Where, oh where, is the Dell netbook?


Have netbooks jumped the shark? For a while there, it looked like the nascent trend of diminutive, lightweight, inexpensive, low-end notebook PCs — netbooks — were about to be undone by the company that jumpstarted it all.

I’m referring here to Asus, maker of the Eee PC… and its many, many permutations: There’s the Eee PC 2G Surf, the 4G, the 4G Surf, the 8G, the 900, the 901, the 904, the 1000, the 1000H, and the 1000HD. Whew.

The Eee PC models are not only multiplying like rabbits — thereby increasing the potential for confusion in the minds of buyers — but they’re rocketing skyward in price, too. As a result, Asus’s netbooks have eaten away at one of its key selling points: the savings compared to a low-end notebook.

That’s leaving the door open for a slew of competitors. Acer’s Aspire One, MSI’s Wind, Everex’s CloudBook and HP’s 2133 Mini-Note PC are already out and competing with Asus. Meanwhile, Sharp, Gigabyte, LG, VIA and Lenovo are also widely expected to move into the market.

It’s an increasingly fragmented market, clearly, and that potentially means good news for Dell.

According to Internet scuttlebutt, the company is poised to release an Intel Atom-based, Linux-powered netbook with SSD storage and an 8.9-inch screen… for $299, a price that would undercut all of its rivals while (one would hope) delivering the quality Dell’s systems are known for.

Best of all, Dell is said to begin selling the netbook — known variously as the Dell E, the Dell Mini Inspiron and Inspiron Mini — Friday.

The problem is that Dell hasn’t really said much at all about its foray into the netbook market.

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