As with many toy importers, New York City-based William Rothman uses a computer to run his business. But instead of managing orders and communicating with overseas manufacturers via a desktop computer in his Manhattan office, Rothman relies on a single laptop PC for all of his computing needs.

“I used to have a desktop computer for the office and a laptop to use while traveling, but I found I rarely touched my office PC -- even when I was near it,” concedes Rothman. “Because I bring my laptop with me wherever I need to work -- on a plane, at home or at the office -- it’s really all I need.”

Similar to the decline of landline telephones, the business world is rethinking its dependence on the desktop computer. As many entrepreneurs have switched their business telephone service to cellular phones or Voice over Internet Protocol, they’ve also switched their computing needs to the laptop, the BlackBerry and their Internet-enhanced mobile phones.

But is it a good idea?

Aside from its mobility, many entrepreneurs today are likely investing in a laptop for two key reasons: there’s little sacrifice in power and the difference in price between a laptop and desktop is becoming marginal. In fact, Dell offers a laptop with an Intel dual-core processor (Inspiron E1505) and a desktop with Intel dual-core (Dimension E510), both at $649 apiece. As well, most laptops are also equipped with Wi-Fi connectivity, so you can surf the Net wirelessly at high-speeds when in a hotspot. Many business owners on the go are also investing in a snap-in WAN card to log online anywhere there’s a cell phone connection, instead of hunting for a hotspot.

“Whether you should run your business on a laptop or desktop is a bit of a non sequitur because a computer is a computer,” says Michel Gartenberg, Research Director of Client Access and Technologies at JupiterMedia, a Darien, Conn.-based technology research firm. “It might have mattered a few years ago when there was a vast performance and price difference, but not today.”

A few caveats

Using a laptop computer to manage your company may seem like a smart idea, but you should take a few precautions to make sure you’re not putting yourself or your company at risk:

  • Be sure to have a proper backup of all your important company files. Needless to say, if something happens to your laptop computer -- whether it’s stolen, dropped, or accidentally left in a cab or café -- you need to ensure you can continue running the business smoothly. On that note, it’s not a bad idea to keep an inexpensive USB memory drive with you to manually backup your information when working (every few hours or so).
  • Protect your work via encryption and other tools. What if someone got a hold of your sensitive company information? Increasingly, laptops are targeted for theft. It’s a good idea to protect your work via software-based passwords and encryption as well as hardware tools such as biometrics security, physically locking your laptop to a desk, or signing up with a subscription security service to track your computer when it's connected to the Internet.
  • Engrave your name on the laptop. A personalized laptop may make it less appealing to a thief who will likely want to resell the PC. You can also insure your laptop, but it might not be worth the deductible as laptops have dropped in price considerably.

A laptop may not be the best way to run your business as it expands, however. “When your company grows, you’ll probably not want to run your entire company on one computer -- a desktop or laptop -- as you begin to introduce servers,” adds Gartenberg. Online storage and automated backup utilities are also a good idea.

Finally, a laptop may not be as comfortable or as ergonomically sound as a desktop computer. Therefore, you might want to consider a docking station for the laptop when you’re in the office for a bigger screen (easier on the eyes) and/or external mice and keyboards (which are easier on the hands and wrists).