OK, so here we have assembled two end-user's perspectives on netbooks, and what could be described as an anti-consumerist perspective, all of which are totally valid. Allow me to offer a third way. Allow me, your humble narrator, to present the business case for large-scale business adoption of netbooks. First, I'll lay out the issues, then offer an executive summary, and conclude with a live business example.
Fragile moving parts (i.e. hard drives and DVD drives) and screen hardware (current-generation LCD) are utterly incompatible with the rigors of hand transport. Look at the box your portable computer came in. Examine the several inches of airspace and the thick, almost-excessive-looking white polystyrene packing system. Now examine the bag you propose to transport your laptop in every day. Case closed (pun intended). There are two classes of executive laptop: dropped, and not-yet-dropped.
For the vast majority of on-the-road professionals, there are three very simple tasks that require a portable computer: email (and access to other corporate web-based resources); giving presentations; and modifying presentations at the last minute. Supplying "desktop replacement" class hardware for these simple tasks is akin to supplying light artillery for the purposes of engineering a drop in the localized mosquito population.
An often overlooked component of the TCO of supplying your traveling workforce with "laptops". It should be obvious that the insurance bill for, say, 20 devices worth a couple hundred each is significantly cheaper than insuring 20 devices worth a couple thousand each. I should be clear, here, that I'm not simply talking about insuring against loss. This category of costs covers breakage, reconstruction of data, and the repair bill.
Divide your workforce into content creators and content consumers. This is an illuminating exercise that has implications far beyond a discussion about netbooks. Do the content consumers really need a full license of your corporate "office" suite? Stated in the language of the usual suspects in this game: give your content creators a copy of Microsoft Word by all means, but ask yourself if your content consumers might be perfectly served simply by using the free Wordpad that comes with Windows? In the terms of the netbooks that we're discussing, what "features" do your on-the-road crew actually need? What software will they actually run? The answer to these questions is very, very often: a small subset of your desktop application suite.
As several technophile websites have already loudly proclaimed to anyone who will listen: why do additional "built in" business laptop features cost hundreds of dollars more, when the same features "plugged in" via USB cost at most $15 more?
So, taking into account those issues, I believe you can make a strong argument that what business needs in most cases for portable computing hardware is as follows:
As cheap a computer as possible, mapping (but not exceeding) onto the features required, capable of easily exceeding the likely workload, with durability maximized by removal (or reduction in size) of the most commonly broken components, and good "plug in" extendability for storage/connectivity.
Executive Summary Summary: Netbooks for everyone!
Live Business Example
In the Open Source software business I am currently involved with, we use netbooks exclusively for all our portable computing needs (which, unsurprisingly, map closely to those outlined above). In our business this also has the secondary benefits of ensuring that all "serious" work is done on secure, regularly backed up desktops, and that our traveling comrades never ever have "luggage issues" on today's crowded flights.