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While the microprocessors that act as the brains inside netbooks are less powerful than even those found in inexpensive full-sized laptops, they are sufficient for most Web browsing, e-mailing and word processing. And these computers are getting bigger hard drives, which you need for storing digital photos, music and video. Overall, they’re good enough that to people replacing 3- and 4-year-old PCs, netbooks feel downright fast.

Go for more power only if you watch high-definition TV and films, or edit HD home movies. Those tasks would require beefier machines.

– Everything’s getting carried away.

People want Internet access all the time, and PC makers are betting “smart” phones – even the iPhone – aren’t big or ergonomic enough for anything more complex or time-consuming than a quick e-mail reply.

But already the line between phones and PCs is blurring: PC makers are teaming with mobile carriers to sell netbooks that cost as little as $99 as long as the buyer subscribes to a wireless data service. A new buzzword, “smartbooks,” is emerging to describe a device that runs a smart-phone operating system such as Google Inc.’s Android but on bigger hardware that is more like a PC than a phone.

To get you to carry their laptops to the corner coffee shop, PC companies are treating their wares as fashion accessories, not just tools. You’ll see more colors and patterns, more design-conscious shapes and upscale materials.

“Thin and light is sort of the new black,” says Forrester Research analyst Paul Jackson.

The next frontier: cutting the cord for longer stretches. New chips that require less energy are emerging, and advances in battery technology are expected in the coming years to extend the time people can sit in the airport watching YouTube.

– Hands-on has its place.

In 2007, the iPhone made “multitouch” mainstream. Unlike ATM screens, which recognize one finger pushing on one spot at a time, the iPhone’s screen responds to pinching and swiping gestures made with multiple fingers. Microsoft Corp.’s coffee-table-sized Surface computer, designed for hotel lobbies and shops and also released in 2007, responds to similar gestures and can be operated by several people at once.

Now the PC is in on the action. Windows 7 includes more support for multitouch applications, making some basic touch commands work even on programs that weren’t designed for it. You’ll see more laptops and “all-in-one” desktops – computers that stash all the technology in the case behind the screen – with multitouch screens. HP, Dell and others have designed software intended to make it easy to flip through photos and music or browse the Web with a fingertip instead of a mouse.

Apple, for its part, has multitouch trackpads for laptops and a multitouch mouse but says it isn’t interested in making a touch-screen Mac. Chief Operating Officer Tim Cook calls it “a gimmick.”

Will multitouch replace the mouse and keyboard? Probably not, but that doesn’t mean it won’t become a useful part of the way you work with your computer. Watching someone who has used a touch-screen computer for several months is interesting – he’ll reach to the screen to scroll down a Web page just as fluidly as he types and uses the mouse.

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