Many IT pros have spent their entire careers running around office buildings installing, upgrading, tweaking, and massaging the tens of millions of PCs that keep American business running. But are the days of those desktop computers numbered? BusinessWeek's Cliff Edwards takes a look at the latest wave of thin-client systems to see if they have what it takes to get things done in today's more Net-connected environments.

Corporations are now starting to think about trading PCs for smartphones or other kinds of hybrid wireless devices. These look like notebook computers, but some are designed to connect with a smartphone and share its operating system and software applications. As a result, the thin client doesn't require its own internal processing or storage capability.

Why head this way? Because thin clients are cheaper than notebook PCs, and the IT staff can have much more control over what software is deployed on them than they can in a traditional Windows desktop environment.

Edwards suggests you take a look at Celio's Redfly C8N, which has an eight-inch screen and is designed to work wirelessly with a smartphone running the Windows Mobile operating system. It costs just $299 and because it hooks up with Windows Mobile, it can easily handle the typical Office documents we all work with every day.

This is a fascinating trend, well worth a few minutes of study.

-- Don Willmott