- The Washington Times - Monday, December 1, 2008

There’s about three weeks to go before the holidays hit. You want to get a computer for someone, but don’t know what to do. What’s more, the game is changing this year, both in terms of retailers and the models they offer.

Perhaps. Go anywhere - even Costco - and you’ll find “netbooks,” tiny portables with smallish screens, hard drives (if any) and about a gigabyte of RAM. Some have Windows preloaded, others rely on Linux, while others still would connect via a network to a “cloud” computer where your operating system (and data) reside. They seem very cute, and very popular; my wife is enamored of one.

I haven’t played with the Windows-based devices all that much yet, but my chief concern is the relatively small screen size of 8.9 to 10 inches diagonally for most models. My aging eyes wince at this, even though it might work for many people. I’d try to find a 12-inch display on a netbook, but that’s me.

I’d also want to see more RAM, or at least the chance to add more. And forget about optical drives. If you want to watch a movie with one, you’ll need an external drive of some stripe, which kind of defeats the tiny, superportable concept.

On the Linux side, and especially for the smaller computer users in your world, the OLPC, or Amazon.com. No, it’s not the world’s most sophisticated computer, but the only way you or I can buy one is to pay enough to let the OLPC folks give one to a child in the developing world. That alone makes it worthwhile.

: There are some new entrants this holiday season, most notably Best Buy doesn’t have them handy.

I remain a huge fan of Hewlett Packard’s products for the home, especially the dv5t series of notebook computers. They shine, and not just in appearance. The screen size is decent, the graphics quality is great, you can get an HDTV tuner for watching on the run, and - yippee - some models even have a Blu-Ray disc player. As far as entertainment goes, you can’t ask for much more. And, HP products seem to be everywhere, so finding them is easy.

Dell also has some serviceable items this year, and they’re offering bargain prices to draw in shoppers online at www.dell.com. If you’ve been happy with that brand, it might be worth investigating.

On the Mac side, of course, MacBook Pro computers shines in every dimension. The only downside, so far, is the lack of Blu-Ray disc players as an installed option. Perhaps this will change in 2009; one can only hope.

Why do I stress portables over desktops? It’s a mobile world. If you want to be more comfortable at home, docking and display options are cheap and plentiful, so grab the advantage of portability when you can.

E-mail Mark Kellner at mkellner@washingtontimes.com

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