Mobility

Do netbooks make sense for corporate users?

Last year, word of Asus's forthcoming Eee PC and the One Laptop Per Child XO laptop had most techies pining for a mini notebook. More companies are making them now, but does that mean they are more than a novelty?

Last year, word of Asus's forthcoming Eee PC and the One Laptop Per Child XO laptop had most techies pining for a mini notebook. More companies are making them now, but does that mean they are more than a novelty?

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The consumer electronics catalogs that come across my threshold are chock full of mini notebook offerings. It seems like retailers are hoping that a sub $400 computer might be this Christmas's must-have gift. I get the attraction.

Computers are a product that people are very price sensitive toward. When an honest-to-goodness laptop computer can be had for less than a video game console, now that gets people's attention. Everyone likes getting a good deal, and a computer is still perceived as a big-ticket item.

These mini notebooks are light, but not too light. Ask most "full" laptop users what their biggest complaint is with their machine, and they probably will tell you that it's heavy. At three pounds or less, these netbooks seem like they would be good for road warriors and students alike, without sacrificing too much usability. The computer industry has been down the ultra-portable road before with the UMPC. The ultra-mobile PC didn't take off because they were too expensive and too inconvenient to carry and use. Larger than a PDA or smart phone but smaller than a laptop, these devices just didn't find a market. Try to explain exactly what a UMPC is to the average person, and they'll just visualize a smaller laptop. Netbooks have the advantage of being a form factor that everyone can grok.

Netbooks are robust enough to handle the basics. With competent, low power CPUs like those now being produced by Intel, these machines can browse the Web and edit Office documents without any trouble at all. If netbooks take off the way that their manufacturers hope, what will that mean for those of us who take care of computers professionally? If indeed 50 million netbooks are shipped in the next four years, any tech that deals directly with consumers had better be prepared to see a surge of these machines coming in for service. I don't expect these machines to make any significant headway in the enterprise market, though. What do you think?

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