According to a report by DisplaySearch, sales growth of netbooks outpaced sales growth of traditional notebook computers by almost 200 percent. PC makers shipped about 38 million portable computers in Q3 2009, according to the study, with overall sales growing 22 percent. But sales of netbooks grew a whopping 40 percent.

Overall, netbooks accounted for about 22 percent of all portable computer sales worldwide in Q3 2009. But in certain markets, like Latin America and China, sales of netbook computers now exceed sales of traditional notebooks. In more mainstream markets, like the United States and Europe, wireless carriers are now selling subsidized netbooks to consumers, but there's no data yet on how successful those promotions have been.

With the success of these devices comes more competition and a wider variety of devices. Early on, netbook pioneer Asus dominated this category. But with top-tier PC makers like Dell, HP, Lenovo, and Toshiba entering the market, Asus has consistently lost share, even though its sales remain strong. Meanwhile, PC makers are starting to stretch the definition of what constitutes a netbook. Today, that typically means a 10.2 inch or smaller screen, an Atom processor, and 1 GB of RAM. But many crossover devices are starting to offer larger screens and additional capabilities, leading to fears that consumers will become confused about the differences between the various computer types.

Microsoft has addressed this issue by providing PC makers with the ability to sell the entry-level (and low cost) Windows 7 Starter edition only with those PCs that meet certain low-end capabilities. The idea is that consumers should be getting a more powerful Windows version on non-netbook devices. But PC makers are unlikely to stop pushing the boundaries of what is and is not a netbook. And certainly, many will also sell higher-end Windows 7 versions on true netbooks as well.

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