Just before the end of the year, I discovered that the Windows laptop we'd pencilled in for 2004 had to be purchased Right Now. (I use a TiBook for most of my work, but Eastgate needs a supplementary Windows laptop)
As it happened, Dave Winer had just been through much the same experience: his laptop failed in the middle of a trip, and he reported his subsequent experience in some detail. Scoble went shopping with Winer. Ultimately, Dave chose an IBM T40, which he likes a lot.
Dan Bricklin wrote earlier this year about tablet computers. He uses the Fujistu, and so I wrote and asked him for advice, too. Dan, in turn, pulled Bob Frankston into the discussion. Then, I had a great talks with Feedster's Scott Johnson, hot Tinderboxer (and ex-CTO) Doug Miller, Avaki's Philip Werner, and lots of other people, compressed into about three days. In some way, the discussion was as interesting as the laptop shopping:
- The conventional categories for laptops are wrong. Many of these very tech-savvy and demanding users, when suggesting laptops, jumped wildly between conventional categories. The experts just don't think along the lines of the categorization imposed by the magazines.
- Weight matters more than you think. This kept coming up time and again. Guys who think nothing of shoveling acres of snow really care about extra poundage. Nobody felt that even the subminis were too small.
- Geography matters; there are new computers you can buy in Japan that aren't yet available in the US market. This is a not a reassuring sign for the future of the US software industry.
- Laptops aren't forever. The more you use a laptop, the sooner it breaks. The smaller the laptop, the sooner it breaks. The better the laptop today, the sooner it's rust. Accept this. Computers are used up in three years, anyway, but expect to replace your laptop sooner.
- Nobody talked much about the CPU. This was a big surprise, because everybody was very interested in performance above everything else. In practice, Windows tends to be disk bound.
- Macs are mainstream. At some point, nearly everyone suggested looking at a Macintosh, even lifetime Windows users who know I'm Mac-centric.
- Dell is radically out of favor. Last year's business genius, perhaps inevitably, is this year's old news.
- Getting a big disk and plenty of RAM top the list. This, incidentally, is the place where price shopping gets complicated; comparing apples to apples requires lots of customizing.
The big surprise was that busy and important computer professionals love to talk about laptops. These are pros, computers are everyday tools for them, many have had laptops for decades, but people were simply interested in these machines. There's an important lesson about the market here.
I started out looking for a big, honking 8-pounder and wound up with the smallest laptop on the table -- a Sony TR2, weighing in at 3.1 lbs, with a 1280x768 screen, onboard WiFi, and a combo drive.
It's called Progress.