This is a post in our 2009 Back to School series. You can see all of the posts here.

Netbooks are the hottest piece of back-to-school technology this summer and I highly recommend buying one, even if it’s a second computer. (My favorite is the Mini 110, pictured below.) If you’re interested in starting to take notes in class, it’s a great buy. And it’s a cheap way of getting you fired up about a new machine without investing in a decked-out one to replace your 5-year-old clunker which can still tolerably handle things that a netbook won’t be able to. A netbook can even help you work more efficiently. But it’ll take a litte transition — one I can hopefully help you out with.

The benefits

The HP Mini 110, my pick for the student netbook. Before I get into some of the difficulties of staying organized between two computers, let’s enjoy some of the geeky productivity that’ll ensue once you get one.

Helping you focus

Netbooks are the ultimate anti-multi-tasking device. Multi-tasking ultimatlely produces poorer results — especially since the type of juggling a college student does is between a research paper and Facebook. Netbooks have small screens and less power, so it’ll be hard to switch between windows and open a lot of different programs. It keeps you working in one program at a time. Creative writers and bloggers will especially love having a netbook since it’ll keep you focused on the page.

Staying mobile

If you have a desktop computer or a large laptop, a netbook will free you up to do more on-the-go computing. It’ll help you utilize short periods between classes or avoid wasted drives home just to do computer homework.


Many of netbooks run simpler operating systems and stripped-down programs. Running nothing but a word processor can often be more nimble on a netbook than your other system since it doesn’t have the overhead (calendar programs, task management, Quicksilver, etc.). Because of this, the boot-up time can be speedier, too.

Syncing data

When it comes to syncing data between more than one computer, it’s easy to get stressed out. But don’t sweat. I say, keep it simple, and most of the time, it is.

Separating tasks

One of the easiest ways to keep things “synced” is just to leave your data separated. For a student, it makes a lot of sense to keep your notes and journal entries exclusively on your netbook. As long as you take all of your notes on your netbook, you’ll rarely need them anywhere else. It’s just like having a separate binder like in the olden days. Make a decided effort to keep whole categories of tasks separate.

Thumb drives

Thumb drives are a great way to keep things synced. These days, a 16 gig thumbdrive is relatively affordable, and it can probably hold all of your school work. Do that, and you’ll always know where to look. Keep it in your pocket — except when you wash your jeans. (In other words, periodically, back it up.)


HP netbooks like the Mini 110 come with Syncables these days. It’s a pain to set up, but if you have the time and the anal-ness, it’s worth it. It can sync just about anything you require.

Web apps are going to be your best friend with a netbook (hence, Google’s recent jump in to the OS arena). Google Mail, Calendar and Docs will keep your info wherever an internet connection is. (Just don’t find yourself in a place without one.) A fancy mobile device that syncs email, calendars and contacts might be all you need.