Netbooks Power The Ultimate Road Warriors

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In a world where my office is more often than not an aisle seat at 35,000 feet, I spend my days trying to do more with less.

Ultraportable laptops make sense for someone like me. But while they’re small, they lack the power and speed of standard laptops and desktop computers. And they can cost a whole lot more – sometimes even double the price of a regular laptop. Most business people are not willing to make the sacrifice.

So why bother?

For one thing, I get to lug around a lot less weight. For another, I’ve been through a slew of ultraportable laptops – from Toshiba and Sony to Lenovo and Dell – and all have managed to do what I’ve needed them to do (my current laptop is the Dell Latitude E4200). But as with all modern technology, no matter how often I back up the hard drive and archive my important information, I’m constantly haunted by the nagging fear that when I press the power button I’ll get the dreaded blue screen of death.

Imagine spending up to $4,500 for a hot-looking ultraportable, and once the seat belt light goes off, you fire it up… and nothing. It’s dead. Your documents, presentations and every other reason you boarded this flight in the first place are gone. Maybe you have a backup on a USB key. But what if you don’t? Hopefully, you weren’t waiting for the flight to get the actual work done. What if you could have a second laptop along for the trip that’s lighter and smaller? And that costs about $300? I’m not making this up.

Say hello to the netbook.

Although netbooks have been around since 2007, they are just now starting to get the attention of the business traveller. And they should. Netbooks are simple, small and stripped-down laptops that look like toys but can complete serious tasks. They may not be as powerful as the average ultraportable, but the screen and keyboard are much smaller.

And there are other practical reasons to own one.

Instead of worrying about purchasing an entirely new computer for travel, you can transfer the documents you need over to your netbook prior to your trip and use it as your travel computer. Regardless of what you have at home, having a “clean” netbook enables you to avoid slowdowns, grief or embarrassment in front of potential clients or at security.

In the end, we’re all looking to do more with less, and with the new grade of netbook computing, it’s not only smart but economical to have one. Whether you use it as a backup or as your primary computing vehicle, you’ll be that much closer to becoming the ultimate road warrior. 

The above posting is my monthly column for enRoute Magazine called, Ultraportable. I cross-post it here with all of the links and tags for your reading pleasure, but you can check out the original versions online here:

enRoute Magazine – Little Mouse on the Prairie.


  1. Here’s an idea. Why doesn’t someone create a Amazon Kindle like thingymajig same style large reading surface plus keyboad flip it over insert your iPhone or bb into the back. You then get to utilize the lager screen which of course would be a touch screen like the iphone -access all your iPhone data apps etc. Unit could have a solid state drive with a small yet powerful processor on it and the ability to run office like programs etc. It could be set up so you could have anyone plug in there own pda and its there laptop. Small businesses could share it between people just by switch out PDAs. Give it a video out and you can use it as a presentation laptop. 
    When your not using it with your PDA you have a realy nice book and document reader. 
    How cool would this be for travelers. What are these manufactors waiting for i’d buy one. Technology is out there what’s mac or someelse waitng for it could work. 
    Sorry I know this may not be in keeping with reality but I figure it I say it to enough people like most of my crazy ideas eventualy someone will come out with it.  

  2. Gotta say, I’ve been using a netbook for a while now and I’m a total advocate for it. It slips into my backpack, along with my notepad, pens, etc, so I only carry one bag with me wherever I go. Best of all, it’s now running on Linux (Mint 7). So, no payment to the Gates Foundation.
    And because I don’t fly business class on the local carriers, there’s something sweet about being able to work on your pc using the that little fold-down tray – AND still have room for your drink on the same table!

  3. Do you think the iphone is very nearly a netbook?
    Re: Backups, I now do everything in the cloud and save files to both basecamp and google apps so if the blue screen of death rears its ugly head at least I can grab any machine on the fly or use a clients machine to get at my documents, presentations videos etc. Working in the cloud also means you need less processor power on your local machine – maybe in five years time all anyone will need is a netbook with a keyboard and big screen plugged in when in the office.

  4. Art – you should check out both the Kindle DX and the pending launch of the CrunchPad from TechCrunch’s Michael Arrington.
    Simon – I love and swear by both Carbonite (for online back-ups) and I use a FreeAgent Seargate portable HD (that I keep with me at all times). I don’t stress about that stuff anymore either. That being said, I love having my netbook in my carry-on (just in case!).

  5. As a new very mobile warrior, I have been evaluating the best investment in computers, backup and mobile needs. This post gives me some good advice from more seasoned vetrans. I worry about the backup but Simons advice on basecamp and google docs is perfect for what I need – low cost as well. I have used basecamp for some group projects but didn’t think of it in this way before. Great ideas.
    Does anyone have any comments about really how much work you can get done, Or what not to do on a netbook?

  6. I was skeptical about the usefulness of netbooks for business prior to reading this post.
    I’m quite surprised at how handy they are. A netbook handles email and web-browsing much better than a smartphone. You can even run Microsoft Office. though the small screen makes editing PowerPoint a chore.
    I’ve started using mine for presentations (connecting to a projector). The smaller size is a big asset in locations where space is tight. The lighter weight makes travel easier too. I still bring my notebook as insurance.
    What’s missing? Cheap anytime internet access (this is a net-book). Wifi isn’t available everywhere and cellular access gets pricey.

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