I've been getting a lot of email from readers about multimonitor displays, so I thought I'd give that experience a little test drive. But because I almost never do anything the easy way, I decided to kill two birds with one stone and set up not just a multimonitor system, but one that uses a Smart Display as the second monitor.

If you haven't been following news about the Smart Display, you might not be aware that these Windows CE-powered RDP devices are designed to extend the Windows XP Professional OS into the easy-to-use consumer marketplace. Smart Displays, which look similar to a Tablet PC, aren't replacements for a notebook computer but instead are wireless terminals for access to your XP desktop. (You can find more information about Microsoft's Smart Display technologies on the Smart Display Web site at http://www.microsoft.com/windows/smartdisplay/default.asp .)

For my testing, I used the Philips Electronics' Philips DesXcape 150DM detachable monitor, a 15" Smart Display with optional wireless keyboard that doubles as a screen protector. At a probable street price of $1500, Smart Displays are roughly twice the price of top-quality LCD panels, but that extra money buys you a significant increase in usability if you work in an environment in which you can't always remain at your desktop.

In the past, I was one of those people who take their notebook computer to every meeting. I've worked in many environments that encouraged this behavior by making the entire office complex wireless networking-capable. In meetings, I use my notebook mostly for taking notes and checking email. While I wander the building I'm offline, and I usually close my notebook so that it's easier to carry.

Rather than carrying my desktop-replacement notebook around the office, I now use the Smart Display, which greatly improves work flow. All I need to do is pop the display out of the docking station, and the Smart Display automatically converts from being an extension of my desktop monitor to being an independent device. By using the simple interface, I can log on quickly and have access to my currently running desktop with all of my applications and most of the desktop's capability (i.e., no full bandwidth video or high frame-rate game support). Email alerts, Instant Messaging (IM), and my desktop applications are all just a pen-click away. Using the optional keyboard and fold-out stand on the back of the display, I can do just about anything I used to do with my notebook.

The device's wireless capability makes the Smart Display flexible and useful for presentations in smaller meetings. Some of my colleagues were surprised by this flexibility when, during a recent meeting, I took a phone call about a server problem. Instead of having to hunt down a "real" computer to connect to the server, I merely launched the Terminal Services client on my desktop from the Smart Display and logged on to the server, then quickly restarted the failed server service that had prompted the phone call. Going back to my desk, I dropped the Smart Display into its dock, where it disconnected itself (after warning me) and reconfigured instantly as the second monitor for my desktop display, leaving the applications I had launched earlier running on the desktop system for me to work with as I needed.

This kind of business use of Smart Displays isn't how vendors are marketing the product. Marketing efforts are currently aimed toward the high-end consumer space. But if you're planning to add a second monitor to your work setup, carefully considering the benefits of making that second display a Smart Display is well worth your while.