Netbook Computers Whet Enterprise Appetite

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"Netbooks as currently specified are not capable of full, rich multimedia performance," says Andrew Borg, senior research analyst for wireless and mobility, with Aberdeen Group. "The CPUs are not multi-cored or multi-threading. They're underpowered. Any kind of video processing is beyond them. Unfortunately, these are often requirements in the enterprise."

But 12 months from now, the landscape will be dramatically different, he says, starting late in 2009. "We look forward to another round of netbooks coming that will be much less likely to disappoint enterprise users," Borg says.

New CPUs, including new version of Intel's Atom CPU but also upcoming ARM-based rivals such as Qualcomm's SnapDragon processor, with much higher clock speeds and multi-threading will boost performance and cut power demands. Solid state drives will keep dropping in price. And Windows 7, specifically tuned for netbooks, will be available. "A device with this profile, for under $400, could take off like wildfire," Borg says.

"Wildfire" also describes the intense speculation that Apple will introduce a Mac netbook.

The next generation of netbooks will create a more truly mobile user experience, says Jeff Chu, mobile computing product manager for ARM Holdings, of Cambridge, U.K., which provides the intellectual property that is realized in silicon products from more than 200 chip companies. The new ARM-based chips will be highly integrated, minimizing or eliminating boot-up waits, and extending battery lifetimes to all-day or even several days, according to Chu.

Netbook Challenges, Tradeoffs

"There is an enterprise play for netbooks," says Mort Rosenthal, CEO of Enterprise Mobile, Watertown, Mass., a Microsoft-backed company that specializes in large-scale mobile deployments based on Windows and Windows Mobile clients. "But it does have some interesting problems."

While the current crop of netbooks overwhelmingly run Windows XP, (see related story) which Microsoft has reprieved for this segment because Vista performed dismally on them, many of the netbooks run XP Home, "which is sub-optimal for the enterprise," Rosenthal says.

Enterprises should look for XP Professional until Windows 7 is released. Microsoft made unplanned "engineering investments" in Windows 7 specifically for netbooks: reducing the OS footprint, speeding boot-up and shut-down times, enhancing batter life and multimedia capabilities.

For now, corporate customers can expect less configuration flexibility with netbooks than with notebooks, until vendors are willing and able to deliver hardware and software builds targeted at the enterprise market.

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