Netbooks Finding A Home In The Office

HP takes aim at growing business market for small laptops.

HP's Mini line provides business-class storage and wireless options

HP's Mini line provides business-class storage and wireless options
Netbooks, tiny laptops that have bucked the gloomy trends in IT spending, are starting to pack in more features at higher costs and targeting new markets, like business.

Netbooks might seem like unlikely office equipment. They're defined by size (screens about 10 inches or less), purpose (light use, because of low-end Intel Atom processor limits), and lack of integrated optical drive. Yet vendors say interest from businesses is increasing.

Hewlett-Packard, for one, is aiming for more. HP recently released the Mini 2140, with a 10.1-inch screen, Intel Atom processor, up to 2 GB of RAM, and storage choices that range from an 8-MB SD card--for buyers who might want to use the notebook as a thin client--to a 160-GB hard drive. Options include Bluetooth and an ExpressCard slot for wireless broadband connectivity. Prices range from $499 to about $1,000.

The level of business interest is surprising, even at HP. "We really thought businesses were going to want a fully functioning notebook with more power and more capacity," says Carol Hess-Nickels, HP's director of marketing for business notebooks. But business buyers who travel may want something smaller and lighter, she adds.

Businesses might also find useful features in Lenovo's IdeaPad line of netbooks, including the new IdeaPad S10, which offers facial-recognition technology for secure login.

Thus far, most of the business interest in netbooks is coming from small and midsize businesses, says Craig Merrigan, Lenovo's global consumer marketing VP.

Merrigan says he expects demand to shift, as higher-end graphics and more power arrive on smaller machines, possibly blurring lines between netbooks and mainstream PCs. For example, although Vista doesn't run on netbooks, Microsoft has said Windows 7 will run on small notebook PCs.