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In the past few years, solution providers and distributors have been watching a trend that only a decade ago would have seemed improbable: Notebook PCs are overtaking desktops, not only at the enterprise level, but also at small and midsize businesses.

In 2007, the amount of revenue generated by laptops is expected to surpass that of desktops, according to a recent report from Merrill Lynch. And even though shipments of desktops will continue to outpace those of notebooks, that could change as early as 2008, according to some predictions.

The Merrill Lynch report, written by Richard Farmer, a senior analyst for the New York-based financial firm, estimated the percentage of revenue by the end of 2006 from desktops will be 47 percent, compared with 41.6 percent for notebooks. But a year from now, notebooks will account for 45.6 percent of PC revenue and 43.1 percent from desktops. For perspective, consider that notebook revenue amounted to a mere 25 percent in 2000, according to the report.

This is good news for the channel. Not only do notebooks produce better margins than desktop PCs, but they also boost sales of other types of products and services.

One obvious difference between notebooks and desktops is mobility. Users want laptops because they can take them anywhere. Of course, as anything that gets dragged around, the potential for damage increases. It’s easy to drop a notebook or step on one.

Take it from me; I’ve done both.

With that in mind, solution providers should never leave a customer site after selling a notebook without at least trying to sell an extended warranty. It makes so much sense, it’s almost silly to have to mention it.

Beyond warranties, the other no-brainer opportunities are wireless and security products. Any small office with a handful or more of laptop users is ripe for a wireless network. Further, any business with a waiting room presents a wireless opportunity, and along with it, the chance for a VAR to make a case for a solid, reliable security solution.

Backup and recovery is another area ripe with opportunity for solution providers selling notebooks. For mobile users, especially people at SMBs (small and midsize businesses) with limited resources, an attractive option is Web-based backup and recovery. This is a must for solution providers with managed services practices.

Whether laptops eventually replace desktop PCs altogether is debatable. Most likely, a preference or need for desktops in sedentary occupations that don’t require users to take their computers with them will remain. While some market observers believe laptops will never make up the majority at the workplace, my sense is to the contrary.

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More and more employers are agreeing to telecommuting arrangements for workers. In a budget-conscious world, the prospect of cutting overhead costs by allowing workers to telecommute becomes more attractive by the day. As JetBlue and myriad technical support providers have figured out, reservation agents and help desk staffers can be just as productive in a home office as in a corporate building.

And though oil prices have stabilized, chances are they will rise again. Should the price per gallon for gas hit an average of $4, don’t be surprised to see the ranks of telecommuters swell faster than you can say, “Fill her up.”

It’s clear to me that notebooks are on the way to market domination. Even exploding batteries can’t seem to dampen their prospects. Now, if only manufacturers could come up with batteries that actually last as long as they claim, notebooks might just become damn near unstoppable.

Pedro Pereira is editor of eWEEK Strategic Partner and contributing editor to The Channel Insider. He can be reached at