John Markoff, writing on the New York Times tech blog, points to “an obvious market opportunity” in the portable computing market: a lightweight, thin-client, ultralight laptop that draws its data and applications off the Internet. On a recent trip, the hard drive died in Markoff’s Mac laptop and, desperate to get his work done, he tried running the computer off a CD with a copy of the Ubuntu Linux operating system. Turns out, it worked like a charm:
What I discovered was that – with the caveat of a necessary network connection – life is just fine without a disk. Between the Firefox Web browser, Google’s Gmail and and the search engine company’s Docs Web-based word processor, it was possible to carry on quite nicely without local data during my trip.
I had already stashed my almost 4,000 sources and phone numbers on a handy web site which I had access to, and so I found the only things I was missing were the passwords to online databases and my files of past reporting notes and articles which I occasionally refer to.
Bouncing between hotel rooms to Wi-Fi-enabled lobbies and conference rooms, I was easily able to stay online and file my stories without incident. Afterwards it made me wonder why there aren’t more wireless, Web-connected ultralight portables for business travelers.
Markoff’s may well be right. The time seems ripe for the debut of a simple, cheap, lightweight portable with a browser, a wi-fi card, and nothing else. (OK, maybe a little flash drive, too.) If you really want to jumpstart the adoption of online productivity apps by business folks – and make Microsoft very nervous – create a cool CloudBook for road warriors. With the iPhone, Apple is demonstrating that the Web itself can be a platform for writing and running software. Why not take the next step?