HP's largest netbook customer, the Fresno Unified School District in California, bought 7,000 of its original 2133 Mini-Note machines last year. But despite "quite a bit of interest from the business sector," HP has yet to make any large corporate sales, Thornton said.
HP is betting that will change with the Mini 2140 . Featuring battery life of up to 8 hours, a hard drive with anti-drop data protection capabilities, and a sleek-yet-professional aluminum casing, the 2140 is being explicitly targeted at the Fortune 500.
"We're not peddling some cheap, plastic-y toy," Thornton said. "I believe that we've got the one of the first, if not only, viable business netbooks out there." He added that a number of Fortune 200 companies are already testing the 2140.
However, both Acer and Asus, as Asustek is known, are also bringing out business-friendly netbooks to compete with the 2140. And Thornton conceded that because of the economy, many corporations have slashed the capital-equipment budgets that they normally reserve for PC purchases, among other things.
But Thornton contends that the 2140's relatively low price tag (the machine lists for between US$499 and $650), combined with HP's formidable corporate sales force, will result in numerous sales of relatively small quantities to business users who can buy the system without having to tap into capital-equipment funds.
"Everyone is looking for less-costly alternatives," he said. "If a sales vice president wants to get 20 $600 netbooks at a time, that is well within the signature authority of many executives."
Thornton also argued that the 2140 won't necessarily cannibalize sales of HP's bigger and more expensive laptops. "For a salesperson," he said, "a netbook can actually be a good companion to a 15-inch notebook PC."