Multi-machine computing

I’ve got two machines; my desktop machine, and my laptop. The desktop machine is always on. It runs Gaim for instant messaging, and has all my files on it. I use Thunderbird to read my mail, which is on an IMAP server on that desktop machine. My laptop has a wireless card in it, which means I can use it elsewhere in the house. The problem is this: when I’m on the laptop, I’ve not got access to everything. I mean, I could set up Thunderbird or Evolution on the laptop and have it read mail by IMAP from the desktop machine. What do I do about instant messaging, though? If I put Gaim on the laptop then (a) I have to set up all my accounts on the laptop as well, and (b) how do these systems react to you being logged in from two different locations? If it logs me out on the desktop then that’s a pain, because it won’t log me back in again when I close down the laptop.
So, maybe I should just use the laptop as a terminal, and have everything actually happen on the desktop. How, though? I can’t have the laptop just do XDMCP to the desktop: if I do that, it starts a second X server, and then Gaim starts up again on the second X server, which is the same thing as running it in two different locations. I don’t want to use VNC from the laptop to acess my existing running X session on the desktop, because the desktop runs at a higher screen res than the laptop is capable of, and because VNC isn’t great if you’re using it all the time (it’s fine for using another machine for a while, but not as your primary means of using it).
How do other people solve this problem? Jono tells me that he just has duplicate environments on the desktop and laptop. I could do that, but it seems a pain to set up, and the twice-logged-in IM problem seems like a bad one.

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