Netbooks are the hardware trend of the day. In other words, they're cheap and selling like hotcakes. But I hear through back channels that vendors are having trouble "positioning" netbooks: How do they relate to full-size, full-power laptops? Are they second machines for the frequent or occasional traveler? And so on.
Well, I have a suggestion: Businesses should consider buying netbooks and rolling them out as desktop replacements. I'm not talking about the Linux variety. I'm talking about netbooks running Windows XP.
[ The InfoWorld Test Center rates netbooks for business. See who came out on top. ]
For obvious ergonomic reasons, you need to shell out for an external screen and keyboard to make a netbook a viable primary machine (plus a docking station, if available). But think about it: The Intel Atom CPU is plenty fast for running Office, they're so small and light that employees will like taking them home, you can actually use one in an airplane seat, and they cost half as much as an ordinary notebook (and less than many desktops). If you're really pinching pennies, you might also think of a netbook as a BlackBerry replacement.
I realize there are a couple of problems with this idea. For one thing, although netbooks represent a loophole through which Microsoft will allow XP to be sold until mid-2010, that extension is restricted to XP Home -- which is not a managed OS and thus inappropriate for business use.
Clearing Microsoft's netbook barriers
Yet you can still get XP Pro preinstalled from the vendor. The catch is you have to buy a Vista Business license (or Vista Ultimate license, but that costs more) and ask your vendor to "downgrade" your netbook to XP Pro. All the major vendors offer the downgrade option for ordinary desktops and notebooks (Microsoft says they can do so until August 2009), but this option is just beginning to be available for netbooks, such as HP's Mini-Notes.
The downside is that downgrading is somewhat pricey. Usually you pay an additional $50 for XP Pro (as opposed to XP Home). But Vista Business retails for $300, so you're paying a premium for a downgrade. Kinda knocks a little luster off the ultra-low netbook price.