The first laptop that got me hooked on the idea that 4 lbs was the maximum weight I’d accept in a portable was the Thinkpad 560e, back in 1998. It was perfect in terms of keyboard size, form factor, and acceptable in weight to carry all the time.
I now use a Macbook Air as my main laptop (I did have a Thinkpad X300 for a while, but had to drop it, but that’s another story) and basically we have advanced by shaving off about 1 lb of weight and adding maybe an hour of battery life or so. In 10 years!
Yes, the machines are now faster: faster processors, faster memory, faster hard drives, more resolution. But it’s a wash. And I know it’s a wash because recently I found my old 560e, from 1998, and booted it. There it went! Windows 98 Second Edition took perhaps 20 seconds or so to boot. Double clicking on Netscape, IE, or Word would bring up the application within a few seconds, no slower than my Macbook Air and definitely faster than the X300 and even some desktops these days.
Web pages may be less interactive in that machine, or not load at all, but you can basically do what you would need to do in most cases (unless you work with high-end graphics, or code, or do numerical analysis…). Btw, the irony of loading up an old machine and being able to open documents like RTF and such, but not navigate the supposedly standards-based Web is rich.
And this isn’t confined to Windows — Linux and even the Mac’s System 7 was similar in speed (ok, ok, System 7 was more sluggish). The point is that we’ve just taken two steps forward and one back.
Don’t get me wrong, I like what we have now, and any trifle of advances that we get. But it’s 2008. In ten years, we have not, objectively, gotten that far. We have added lots of abstraction layers on top of basically the same functions (as far as PCs are concerned — the web is a whole other story),
Maybe we’ll have to wait for the singularity to show up and give us better, faster, more energy efficient portables and desktops.