I bought another computer – Dell Inspiron Mini 9

I really don't need another one, but at these prices, it sort of made sense.

Since TV is sort of a background activity for me, it's nice to be able to surf the web or look up things that pop into my head while I watch the tube.  It's also not bad to have an available computer sitting around in the living room when guests come over … after all, god forbid someone should visit and not be able to check their e-mail, update their Facebook status, or look random things up on the Internet. 

I still have my ThinkPad X300 (which by the way, is ranking pretty low on my list of satisfactory computer purchases).  The problem with using that out in the living room is that A. I have to actually be here and B. It's a pain to unhook all the cables and reattach them just so that I can use the laptop in a different room.  And, really, all I want is something I can leave out in the living room and surf the web on.

For 200 bucks, the Dell Inspiron Mini 9 much fits the bill.  It would have been more like 185, but CA seems to see fit to charge tax and some sort of bogus recycling fee.

So now it's sitting out on the living room couch.  The speed is completely satisfactory … the only thing this little computer can't handle is YouTube HD video.  Google Docs and Apps work great.  1024×600 is just enough to surf the web without wanting to claw my eyes out.

My main complaints with the Mini, if I have to list them, are the following.

One, the keyboard is unusually tiny and has a strange layout. Now, I'm used to tiny keyboards, and I can get used to this one, but the size of this thing is definitely pushing it.  The apostrophe key, in particular, is on the bottom of the keyboard instead of next to the Enter key, which is causing me to accidentally hit Enter a LOT.

The touchpad also has a bad habit of activating when my palm touches it while I'm typing.  This leads to all sorts of strange things happening when I type into the browser as the cursor jumps to odd places.

That's pretty much all of the legitimate complaints I can think of.  Disk space and RAM are barely there, but since I'm only using it to surf the web, it's more than sufficient.  And, like I said, the Mini 9 browses the web quite speedily.  I could remedy that by buying a bigger Mini, but that would cost literally twice as much.  I'll live.

Ubuntu is a pretty amazing OS for being free.  I built my entire home network around it using VM's just to re-familiarize myself with Linux, and, while the whole process was and still is quite painful, it manages to get the job done.  If you can ignore everything else about the OS and just surf the web, it works even for normal people.

Honestly, I always wondered why it took so long to commoditize computer hardware to these levels.  I've always found it frustrating to see computer power rise and rise and just see the extra power get sucked up by a bloated operating system and applications.  Palm OS still has some of the most productive apps I've ever used and it runs on a 33 MHz processor.  Meanwhile, my 200 MHz Windows Mobile phone takes 5 seconds to show me a freaking menu.  Ridiculous.

In short, a lot of computing usability advances have nothing to do with the power of the available platform and everything to do with how we make use of the existing power … battery life, human interfaces, and simple cost, cost, cost being among them.  When the industry can put a full fledged computer into anyone's hands for 200 bucks … well, thank god something is going right in this country.

I have high hopes that the widespread availbility of Internet access and computing is going to cause a marked increase in general intelligence amongst the populace.  Although I happen to think that giving away computers ala the OLPC effort is a little silly.  A Mini running Ubuntu completely outclasses anything the OLPC can do, runs an open OS and uses standard hardware, and it's available to anyone.  I enjoy it when the market begins solving some of these problems for us.

Unfortunately, lower costs aren't good thing for computer manufacturers.   Commoditization is the inevitable killer of companies and a sure sign that an industry is going "over the hill", if you look at industry lifecycles.

Anyway, if you're looking for a secondary PC to throw around the house, the Mini 9 is a good fit.  And hey, if you're on a tight budget, it's about the cheapest primary PC you can get out there right now too.

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