Laptop computers and WiFi connections make it possible to work in all kinds of environments -- including your own couch.

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Desktops on the Way Out

As necessary as computers are to productivity in the workplace and even at home, it's becoming harder to get ahead in the world without using one. You could even say we've become dependent on them. For a long time, desktop machines were the preferred choice. But now that Wi-Fi is easy to find and often free, mobile connectivity is easier and more common than ever -- especially with the recent social networking boom.

Notebook computers found their niche with traveling business professionals in the late '80s and early '90s but were much too expensive for most people to afford. They had other faults, too; notebooks traditionally had limited storage and computing power. But computer manufacturers have been able to close the processing power gap between desktops and laptops. In fact, the cost of manufacturing LCD screens, still one of the most expensive parts of notebook computers, have been falling, too.

Desktops still hold an edge when it comes to computing power, and they can be hooked up to large monitors, too. But docking stations give notebook users the ability to use larger, crisper displays when at home or in the office and the costs of external storage devices has come down, making the idea of carrying a portable computer more attractive.

Recently, even notebook sales have given way to something totally new. Netbooks are small notebook computers with lower-power processors and a scaled-down feature set. Despite their apparent shortcomings, netbooks seem to be popping up everywhere. In 2009, 13.5 million netbooks were sold throughout the world [source: Canalys]. It may have something to do with affordability -- for less than $300, you can get you hands on one of these mini notebooks [source: Dell].

In general, netbooks don't have an optical drive, so you won't be able to use CD-ROMs or DVD-ROMs. But with seemingly ubiquitous broadband access, you can accomplish many of the same tasks online. Netbooks are so tied in with Internet access that telecommunication companies such as AT&T and Verizon have taken to selling them packaged with wireless Internet service.

That's one side of the story. Now let's look at why desktops aren't so easy to replace in the next section.