The spigot is barely open, yet already the early trickle of netbooks is triggering one of the livelier debates the industry has seen this year.
One side believes netbooks are too under-powered to be usable. The other side believes netbooks' rock-bottom prices will spur a wave of buying that will wash the foundation out from under conventional notebook PCs and their higher price points.
Guess what. They're both right.
Intel first floated the term "netbook" early this year as a way to distinguish systems built around Atom, its new family of low-cost x86 processors, from traditional entry-level notebook PCs. The term implies--and Intel's Atom marketing underscores--that netbooks are fine for checking e-mail and surfing the Web, but are ill-equipped for editing photos, playing videos and other heavy lifting, which is best left to "real" computers.
That's what the netbooks-are-essentially-worthless camp says. Why spend a few hundred dollars for a netbook when you can buy a full-featured notebook for as little as $500, they say? And it's true: If that's what you believe, then a netbook is not for you. Go buy a notebook and quit your worrying.
The real hand-wringing, though, is happening on the other side. And while Intel has done a lot to kick-start this low-cost segment, executives there must be at least somewhat anxious that netbooks will eat into today's already fragile entry-level notebook price points.