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Shoot For the Clouds

The bigger the better? Not when you're trying to reach the next level of portability.

This story appears in the September 2008 issue of Entrepreneur. Subscribe »

OK, it's true: Any desktop PC can access the cloud. But what good is a nice, big virtual network if at least some of your endpoints aren't mobile? Mobility is implied when you're accessing synchronized files and applications from multiple locations. And the latest spin on the cloud concept is netbooks, a term coined by Intel to help sell its new Centrino Atom platform--the same guys who brought us ultramobile PCs, ultramobile devices, mobile internet devices, subnotebooks and mini-notes. Potato, potahto--it's just another name for the same ultraportability dream we've been chasing since the Tandy Model 100.

A netbook is usually about the size of that '80s-era Model 100 but has infinitely more functionality. These cloudbooks aren't meant to be your only PC--although I do know someone who spends all day on the Linux-based Eee PC 701 Asus that was introduced late last year and has a 7-inch display and a chic-let keyboard.

Asus sold 1 million of those, but its new Atom-based Eee 901, 1000 and 1000(H) have 8.9- to 10-inch widescreens, a choice of Windows or Linux, up to 40GB of solid-state flash storage and up to nearly eight hours of battery life. Starting at $599, they still have that chiclet keyboard and weigh 3 pounds or less.

With a very similar Atom- and Linux-based clamshell, Acer's new Aspire One retails for only $379 but doesn't have 8GB of Flash or the Eee PC's 20GB of free online storage. It has the same inch-thin Daytimer form factor and webcam mounted atop its 8.9-inch backlit LED display for vlogging and videoconferences. With about an inch more width, Aspire One has a larger keyboard.

But it's still smaller than the one on Hewlett-Packard's 2133 Mini-Note, which is 92 percent of normal keyboard size. The 10-inch-wide, 2.8-pound magnesium alloy clamshell with an 8.9-inch, 1280 x 768 LCD feels more upscale than the two plastic chassis. The eight models cost between $499 and $829, depending on your choice of Linux or and hard drive or Flash, as well as battery size. Powered by a VIA processor/chipset, though, it seems like a placeholder for an unannounced Atom-based successor.

Also still to come as of press time are MSI's Wind NB and Everex's CloudBook Max. Starting at $479 with Windows and costing $399 with Linux, the 2.6-pound Wind will be Atom-powered, its marquee feature being a 10-inch, 1024 x 600 backlit LED. The $599 CloudBook is VIA-powered but squeezes an 8.9-inch display with a 2-megapixel webcam, Vista or XP, and an 80GB hard drive into a 2.2-pound clamshell. Besides the usual wireless options, it will also include GPS and wide-area broadband over Sprint's WiMAX network.

If you can afford a cloudbook Cadillac, you can't get more luxurious than Toshiba's Portégé R500-S5007V--a proven solution that's been popular with businesspeople for more than a decade. This new 2.4-pound version packs a 12.1-inch transreflective LED display and a DVD SuperMulti drive into a 0.77-inch profile, thanks to the use of 128GB of Flash instead of a hard drive. Wonderfulness ain't cheap: The Portégé starts at $2,999.

This is just a short list of a form factor whose popularity will come off the road to conquer the office desktop, predicts communications research firm In-Stat. Fujitsu, OQO, Sony and others have different takes on the theme.

Which will become the cloudbook prototype? That will be determined by your votes--in other words, your dollars.

Mike Hogan is Entrepreneur's editor.

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