Netbooks as an enterprise device: Thoughts for IT managers

There was an article GQ magazine once that said every time a man looks at another man’s shoes he should think two things. The first was, “I bet he could put out a fire with those,” because they are so well-made and durable. The second was “I want them.” I kind of feel the same way about netbooks.

In some ways it makes no sense that vendors would be making netbooks, or that consumers would actually be buying them. For one thing, they tried all this years ago. I remember sitting through product meetings with Compaq that showed mini-laptops in the late 1990s, for example, and HP was already dabbling there as well. Customers weren’t interested. Since then, of course, there has been an exponential growth in wireless network availability as well as Internet penetration among consumers. But if netbooks are an idea whose time as finally come, IT managers are going to have to figure out if they’re actually a good idea.

Perhaps there aren’t that many organizations that actually buy personal computing hardware for their employees anymore, but you could see how some firms could make a case for networks vs. actual laptops, depending on the type of user. Super-mobile sales people might be one example, except that some of them might argue they need the larger screens to do PowerPoint presentations and the like. CEOs might appreciate something a little lighter and easier to manage, but there’s a certain status associated with a more high-powered machine. You’re not going to hand them out to admin staff, or anyone who doesn’t want to get a bad back from hunching over a small display and keyboard.

So who’s left? People involved in document-oriented content creation are one. Colleagues of mine in the media love them, as does a friend who works in advertising who recently bought a Linux-based Eee PC. Netbooks may, in fact, be one of the first pieces of hardware ideally designed for the professional freelancer. Real estate agents are a possibility, as are cops making the move from paper-based note-taking.

Because they offer mobility but not a desktop replacement experience, netbooks could challenge us to reconsider what we do with a desktop – the actual tables we do a lot of work on. The machines offer Internet connectivity and e-mail, which are the two most popular applications. By making regular, stationary use less comfortable than using them at an airport or a caf

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