Article on the next push for thin clients
Every dog+world has its day
By Doug Mohney: Monday 03 January 2005, 07:26
Tyan Tomcat i7221 Server board
OFF THE top of my head, there have been at least three major waves to push what is now called "thin clients" and there's likely to be a fourth wave sometime in 2005-2006. The first major wave came when X-Windows was released into the Unix world in the late '80s and became the cat's meow for five minutes since servers (of the day) were very expensive and graphics displays were merely only expensive. Companies began marketing "X-terminals" – high-end glass of 17-inch and larger with enough CPU and RAM to load and run a basic X-windows kernel over an Ethernet connection. If you want a good laugh, compare a '90s era X-terminal to a Linksys wireless router or a Palm Pilot.
The Era of X-terminals died in the mid-90s when CPU and RAM became affordable enough that everyone that really needed a workstation could afford one and everyone that didn't need a workstation could slum it by running the original web browser "Mosaic" on a PC . Around the same time, there were various third-party efforts for remotely running PC applications over a network and most of these solutions pretty much died when fully-loaded PCs became cheaper than installing the software and network needed in the first place.
Sun has been bullish on thin-client applications for a while with Java at the core of everything, but there's been no real traction on getting everyone back to the concept of "One big server and a bunch of terminals." IT people seem to have a better level of comfort with throwing multiple servers and boxes at problems to the point of being able to use/abuse multiple PCs in a grid network to solve big problems. Sure it's not efficient and there are a lot of pieces of hardware to inventory in the enterprise, but users seem to prefer to be able to do some things locally on their desktop rather than having to twiddle their thumbs if there is a network or server problem. Plus, there's the whole aspect of laptop computers allowing people to do work even when they aren't plugged into the company network.
Round three of thin clients was pushed by Microsoft two years ago with the whole "smart display" concept. Home users were supposed spend lots of money on "advanced" Windows XP software for a server and another chunk of money for the $1000+ "smart display" to run applications from their couch or kitchen. The Smart Display was a touch screen device that looked and ran like a Tablet PC but without the weight, storage or relative $2200 expense of a tablet PC. Most people did the math and decided that a $1500 cost laptop was a better buy for working from their couch or kitchen and could also be thrown in the car so the kiddies could watch DVDs on the way to grandma's house. You can still buy SmartDisplays, but you can't find the overpriced devices in BigBox land.
And the next round?