In the industry as a whole, we're seeing this minimalist trend everywhere. In TVs, every manufacturer is lately focusing on producing not necessarily the largest displays, but the slimmest. Take Sony's OLED TV—people are so mesmerized by its three-millimeter thickness that they forget they're watching TV on an 11-inch screen that set them back $2,500—something high-end consumers would have laughed at a few years ago. We're also seeing it in computers—Apple's Macbook Air is currently their flagship objet d'envie, and it's most notable for what it doesn't have: bulk, thickness and weight, but also an Ethernet port and optical drive—again, missing features that would have been deal breakers on a $1,800 machine not too long ago.
A great benefit of this trend toward minimalism is that it is often associated with reduced costs. Both the EeePC and Cloudbook are priced at $400, which is pretty impressive considering what comes in the box. And with the Cloudbook being sold by Wal-Mart, the world’s largest retailer, things are starting to get mainstream.
But by far the most exciting thing about tech's new minimalism is the added longevity it gives to older hardware. As more and more people realize that the overwhelming majority of their time with a computer is spent surfing the Web, sending emails, working with office applications, or talking to their friends—all of which can be easily and comfortably accomplished on low-cost and often older hardware—they will also realize that with a little easy tweaking, the four-year-old laptop gathering dust in the closet might be perfectly capable of meeting their needs.
Notable here is the operating system's role in this trend. While the open-source Linux operating system can be run (and is very functional) on just about anything—from the latest high-performance screamer to the aforementioned old laptop in the closet —Windows Vista, for instance, can only run on systems built in the last year or two, if you're lucky. And although a version of the EeePC running Windows XP is forthcoming, it takes significantly more coaxing to run on lower-powered, non-standard hardware than Linux.
In the new world of the Linux ultraportable, the EeePC is still king, and when comparing it with the unpolished Cloudbook, it’s easy to see why [see the next page for our full comparison]. But the trend toward minimalism in hardware also allows older machines, like my four-year-old Thinkpad X31, to step back up to the plate. And that’s where things get interesting.
Let's take a closer look at the main contenders in the Linux-powered ultraportable world—the Asus EeePC and the Everex Cloudbook--and, as a control, my four-year-old IBM Thinkpad X31 running Ubuntu Linux. Sure, the X31 is not as crazy-svelte, but in its day it was about as small as they came, and still serves as an impressively compact workhorse to this day. And best of all, the three of them can be had for $400 (you can probably pick up an X31 for even less with some craigslist watching), so let's see what's possible with each.single page
Five amazing, clean technologies that will set us free, in this month's energy-focused issue. Also: how to build a better bomb detector, the robotic toys that are raising your children, a human catapult, the world's smallest arcade, and much more.