Netbooks? Oh Yes, They Are Enterprise Grade


Some say the netbook is too underpowered for business use. Jim Rapoza likes them so much he’s never going to travel with a full laptop again

My colleague Don Reisinger recently wrote an article about the rise of netbooks, in which he said they are not yet enterprise ready, pointing out their inability to multitask, connect securely to company networks and handle business-class graphics tasks.

I have to admit I was a little bit surprised by Don’s article, especially since, as I was reading it, I was on my own netbook, running multiple applications, including Adobe’s latest Creative Suite graphics applications and connecting to my office network over a VPN connection.

So what gives? Is Don just wrong to state that netbooks are not yet enterprise ready?

Well, yes and no.

There are netbooks and netbooks

Part of the problem is that there are really multiple and distinct classes of netbooks. There are lightweight netbooks that have more in common with smartphones than laptops, with extremely light operating systems and limited amounts of RAM and disk space. And there are netbooks that are basically just small laptops that have plenty of RAM and disk space and can run modern operating systems.

With the first class, much of what Don has to say is true; those systems won’t be able to fit into many (but not all) enterprises due to their inability to run business-class applications and tie into company security infrastructures.
But the second (and currently most popular) class of netbooks has no such problem when it comes to being enterprise class. These netbooks can run Windows, can multitask as well as most laptops and have specs that rival many laptops.

My personal netbook is configured to run both Linux and Windows XP – and while in Windows XP I can run all my enterprise applications, running many at a time with no problem (I’m currently running Outlook, Word, a Firefox browser with many tabs open, and iTunes with no problem). On the graphics side I’ve run everything in the Adobe Creative Suite, I’ve run movies at high quality and even played some fairly graphics-intensive video games.

Now you may be thinking, sure Jim, but I bet you have some state-of-the-art, cutting edge, high-powered netbook. Nope, my netbook is an MSI Wind system that, though new to me, has been out as a model for nearly a year.

But check out the specs. 160GByte of disk space, 2Gbyte of RAM, full-size keyboard, nice 10-inch screen. I was recently out with a business associate who had his company-supplied laptop with him and, in most respects, my netbook was comparable with the two-year-old HP laptop his company provided. The main differences were screen size (obviously) and processor. His system had a nice dual core chip; my netbook, like most, has an Intel Atom chip.

I’m sure there are some applications, like maybe CAD or Mathematica, that his laptop can run much better than my netbook. Still, I’ve been impressed with my netbook’s ability to run some processor-intensive applications. I’ve even run some fairly large virtual machines on it.

To me the biggest missing feature on my netbook is an optical drive but even that hasn’t been a very big deal. I’ve been able to use both thumb drives and network connections to install most other applications I wanted to add to my netbook and external USB optical drives are not that expensive.

So I think that in many cases, netbooks are ready for the enterprise. However, I don’t expect most people to ditch their full-featured laptops in exchange for a netbook. In some ways, I see a return to the older working practice – desktop for work and laptop for travel.

I’m never toting a full laptop again

Because after a couple of trips now with my netbook, I have no intention of ever traveling again with a full-sized laptop. The weight and size advantage of the netbook is perfect for travelling, saving me from lugging a heavy laptop around but still offering the full sized keyboard and full enterprise-ready applications that a smartphone can’t provide.

I think if you’re a business, and your road warriors want to go with a netbook instead of a laptop, it is certainly worth considering. You may be surprised at just how enterprise ready many of today’s netbooks are.

Oh, and on one other side note. Don mentions that Sony refers to its new Vaio as an ultraportable and refuses to use the term netbook. There’s a simple reason for this. Sony is annoyed by the rise of netbooks.

Think about it. The old, small Sony Vaios (like my old Sony Vaio Picturebook) were netbooks in every way but name. Sony sees itself as one of the pioneers of netbooks, but one that gets little or no credit for it. So out of spite they refuse to use the term to describe their netbooks.

But whatever you call them, there are definitely netbooks out there that are enterprise ready.