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10 Questions To Ask About Netbooks

Like it or not, netbooks will move into your company. Here's what you need to know before they do.

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We've seen laptop alternatives before. So what's different about netbooks? Simple: They're really inexpensive and provide better functionality than any smartphone.

Market numbers tell the tale: Netbook shipments surged to $3 billion in the second quarter from $845 million in the same quarter a year ago--264% year-over-year growth, according to market research firm DisplaySearch. At the same time, the average price of a netbook was $378, versus $787 for a laptop. The devices will account for 22% of all laptop, notebook, and netbook shipments this year, compared with 5.6% last year. Research firm VDC predicts total netbook sales surpassing $33 billion next year.

All the major vendors are active in the market: Asus and Acer were early netbook hardware leaders, but their advantage has disappeared as Dell, Hewlett-Packard, and Lenovo have responded aggressively. Intel dominates netbook CPUs. Operating system-wise, Microsoft leads with low-cost XP licensing. There are a slew of netbook-ready Linux builds and an up-and-coming challenge from mobile phone CPU giant ARM Holdings. Google says Web-focused netbooks running its Chrome OS will arrive late next year.

Netbooks aren't just a consumer play. In our recent InformationWeek Analytics Windows 7 survey of 1,414 business technology pros, 36% say they already have some netbook use in their companies and 72% expect some use within the next two years--with 19% planning extensive deployments.

It's clear, CIOs need to know what netbooks are capable of and how the competitive landscape as well as hardware and OS choices will change in the next two years. Here are 10 questions to ask to help determine where netbooks fit at your company.

1. Just what is a netbook?

Netbooks have the size and form factors of ultra-portable machines, which have been around for years. But those machines usually come with CD/DVD players, and netbooks don't. Also unlike ultra-portables, netbooks run on processors specifically designed for them, like the Intel Atom, and you can get one for less than $400, whereas ultra-portables are priced comparable to standard laptops. Nevertheless, netbooks' smaller screens and keyboards will definitely alter the end-user experience.

These limitations need to be weighed against the actual functionality required, the enhanced flexibility of the smaller size, and benefits such as longer battery life.

There are significant functionality differences between netbooks and notebooks. Bottom line: If you try to make a netbook do everything a laptop can do, you'll end up with users who are 10% to 15% more annoyed.

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