Thursday, March 18, 2010

Netbooks in the Enterprise - Yes/No/Maybe?

Much interest has been generated by the introduction of a new PC form-factor. Netbooks are a rapidly evolving category of small, light and relatively inexpensive laptop computers. Their diminutive size and improved battery life have made them an interesting alternative to traditional corporate laptop system options. So, the question remains, are they well suited for the average corporate use? Let’s investigate.
First, the positives. The physical design offers a very small, transportable form factor, typically weighing around 3 pounds. Most netbooks are equipped with multiple networking options, many including internal 3G and 4G network services. Finally, the use of smaller screens and reduced power processors increase battery life by an average of 90 minutes over traditional full-sized laptops.

Now, the challenges. A smaller, lower resolution screen typically is seen as too small and unable to display enough information at one time. Low power processors combined with very low RAM capacities (typically 1GB) dramatically reduce the processing power available to even the most basic applications such as PowerPoint, audio conferencing and multitasking. Finally, because of the reduced physical size, keyboards are reduced in size, making it difficult for most users to accurately touch type with them.

What is the market saying? Forrester Research indicates that 33% of PC consumers are interested in a Netbook PC, but only as a second or third computing resource. Forrester further states “ Consumer product strategists should reinforce the idea that netbooks are complements to, rather than replacements for, traditional PCs through their product development and marketing strategies.”. Our own research mirrors those results. Netbook systems simply don’t have the power to satisfy routine computing requirements. The added file transfer management and licensing costs of using a Netbook as a supplemental computing device simply can’t be justified for most users.

As more capable, power frugal processor technologies are introduced, perhaps the Netbook format will become more applicable to the enterprise environments. Gartner’s 2009 Hype Cycle for PC Technologies suggests another 2 to 5 years before such developments become available and practical, and then only predicting those improvements will have a moderate impact in the overall PC technology environment. Until then, Netbooks remain an excellent home computing tool for web and social networking. However, they fall short in delivering the kind of performance and usability corporate PC users demand.

(submitted by John Laughhunn)

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