Caught in the netbook

There has been a lot of chatter in recent months about netbooks and if Apple will ever build one. What is a netbook? It’s simple: a small, lightweight, minimalist laptop with a lesser processor and just enough memory and storage so that it works best as a machine that can get online and give you access to “the cloud.” If you like Windows and Linux, you have several options available to you, some of which can be found at Target and Wal-Mart. For under $300 you can get a teeny laptop for your Gmail and Ebay needs.

But what if you’re an Apple user? What options do you have? Well, nothing Apple makes today fits the bill. The MacBook Air is insanely thin and light, but it’s a damn near full-powered laptop with a large 13″ screen and $2,000 price tag. Both pull it straight out of the netbook category. There’s also the standard MacBook. It’s half the Air’s price, but it’s significantly thicker and heavier. Again, not exactly a netbook.

The good news is that if you want an Apple netbook, you can pretty much get what you want–if you’re willing to do some digging and make some compromises.

My solution? The venerable 12″ PowerBook G4. I just picked one up this weekend and am still marveling at its niftiness. At 6.5 years of age it is no speed demon. It uses a way outdated processor, can barely accept more than 1GB of RAM and will never run any operating system beyond Mac OS X 10.5. Nobody makes accessories for it anymore. Can’t get a cool Speck shell or custom fitted case for it. Those are the negatives.

The positives: it’s really small, quite light, can go wireless natively, and is still plenty powerful enough to run more than just Firefox. It’s also inexpensive. Working models can be had for as little as $200 on Ebay. Or if you’re like me and unafraid of opening the thing up and fixing it yourself, you can find them for even less.

I got mine this past Friday. It was in decent shape. Not abused by any means, but not exactly babied other. Call it 6.5 years of reasonable use. The previous owner tried unsuccessfully to replace the hard drive, so I got it in reassembled shape, but inoperable. After downloading and printing an excellent set of  instructions, I set about retracing the hard drive replacement steps and righting any wrongs I might find. After about 45 minutes I had it back together. Couldn’t find anythng amiss, so I was nervous when I tried to power it up. Since I couldn’t find anything wrong, then any lingering problems would have to be made–at no small expense–by a professional, I figured. With great trepidation I pressed the power button.

Bing! The startup chime played, the screen went to gray with the Apple logo, and it started right up. WHEW! Mission: accomplished.

I now have a way cool little Apple netbook that promises to give me at least a few years of good service. It’s small enough to go just about anywhere with me, it’s powerful enough to let me devote my MacBook Pro to other tasks while it handles the more mundane Gmailing and Facebooking duties, and it’s cheap enough that if it gets lost, stolen or trashed, it won’t be a huge deal. I guess I know what I’ll be taking with me to England next year!