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Portables Hardware

A Look Back At the World's First Netbook 143

Not-A-Microsoft-Fan writes with this excerpt from The Coffee Desk: "Netbooks are making huge waves within the hardware and software industries today, but not many would believe that the whole Netbook craze actually started back around 1996 with the Toshiba Libretto 70CT. Termed technically as a subnotebook because of its small dimensions, the computer is the first that fits all of the qualifications of being what we would term a netbook today, due in part to its built-in Infrared and PCMCIA hardware, and its (albeit early) web browsing software. The hardware includes the two (potentially) wireless PCMCIA and infrared network connections, Windows 95 OSR 2 with Internet Explorer 2.0, a whole 16MB of RAM and a 120Mhz Intel Pentium processor (we're flying now!)."
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A Look Back At the World's First Netbook

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  • define define define (Score:4, Interesting)

    by markdavis ( 642305 ) on Sunday May 10, 2009 @09:33AM (#27896133)

    Determining when "Netbooks" arrived completely depends on your definition of what a Netbook is. In my definition, the Libbreto was/is not a "Netbook". Everyone will argue over what makes something a "Netbook" or not. I prefer to base it on concepts and specs from what was FIRST called a Netbook (which were the original Asus EEE's):

    1) Physically small sub-notebook
    2) Modest processor (compared to low-end main-line)
    3) Smaller/lower res screen (smaller than typical sub-notebooks)
    4) Solid state hard drive (Flash-based, rugged, lower power)
    5) Runs Linux (no additional OS cost, better performance)
    6) Lower costs (compared to low-end main-line)
    7) Excellent battery life (compared to low-end main-line)

    Those are the 7 things that opened the market and created the concept of the "Netbook". I have been running many small, sub-notebooks for well over a decade (Sony, Dell, etc), yet, none of them combined the above elements. They were generally MUCH MORE expensive than other notebooks, had hard drives, forced MS Windows bundled, and mediocre battery life.

    Take a Netbook, add more memory, add MS Windows, replace the flash drive with a hard drive, jack the price up 33-50%, and it is still a Netbook? Not to me- it is just a sub-notebook at that point.

  • by sootman ( 158191 ) on Sunday May 10, 2009 @09:40AM (#27896187) Homepage Journal

    I had one for a while. Got it from a friend, then gave it to my dad after barely using it for 6 months. But it was definitely neat. The coolest thing about it (at the time) was being that small but running a full OS, not Palm or CE or anything, and with a real CPU. Mine had a P75, 4 GB hard drive, and dual-booted Win98 and RedHat 7. The former owner was a network admin who carried it around and used the serial port to talk to routers. Having a hardware fetish, I bought it from him when he no longer needed it but I found that, as neat as it was, I really didn't have much use for it. (Before wireless Internet was everywhere, having a notebook on hand wasn't that useful unless you were a writer or traveling to places that had network jacks.) So I gave it to my dad so he'd have something small to take to LUG meetings. One thing--it was definitely a conversation-starter. If you pulled it out in a public place you'd have questions from everyone around you.

  • by warlock ( 14079 ) on Sunday May 10, 2009 @09:47AM (#27896231) Homepage

    A Libretto 100CT in fact, with the widescreen 7.1" TFT display (800x480), Intel Pentium 166Mhz MMX overclocked to 233Mhz, 32MB RAM upgraded to 64MB (couldn't handle more) and a 2.1GB HD which I replaced with a 20GB one. I later added a 802.11b WiFi and made quite a good web surfing machine with FreeBSD + Netscape and Firefox later on...

    I've been using it regularly until 2004 and then on and off until 2006 or so. It's resting in a box down at the basement now.

    Having used a small machine like that is what made me immune to the netbook craze while everybody around me thinks they're so cool and useful and have been buying small cheap machines and finding out how particularly useless they are...

    IMNSHO they're too small to be useful for most kinds of real work and to big to carry around or surf while, say in bed - I'm much better off now with a regular laptop that I can get real work done and an iPhone that I can surf the web casually wherever I may be.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday May 10, 2009 @09:58AM (#27896289)

    Wouldn't say flimsy. I can't count the number of times I've dropped, spilled soda on, or accidentally wedge other items into, my Asus EEE 701 and been surprised when it still booted up fine.

  • by beadfulthings ( 975812 ) on Sunday May 10, 2009 @10:02AM (#27896311) Journal

    Mine is 1992 vintage and actually still works, though it is getting more difficult to move files between it and the newer stuff around here. Its chef virtue is that it weighs practically nothing and can be connected to its dock, which includes a floppy disk drive and place for a full-sized keyboard. Has a reasonably respectable 4mb of RAM and a whopping 80mb hard drive. I used it for years to write up notes. It's no good as a netbook because it can't use a browser compatible with most of today's Internet; it's got an early version of Mosaic on it.

    I actually replaced it just this past Christmas with an HP mini netbook. I'm relatively happy with it, but as with its predecessor, all I do with it is carry it around to write up notes.

  • by tick-tock-atona ( 1145909 ) on Sunday May 10, 2009 @10:14AM (#27896375)
    ... in fact, is hosted on one of these! Also: []
  • by SeinJunkie ( 751833 ) <> on Sunday May 10, 2009 @10:34AM (#27896497) Homepage

    Aside from that not being true, it was underpowered so that it didn't have the appeal of later devices, it was marketed poorly in a world that wasn't ready (it would have needed to be marketed better).

    Right. In the book "Myths of Innovation []," the author (Scott Berkun) discusses how there is no such thing as a product being ahead of its time (which is what it seems this /. article summary is basically touting). You can't have a great idea in isolation and expect the market to come to you. Part of the invention process is how will your audience accept the product? Aside from patent trolling, the marketplace doesn't allow for financial success in a walled garden.

    Berkun also cites many examples and non-examples of famous inventors like Edison not actually being the first to invent something (such as the light bulb), but really being the best one to bring it to the audience. He also demonstrates how you wouldn't be able to bring a modern invention such as the netbook and take it back in time to be as successful as it has been for us. The infrastructure wouldn't be there and the public mindset would have no reference point or paradigm to go from.

  • I would almost say (Score:4, Interesting)

    by falcon5768 ( 629591 ) <Falcon5768@comca ... t minus caffeine> on Sunday May 10, 2009 @10:36AM (#27896521) Journal
    The eMate from apple could be classified as a netbook, since it did have email and browsing capabilities and has even been hacked to use 802.11b these days on top of its cat-5 and modem abilities. It was after all a low power computer based off the Newton.
  • by dmcox ( 1047964 ) on Sunday May 10, 2009 @10:51AM (#27896665)
    On the road I used a computer called Twinhead Subnote running Windows 3.1, with a built in modem I could connect back to the office. Here is a photo []
  • by salesgeek ( 263995 ) on Sunday May 10, 2009 @12:13PM (#27897301) Homepage

    Pretty much nailed the Libretto, except the flash drive and Wifi, which in '97 was largely non-existent. Calling the Libretto the forerunner to today's netbooks is accurate. Having owned a Libretto, it immediately came to mind when I first saw what we are calling netbooks.

    So far as your standards, the Libretto met them all, save one, which basically didn't exist:

    #4) solid state drive. Didn't exist then, and doesn't sell well vs. a hard drive now.

    The Libretto would get checks across the board on everything else. Even it's base price of $1,295 with a passive color screen was very cheap back then.

  • by adosch ( 1397357 ) on Sunday May 10, 2009 @12:34PM (#27897471)
    About a decade+ ago, a friend of mine in college gave me a Gateway Handbook [] and I still own it to this day. I upgraded the RAM to 24mb and put in a 1GB hard drive in it and whatever Linux distro I had around at the time. It was definitely usable when I was in college to take notes on, but using as a daily application for my life is where it failed; 802.11b was *just* emerging and playing Doom on it during class quickly tired. It's comical to see how laptop industry flops back on itself (much how fashion has went back to calling 80's straight leg pants and moon boots the new 'in'). I remember when all the hype a few years ago surrounded the netbook. It's cool, don't get me wrong (and I do own a Acer Aspire ZG5), but definitely not a new idea. Just a regurgitation of what failed the first time around because there wasn't enough technology infrastructure to support it (e.g. wi-fi, internet for the masses, etc.)
  • by ceoyoyo ( 59147 ) on Sunday May 10, 2009 @02:20PM (#27898361)

    1996 wasn't that long ago. Most of the essential bits were available, if not common then. The article itself is about a subnotebook with many of the essential features of a netbook.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday May 10, 2009 @02:36PM (#27898477)

  • by MichaelSmith ( 789609 ) on Sunday May 10, 2009 @06:59PM (#27900269) Homepage Journal

    touch pad freaks out when they get too wet

    I take mine travelling so we can watch movies and transfer data between our cameras. The touchpad also freaks out when the laptop is run from a cheap in car power inverter, so I either take a small mouse or pull the power when I want to use the UI.

    Its a great little machine. I used it at my dad's place yesterday setting up his wifi. I had his new router plugged in and was testing the connection through to /. from the eee while he fiddled with the wifi configuration on his windows laptop. Now he wants one of course.

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