My Windows 7 netbook odyssey begins

Can a certified Windows power user learn to live lean in the world of the mini PC?

It's time. After way too many hours spent wrestling with a 10-pound desktop replacement laptop at security checkpoints and airport lounges on four continents, I'm ready for a change.

Over the next 30 days, I'll be conducting a rather audacious experiment: Can a certified Windows power user (i.e., me) survive -- and perhaps even thrive -- on one of the new "business class" netbooks from the likes of Hewlett-Packard, Acer, Asus, and Dell?

[ Discover what's next for netbooks in InfoWorld's special report. | The InfoWorld Test Center uncovers the best netbooks for business. ]

I asked myself this question while sitting in the Emirates' business class lounge at Dubai's new Terminal 3. I had just finished extracting my oversized Dell Precision M6400 from its oh-so-snug carrying case and was frantically searching for my U.K.-style plug adapter (battery life has never been the mobile workstation's strong suit), when I noticed a rather well-proportioned gentleman at the table next to me hunched over what looked to be the tiniest notebook PC I'd ever seen.

It was, of course, a netbook, one of the newer Acer Aspire models. As I took in the scene -- beefy business baron typing away greedily at his dwarfish data device -- I couldn't help but feel a tinge of jealousy. Mr. Mogul seemed perfectly at home on the puny machine, drafting a letter, checking his e-mail, and then hitting a few business news Web sites before snapping the unit closed and slipping it effortlessly into a swanky leather tote.

Then I was alone again, starting at the seemingly leviathan M6400 and massaging my now-aching shoulder. I had just finished checking my e-mail and was about to fire up Chrome to visit a couple of news sites when it hit me: Here I was, executing essentially the same basic tasks as my one-time lounge neighbor. Yet the equipment I was using was a good five times heavier and at least three times bulkier than his sleek little netbook.

It was at this point that a most evil thought entered my mind: Could I possibly squeeze my own day-to-day mobile work environment onto such an underpowered, yet eminently portable, device? After all, most of what I do while traveling -- checking e-mail, surfing the Web, writing up lame blog entries -- would fit quite nicely within the confines of a netbook. In fact, my only real concern would be the keyboard. I'm a touch-typist, so I would need something that's at least 90 percent of a full-size unit.

Otherwise, I'd be hard-pressed to think of anything that the combination of a netbook and some remotely accessible back-end iron (such as a dedicated workstation or small server for running VMs and development tools when needed) wouldn't allow me to accomplish.

So I decided to take the plunge. By the time you read this, I'll be in possession of my first netbook, an HP Mini 2140. After testing its baseline configuration, I will try to upgrade it with an extra gigabyte of RAM (so it can run Windows 7 comfortably) before transferring the bulk of my productivity applications and data from the M6400, which will then be returned to Dell for some much needed R&R (repair and refurbishment).

By the end of the day, I hope to be completely migrated over to the Mini and thus ready to begin my odyssey into the world of ultramobility. Will I be able to soar with the eagles of the lightweight crowd? Or will my insatiable need for computing bandwidth send me crumpling to the ground in a heap of spastic fingers and sore eyeballs?

Stay tuned!

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