Why Netbooks Cannot Make It in the Enterprise

By Don Reisinger  |  Posted 2009-05-22 Print this article Print

NEWS ANALYSIS: Netbooks are becoming quite popular in the PC business. But whether or not they provide value to the enterprise is in doubt. With issues ranging from power to productivity, they hobble the business world's ability to maintain employee productivity.

The netbook. Once owned solely by geeks, the small, portable laptop is quickly becoming an important segment in the PC industry. According to analysts at ABI Research, 39 million netbooks will ship by the end of 2009. IDC, another market analyst, contends that 21 million netbooks will be sold this year. Either way, the segment is growing rapidly. At the same time, sales of laptops and desktops were down in 2008 and most analysts believe that trend will continue through 2009.

And so, as netbooks are being cited as the possible saviors of the PC industry (a claim that is probably more hype than anything else), the attention quickly turns to the enterprise to see how (or rather, if) the devices can replace the desktop and notebook in businesses across the world.

Some say that netbooks make sense for the enterprise because they are easily totable from the office to a client's location. Others say that they provide enterprise customers with what they really need: an affordable alternative to expensive HP, Dell or Lenovo laptops. But those arguments don't consider the many needs of companies. Lugging computers from one office to another isn't such an important concern. And while affordability matters, the return on that investment matters more. 

When it comes to netbooks, that return isn't high enough.

Windows, please?

There are a variety of netbooks on the market from companies such as Asus and Acer. Most of the companies that sell netbooks offer Windows, but in some cases, the netbooks come bundled with Linux, requiring companies to pay a little more for Windows. It won't break the bank (Windows machines usually retail for no more than $50 more than Linux netbooks), but it's the version of Windows that hurts most companies. Asus Eee PCs come bundled with Windows XP Home. Just one Acer Aspire One netbook model -- the Aspire One Pro -- comes bundled with Windows XP Professional. Companies looking for anything else, such as Windows Vista Business Edition, won't find it in a netbook.

Power Problems

The reason for that is yet another problem with netbooks -- they simply don't have the power to run resource-intensive operating systems such as Windows Vista. Netbooks are extremely underpowered.  Asus' top-of-the-line Eee PC netbook sports a 1.6GHz Intel Atom processor and an integrated Intel graphics card. The netbook has 1GB of RAM and up to a 160GB hard drive. But it lacks a DVD drive, comes standard with Windows XP Home, and won't have the power to handle a variety of resource-intensive enterprise applications.

And isn't that the biggest problem with the power issue in netbooks? Sure, it's a great Web surfing device. And performing basic tasks such as answering e-mails and writing up a quick document is possible. But when it comes time to open a major enterprise application, the netbooks' viability is severely diminished. They simply don't provide the kind of capability that a notebook or desktop can. In the business world, netbooks are little more than Web surfing toys.

Don Reisinger is a freelance technology columnist. He started writing about technology for Ziff-Davis' Gearlog.com. Since then, he has written extremely popular columns for CNET.com, Computerworld, InformationWeek, and others. He has appeared numerous times on national television to share his expertise with viewers. You can follow his every move at http://twitter.com/donreisinger.

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