows; more precisely I heard reports that it felt like wading through tar on the first-generation netbooks which had been designed with Linux + simple everyday tasks in mind. Which was nothing a good portion of lobbying and vendor strong-arming couldn't fix. After everybody was convinced that a netbook's primary purpose consists of playing egoshooters, running Photoshop on a 7" screen and spending 600€ for an additional Microsoft Office license, Vista laptops finally started selling.
Various more or lesser known OEMs have since tried to fill the gap from the other side using ARM based netbooks. Linux runs as fine on ARM as it does on x86. Microsoft can only counter on this architecture using their unpopular Windows CE offering. They can't exert pressure via the software platform, as CE is a completely different kernel from desktop Windows and doesn't have the amount of software or extended hardware support Linux offers.
On the hardware side you can expect 8 hours of runtime when not plugged in, and ARM licensees can sell CPUs cheaply because they produce approximately 1 billion of them a quarter. You get a 150€ netbook that is on par with a 349€ Atom netbook, with half the power consumption.
Yet we see ARM netbooks being announced all the time, showcased, everybody is excited, then they disappear before hitting sales channels. Something nasty might be going on behind the scenes, I suspect. I'm very sorry that my money can't find its way into an ARM OEM's pocket; a quadcore Cortex-A8 as a mobile workstation would surely make me nerdgasm.