Netbooks in the business: Do they make sense?

For field forces, the answer is clearly yes. For other users, the fit is less clear

With the some of the most recognized names in the high-tech industry -- Intel, Arm, Microsoft, Linux, Acer, Dell, Hewlett-Packard, Sony, and many more --hyping netbooks as the next big thing, we decided to take a look at a category whose exact definition is still in flux to see how and where they fit into business usage.

When it comes to deciding if your IT department should support netbooks, IT must answer two critical questions.

First, can netbooks play a unique role better than any other device you have? In other words, are they a category distinct from laptops at the high-performance and usability end, while standing apart from handhelds at the lower range in performance and usability?

Second, although netbooks make a great first impression as practical and inexpensive devices, IT must also consider how mobile devices are used at the street level within their own organization. Do they fit into the overall business IT strategy? Do they add to or detract from the total cost of ownership?

Just a year ago, netbook configurations were typically set to 512MB of RAM, 2GB to 4GB of flash storage, and less powerful microprocessors that limited what apps could run on them. They also tended to have small screens and keyboards. Almost all of them ran some flavor of the Linux operating system.

Today, netbooks are smaller than a sheet of paper, no thicker than an inch, and weigh 1.5 to 3 pounds, depending on whether you opt for a three-, four-, or six-cell battery. Many come with a 1.6GHz Intel Atom processor, a 160MB hard drive, 1GB of memory, and a screen size between 8 and 12 inches. (Why these dimensions? Because Microsoft has an agreement with netbook makers that the size of the screen can be no bigger than 12 inches in return for keeping Windows XP available to them.) Netbooks come loaded with either Linux or Windows XP, and when it ships, Windows 7 will also run on netbooks, unlike Vista. The cost is typically around $300 to $350, depending on the configuration.

A no-brainer: Field service usage for netbooks

Netbooks make the perfect fit for many field service operations -- transportation and logistics, repair and servicing, surveying, even medical care -- thanks to their small size, low price, and the fact you can create or run custom applications quickly and cheaply because they use standard desktop operating systems (unlike handhelds).

"Good enough to use and cheap enough to lose" is what early techies used to say about RadioShack's TRS- 80, aka the Trash 80, in the 1980s -- the first "netbook." The same can apply to most netbooks today. Whether a unit is stolen out of truck because the driver forgot to lock the door or it's dropped onto the pavement, a company is more likely to have spares in the closet rather than paying for fancy overnight delivery replacement services.

Join the Good Gear Guide newsletter!

Error: Please check your email address.

Tags netbooks

Our Back to Business guide highlights the best products for you to boost your productivity at home, on the road, at the office, or in the classroom.

Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

Ephraim Schwartz

InfoWorld
Show Comments

Essentials

Microsoft L5V-00027 Sculpt Ergonomic Keyboard Desktop

Learn more >

Lexar® JumpDrive® S57 USB 3.0 flash drive

Learn more >

Mobile

Lexar® JumpDrive® S45 USB 3.0 flash drive 

Learn more >

Exec

Audio-Technica ATH-ANC70 Noise Cancelling Headphones

Learn more >

Lexar® JumpDrive® C20c USB Type-C flash drive 

Learn more >

Lexar® Professional 1800x microSDHC™/microSDXC™ UHS-II cards 

Learn more >

HD Pan/Tilt Wi-Fi Camera with Night Vision NC450

Learn more >

Budget

Back To Business Guide

Click for more ›

Most Popular Reviews

Latest News Articles

Resources

PCW Evaluation Team

Azadeh Williams

HP OfficeJet Pro 8730

A smarter way to print for busy small business owners, combining speedy printing with scanning and copying, making it easier to produce high quality documents and images at a touch of a button.

Andrew Grant

HP OfficeJet Pro 8730

I've had a multifunction printer in the office going on 10 years now. It was a neat bit of kit back in the day -- print, copy, scan, fax -- when printing over WiFi felt a bit like magic. It’s seen better days though and an upgrade’s well overdue. This HP OfficeJet Pro 8730 looks like it ticks all the same boxes: print, copy, scan, and fax. (Really? Does anyone fax anything any more? I guess it's good to know the facility’s there, just in case.) Printing over WiFi is more-or- less standard these days.

Ed Dawson

HP OfficeJet Pro 8730

As a freelance writer who is always on the go, I like my technology to be both efficient and effective so I can do my job well. The HP OfficeJet Pro 8730 Inkjet Printer ticks all the boxes in terms of form factor, performance and user interface.

Michael Hargreaves

Windows 10 for Business / Dell XPS 13

I’d happily recommend this touchscreen laptop and Windows 10 as a great way to get serious work done at a desk or on the road.

Aysha Strobbe

Windows 10 / HP Spectre x360

Ultimately, I think the Windows 10 environment is excellent for me as it caters for so many different uses. The inclusion of the Xbox app is also great for when you need some downtime too!

Mark Escubio

Windows 10 / Lenovo Yoga 910

For me, the Xbox Play Anywhere is a great new feature as it allows you to play your current Xbox games with higher resolutions and better graphics without forking out extra cash for another copy. Although available titles are still scarce, but I’m sure it will grow in time.

Featured Content

Latest Jobs

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?