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Netbooks good for Web-based applications


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POSTED: Monday, February 09, 2009

Netbooks were one of the biggest selling technology items of 2008. Many believe this is a trend that will soon fade. We believe, however, that netbooks are poised to take advantage of new computing trends and become more and more useful and popular.

First off, what is a netbook? The IT world is rife with generalizations, but everyone pretty much agrees that, relative to a contemporary laptop, a netbook is a small, low-cost, lesser-powered portable computer.

A netbook is not as powerful as a standard laptop, but it should suffice for most folks' business and personal purposes. Netbooks are plenty capable of running word processing, spreadsheets, e-mail, and, of course, a Web browser.

The real promise of netbooks, however, is with the advent of so-called "cloud computing."

Cloud computing involves the availability of sophisticated software applications over the Web. The software is owned by a provider who grants you a license to use it. This software is accessed over the Internet, and runs on hardware that is owned, operated and maintained by the provider.

As cloud computing matures, it will become more cost-effective and pervasive. Currently popular for accounting, human resource management, forms management and specialized applications, cloud computing likely will attract a broader range of applications in the near future.

Such applications require only an Internet connection and a Web browser on the user end. Relatively little processing power is required, since all the heavy lifting is done by the provider.

Clearly, netbooks are well-positioned for this purpose.

The typical netbook costs less than $400 and weighs less than three pounds. Displays are less than 10 inches, with resolution of 1024 x 600. RAM is at least 512 MB, but usually no more than 1 GB. Wireless and wired network connections are included, as well as USB ports. Most netbooks are equipped with the Intel Atom CPU, but, of course, the usual suspects, such as AMD, are introducing competitors.

Some netbooks are equipped with so-called "solid-state drives," which are basically flash (aka thumb or pen) drives. These are a lot smaller than standard hard drives—4-8gb vs. 80-120gb—but are also cheaper. Traditionalists prefer standard hard drives.

Today's netbooks run either the Linux or Windows XP operating systems. Most folks are better served with XP due to familiarity. (Microsoft has extended the availability of Windows XP for netbooks until June 2010.)

Haven't we heard this before? True, in the mid-'90's several companies introduced the ill-fated Network Computer and its equally unsuccessful competitor, the NetPC.

The idea was the same: a lesser-powered computer, designed to take advantage of network-based resources.

These initiatives failed, however, because they were designed to take advantage of local-area networks which lacked the relatively inexpensive resources that the current and future Internet can provide.