Less is more. While the adage might not apply to the appeal of an all-you-can-eat buffet, it certainly explains the recent netbook phenomena. Netbooks are small portable computers designed specifically for Web access and word processing. With screens between 7 to 12 inches, the mini-PCs typically weigh around two pounds at a price averaging around $400. These miniature computers have stimulated a previously lethargic PC market and enhanced electronic usage for users.

The power, portability and price have supported the mainstream adoption of netbooks, which expect to reach nearly 22 million in shipments in 2009. In fact, a survey conducted by Retrevo, a technology review Web site, reported that one-third of students plan to purchase a netbook. With the anticipated sales from students, the netbook would dethrone Apple’s Macbook, a product that has traditionally dominated the education market.

Students are not the only ones using netbooks. The lightweight and sleek design of the netbook has attracted business executives. The product has fallen into the laps of business executives who log onto their netbooks as a practical and portable electronic companion. The growing adoption of netbooks by business executives has shown that this device is more than just a fad. Some business executives believe they have not even scratched the surface of the netbook’s capabilities and are eager to include them more often in their business practices.

Alan Farber, CEO of Scottsdale-based Buildproof, recently purchased and fell in love with his netbook, an 11.6-inch Aspire 1 by Acer. Farber’s company provides a secure payment and project management system for home remodeling and construction projects. Lately, Buildproof has been working with governmental agencies to provide its system for managing contractors. While traveling to Washington, D.C., to meet government officials, Farber relied on his netbook for its dependability and flexibility. His travel preparations have become much simpler. Farber says he can grab his 8GB memory stick, load his files, and toss his netbook in his bag.

At first glance, netbooks seem like dwarfed versions of notebooks; however, netbooks feature unique functions that distinguish them from notebooks. Netbooks contain built-in Wi-Fi and standard Bluetooth connections to support Web access on the go. Installed with either Windows XP or Linux, netbooks allows users to perform basic functions such as checking e-mail, using Skype, creating documents and organizing spreadsheets. In addition to Web access and word processing, netbooks offer convenience with their element-resistant design.

With a low RAM, netbooks are not suited for complicated graphic processing. Most importantly, netbooks do not include an optical drive or Ethernet port, so users will need to invest in separate hardware such as a USB connected drive to use CDs. Netbooks also require some technical skills to adopt external drives to replace the nonexistent optical drive.

The size and power of the netbook can also be a setback.

“The screen size can make it difficult. I squint a lot while viewing e-mails,” Farber says. The miniature size limits the power of the speakers, which makes using Skype challenging for Farber. He also notes that battery life seems limited.

“You can get an extended battery, but that seems to defeat the purpose,” he says.

Accustomed to traditional notebooks, Farber expected his netbook to be difficult to configure. His netbook quickly challenged his expectations.
“It was a piece of cake to set up,” he says.

Farber also anticipated floundered typing due to the cramped size of the keyboard, and yet again he was corrected.

“It was an easy transition from a full notebook,” he adds. “I was quite surprised.”

Nearly every PC maker has incorporated netbooks into their product lines. In 2008 alone, netbooks garnered approximately 16 million sales in North America, which is not bad for a two-year old category. In order to expand the market, PC makers have developed netbooks with ambiguous distinctions between netbooks and notebooks, such as a larger size and more power.

Additionally, the distinctions between the smart phone and netbooks are also vague. Critics of netbooks often note that smart phones have similar features and more functions than netbooks. Although they enable Web browsing, document editing and the useful phone call, smart phones do not have the same comfort and power of netbooks — and mobile phone manufacturers definitely have noticed. In January, AT&T announced the development of a netbook that can access the Web with just a cell signal. With a two-year contract, AT&T’s netbook could cost as low at $99. The convergence of netbook and mobile markets also has interested Nokia CEO Olli-Pekka Kallasvuo, who announced in August that Nokia plans to explore the netbook market. The interest from mobile phone producers such as AT&T and Nokia suggests greater potential for netbooks to become an integral device for business executives.

Farber recommends the netbook to any business executive.

“It is an absolutely fantastic resource to supplement a regular notebook or desktop,” he states, but he advises against replacing a notebook or desktop with a netbook due to the limited memory and battery. “For an executive, the netbook is an excellent supplement for travel.”