Netbooks: Ready — or Not — for the Enterprise?

Five good reasons to deploy netbooks; and five reasons not to.

1. Portability with Extended Battery Life

Netbooks started with 8.9-inch diagonal screens, but 10.2-inch screens have become by far the most popular. In spite of their small size, many models boast battery times of five or more hours, thanks in large part to the Intel Atom processor. Netbooks drop into briefcases almost unnoticed, and also into many purses. A portable computer that employees dread carrying doesn't do the company much good, but a netbook screams portability.

Story: Are netbooks ready for the enterprise?

2. Price: Under $400

Although some higher-end netbooks can run the same as a low-end laptop, for the most part netbooks are less expensive. And netbooks have been making significant gains in verticals, such as education, that are particularly price sensitive. The leading early adopter for netbooks has been K-12 education customers.

3. Easy Access to Apps and Data for Mobile Workers

The second largest adoption rate for netbooks has been by healthcare. Pam Seale, product marketing manager for, says, "We're seeing healthcare customers go with netbooks because they tend to plug into the data they need rather than carry it on the computer." Data regulations on health records have helped move data storage from devices to a more centralized and controllable location.

4. Enterprise-Level Management and Security

Andre Angel, President Americas, NTRglobal, supplies remote control and management software to service companies. "We can support client netbooks with the same technology we currently use, without any changes."

The same goes for endpoint security and endpoint management software from Symantec. "We're hearing little about netbooks from enterprises, but our software supports them," says Christine Ewing, director of product marketing for endpoint management at Symantec.

5. Great Value for Loaners

Almost everyone we interviewed relayed interest from IT departments for netbooks as inexpensive "loaner laptops" for employees getting their regular machine serviced.

1. Underpowered

Netbooks are not general purpose computers able to run applications as fast as a laptop that features a more powerful Intel processor and more RAM. Designed for portability and battery life, the Intel Atom processor sets no performance records. Limited RAM support (1G to 2GB) emphasizes the light duty aspect of netbooks.

2. No TPM or Biometric Security

TPM (Trusted Platform Module ) is a secure cryptoprocessor added to enterprise class laptops by many manufacturers. Without TPM support, Rob Enderle, principal analyst for the Enderle Group, says, "Successful netbook deployments in the enterprise are unlikely."

While insiders say that TPM and biometric support are ordered on laptops far more often than implemented, some customers demand them. Price will keep TPM and biometrics off netbooks for the foreseeable future.

3. Default OS Not Enterprise Ready

The vast majority of netbooks today ship running Windows XP Home, an operating system that does not play well with enterprise directory services. Windows 7 Starter Edition won't support enterprise domain integration, either. HP and Dell both offer OS customization and configuration services, and companies can image the hard drive of netbooks using their own Microsoft licenses. But that extra time and expense eliminates some of the cost savings as a driver for netbook adoption.

4. No Optical Drive

Airline passengers used to play Solitaire on their laptops but today they play DVDs. No netbook offers an internal optical drive, although all have USB ports that support external drives. For security reasons, some companies disable CD and DVD drives to stop users from loading unauthorized software, so this may be a wash. Enterprises use desktop automation software, not optical disks, to install applications. Traveling employees can go back to Solitaire.

5. Too Small

Portability comes at a price, and that price is screen and keyboard size. Those with large fingers or weak eyesight will balk at netbook's smaller keyboards and screens. If a user can't type on the keyboards that range from 88% to 94% of regular keyboard size (some 10-inch netbook keyboards feel much smaller than that), it won't matter how well the netbook fits on the airplane tray table.

Story: Are netbooks ready for the enterprise?

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