People buy new gadgets for every imaginable reason. In J.D. Biersdorfer's case, an apartment renovation prompted her to purchase her first netbook. "I wanted to have an extremely portable PC with me when I was living out of a duffel bag and sleeping on people's couches while my own place was unlivable," explains the author of O'Reilly's Netbooks: The Missing Manual. "It turned out to be a great solution because many of my friends have wireless networks (or neighbors that have unsecured wireless networks), so I could stay linked to the Internet even while couch surfing all over the city."
Adds J.D.: "Netbooks are one of the fastest-growing segments of the hardware market and show no sign of slowing down--especially in this economy, where people are looking for inexpensive tools that let them do what they need to do. Everybody's making a netbook -- even Nokia just announced one. Wireless carriers are embedding 3G network cards right inside netbooks and selling them like cellphones, complete with a monthly service plan. For people who mainly want to do Web, email and a little light word-processing, netbooks are proving to be a nice affordable alternative to living off a smartphone or having to lug around an 8 lbs. laptop everywhere you go."
Netbooks: The Missing Manual isn't a guide to a specific model of netbook or a manual for just one operating system, explains J.D, also the author of iPod: The Missing Manual and the weekly computer Q&A column for the Circuits section of The New York Times. "It takes a look at what's currently available and offers instructions and advice that guide you through common tasks most netbook owners face. Readers learn things like setting up the netbook to work with a wireless network printer, organizing photos and posting them on the Web, using "cloud" applications like Google Docs for word-processing, and more."
So based on her personal experiences and research for the book, J.D. offers five important things to consider when buying a netbook.
1. Don't get a netbook that's too small.
Sure, those little 9-inch netbook screens are cute, but their corresponding keyboards can be small, cramped, and painful to type on after awhile. Models with 10- or 12-inch screens are almost as lightweight and can provide a more comfortable typing experience for people who plan to do a lot of data entry or writing on the netbook. If you can, try out the netbook keyboard in the store before you buy to make sure you know what you'll be typing on.
2. Which operating system?
Windows XP currently dominates the netbook market, but Windows 7 is just around the corner and due out this October. And then there's Linux, which is not a hard to use as many people may fear. Linux usually makes for a less-expensive netbook that's not as vulnerable to spyware and viruses, but if you need to use Windows-only software in your netbook adventures, a Windows netbook makes more sense. If you wait until October, you can get a netbook with Microsoft's latest system, Windows 7, revved up and ready to go.
3. An external disc drive can come in handy.
Netbooks are light and streamlined for portability -- which often means tossing the CD/DVD drive overboard. If you plan to install a lot of software or games onto your netbook, consider buying an external USB disc drive for it. Sure, there are workarounds to getting by without a disc drive. but have one on hand makes things easier.
4. Solid-state drive or good old fashioned-hard drive?
If you plan to live in the Cloud by keeping most of your files, email, and other bits of your digital life online, a sturdy solid-state drive might suit you. Although they can be a bit more expensive and come in smaller capacities, a solid-state drives have no moving parts and can generally withstand more banging around than a traditional motorized hard drive. But if you want to carry around all your photos, music and other files on your netbook, a 80- or 160-gigabyte hard drive should fit the bill.
5. Max out your memory when you order it
Low-end netbooks often don't have a ton of memory. If the manufacturer is offering a basic model with 512 megabytes of RAM, see if you can add more when you order the machine to get it up to at least a gigabyte or more. It may cost a little more upfront, but once you realize all the things you can do with a netbook besides email and Web-surfing -- playing games, organizing photos, listening to music -- you'll be glad you took care of it earlier
So if you want to learn about all the cool things a netbook can do, and understand what it can't do, we hope you consider purchasing Netbooks: The Missing Manual.