Netbook Computers Whet Enterprise Appetite

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A number of the first netbooks were Linux-based and they still hold a fair share of the market, but experts say that number could shrink. More recently, there has been speculation that the Android operating system, pushed by Google and the Open Handset Alliance would be offered on future netbooks.

In response to a query, a Google PR spokesman would only say that Android "was designed from the beginning to scale downward to feature phones and upward to MID and netbook-style devices." HP is reportedly testing it. But Acer executives recently said that Android isn't ready yet for this market.

Netbooks aimed at the enterprise need to do more about device security, according to Enderle. They should include a cryptoprocessor based on the Trusted Platform Module specification for securely creating, storing and managing encryption keys on a device, and some kind of biometric reader or similar access security, he says.

Windows XP and future Windows 7 devices should, by definition, be able to participate in Windows management and security infrastructures.

Enderle argues that Intel and Microsoft artificially are constraining netbook screen sizes. But an HP executive says it's really all about a complex set of trade-offs. "When you go to a bigger screen, you add more weight, and often more cost," says Carol Hess-Nickels, director of worldwide business notebook marketing for HP. "We want to stay at a nice low-end price point."

HP's recently introduced Mini 2140 Notebook PC has 10.1-inch screen, weighs 2.6 pounds, and starts at $449. The 2230 model, the company's least expensive full notebook with a 12.1-inch screen, starts at $999.

All Wireless, All the Time

Though most netbooks have an Ethernet jack, they're really designed as wireless devices, sometimes with integrated 802.11 Wi-Fi (with 802.11n becoming more common), Bluetooth and a cellular radio. Some analysts expect some models will be introduced with WiMAX support.

For enterprises, the cellular option is fraught with problems, even as carriers eagerly embrace netbooks. AT&T just announced a special offer for a $49 netbook, if users sign up for a two-year data contract. But carriers are lagging in creating a smooth activation process, says Enterprise Mobile's Mort Rosenthal.

The company bought two netbooks, which he won't name, both with embedded cellular cards. In one case, the manufacturer was to start the activation process and then pass it over to the carrier. "That pass didn't work," Rosenthal says. When the user called the carrier to confirm the contract agreement, the carrier representative "didn't even know what to do with the call," he says. In the second case, the netbook was bought at Radio Shack, where a staffer worked diligently and hard. But the process still took two-and-a-half hours to complete.

Carriers will need to invest in streamlining these practices and improving support for their enterprise customers.

This story, "Netbook Computers Whet Enterprise Appetite" was originally published by Network World.

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