Sales of lightweight, low-powered mini-laptops, widely known as netbooks, have been growing rapidly with consumers during the past six months and are predicted to stay on this path. And the tech industry can't seem to get enough of talking about netbooks these days; the hype meter has been clicking up steadily for months. But do these little engines really have a place in the enterprise?
The answer is "not yet," according to IT professionals interviewed for this story.
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On the bright side, most netbooks on the market do provide enough CPU power, storage, and wireless connectivity, not to mention low enough prices and easy portability, to be attractive to enterprises, IT pros say. (Netbooks will likely also become more appealing to enterprises as more corporate resources move to the cloud and are accessible on the Web, analysts say.)
But the negatives outweigh the positives when you consider netbooks as primary machines at enterprises, many IT vets say.
Paradoxically, this is good news for Microsoft, which runs Windows XP on nearly all netbooks, backed up by Intel's low-power Atom processors. Both companies want to keep netbooks small and inexpensive to prevent them from stealing sales away from conventional laptops, a large and profitable market.
Yet the IT pros interviewed for this story expressed a desire to have netbooks be bigger and faster. This presents a conundrum for Microsoft: OEM's could beef up netbook specs -- perhaps add bigger screens, more ports, and faster chips to please enterprises -- thus making netbooks a more legitimate, but still cheaper, competitor to laptops.
Here are IT professionals' big three gripes about today's netbooks.
Too small, too slow
Many IT managers cite the diminutive size of netbooks, lack of encryption features, and the potential for theft or loss as liabilities, leading them to view netbooks more as a complement to a desktop or laptop computer.
Stephen Laughlin, Director of IT at the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences, takes a hard stance against netbooks in the enterprise. He says he's not ruling out netbooks for the future, but for now, he's not switching to netbooks anytime soon.
"I would consider moving some users to netbooks once they have more computing power, faster CPU, bigger hard drives, bigger keyboard, and bigger screens," he says.
Laughlin emphasizes that his enterprise staffers, like many others, want computers that are robust and powerful, and that having an inexpensive netbook merely as a backup machine defeats the intended purpose of saving money.
Laughlin doesn't buy into the potential cost savings of netbooks as primary machines, either.