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Netbooks – A revolution

Technology blogger and generally interesting fellow Hank Williams recently blogged about the new Latitude-On option laptops from Dell.  He writes:

The basic idea of the new Latitude is that the machine will have a second ARM based processor and Linux operating system along side the standard Intel processor and Windows OS. This machine within a machine will provide a super fast, lightweight, battery friendly environment for doing things like email, web browsing, and perhaps other communications tasks. It will be “instant on”, so you will always be able to get to your basic functionality, and yet you will get a battery life measured in days and not hours when in this mode.

While Hank is more concerned with the innovation being brought forth by Dell, it brings up a question in my mind: Who is going to use this? The thing I wonder about is the quality of the user experience and the interactivity with “corporate standards.”

For example, this type of machine will likely apply to world travellers and executive types.  Who else would need their laptop battery to last so long just to be able to do things like check email or quickly browse the web?

If that is, in fact, the target market for these machines, they better darn well make sure that the box can access things like Exchange mail servers and/or Outlook Web Access. And we all know how well that sort of thing works in Linux at this time.

Not that I have anything against Linux… in fact I work for Red Hat currently!  However, I realize the integration troubles at the enterprise desktop level, so you can understand where my concern stems from.

And, if this is not the intended use-case for this machine, is such a laptop really going to be able to compete with the new “netbooks” out there?  Sure it may offer significantly increased battery life, but at what cost?  Without a Openoffice.org or some other word-processing suite available, it will not be very useful for students trying to take notes on a laptop and get a full class-day’s battery life out of it.

It seems like companies are slowly marching towards a pure “web terminal” type of portable thin-client. I wonder if we’ll ever see a netbook that simply boots its OS from the cloud and has zero storage.