It seems that the decades old WinTel model of computer technology has been turned on its ear in the last year or so.
The concept of designing and building faster and more powerful processing capability, followed by a more complex and resource hungry software stack has been replaced by a sort of inverse Olympic model - lower (power consumption), slower (processor speeds) weaker (performance scores). The new standard seems to be "good enough" rather than "bleeding edge" in the majority of cases.
This is the thought that went into the Intel Atom processor and its associated chipset. The combination of a mini-processor and capable but undistinguished supporting hardware is driving the latest "netbook"' sales boom.
Let's face it - the fact is that the majority of stuff most people use a computer for has not demanded increasingly powerful processing. Once you get to the point where you can surf the Internet, play music and videos without glitches, and do your normal office tasks, things are "good enough." That point probably occurred around 2002 with the advent of the Pentium 4 processor and Windows XP. Everything that happened since then has been important to gamers, graphics designers, video editors - but not the general computer user.
Couple with that the fact that the hardware designers were running into serious limitations with processor speed, power consumption and just keeping the darn thing cool and it was obvious that something had to be done. The multicore processor has been the the solution for the power users; the simpler "old is new again" Atom technology has spurred on the development of a new generation of cool tiny Internet appliances. It's as if Intel has been given the chance to go back and re-invent the Pentium processor knowing what they know now about miniaturization and nanotechnology.
The software makers have had to adjust to the new landscape too. Microsoft has the hardest challenge I think. The bloated Vista operating system is just not going to perform well in the netbook environment, and as a result Microsoft is stuck offering and extending support on an eight year old O/S until they get their Windows 7 out of the shop. The initial reviews are pretty good, but they are probably 6-9 months away from a saleable new product.
Well then, how about Linux? No problem. The combination of efficient design, low resource demand, no need for CPU sucking security apps makes it perfect for the netbook. I'm typing this post now on an 8.9 inch Acer Aspire One running Linux with only 512 MB of RAM. It's a pleasure - fast boot from its solid state hard drive, all the software I need, excellent wireless support. It doesn't look like Windows XP but it works.
I'm using Abiword - a smooth, full featured bloat free word processor. (Yes you can get it free for Windows if you want.)
The only problem Linux on the netbook has is - how do you get the average user to try it?