The Future of Thin-Client Computing

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An obesity crisis in the making: thin is good, slim is better, fat is best

For years I have been a fan of the ‘free, open source software/terminal server/disk-less terminal’ model of computing. I am obsessed with the absurdly large savings on software, licences, maintenance and energy consumption that are there for the having.

I am not alone. Since January, more and more recession-driven education and public sector personnel have been asking me about the latest 'new' (and now fully buzzword-compliant) computing paradigm known as 'thin-client'. I guess the word has got out at last that PCs are a tad overkill.

Dutifully I describe to them how it works, how simple it all is to install new software, how much money will be saved, how little maintenance is needed and of course just how 'green' a sub-20 watt terminal is compared to its 500 watt sibling we call the Fat-Client (how non-PC of us).

Duly impressed (what bean counter wouldn't be with 90% off the bill), demonstrations follow. They work fine; 'Office' suites crack along, e-mail and web go really well too. A sale is close.

And then the problems sneak out of the wood-work. Comments like these: "It doesn't seem to run BBC iPlayer TV when the whole class logs on for a lesson" or "the video editing software we installed is really really slow". Sound familiar?

OK, so 'they' are being totally unreasonable in that they are having the exact same expectations of the terminal as they would have of a room full of high specification PCs. This expectation issue is especially vexatious if they have bought a load of very capable 'high end' terminals rather than the cheapo low end terminals of which few expect too much (and nor it must be said do they desire them much either).

Saying something like 'you won't be able to do all the things you would like to' is a cold shower when an entire industry has devoted its marketing muscle to raising expectations beyond sanity. Why else would anyone invest in a monster PC just to run a bloated and slow operating system like Vista?

So far so bad. I've painted myself into 'no-sale' corner to anyone other than the eco-nuts and the impecunious. But I still love the model and I'm not letting go. I want my cake and eat it!

New Developments

Thankfully technology does not stand still whether it is hardware or software (especially in the Open Source world) and a mash-up of new developments look very promising indeed.

Recently I have experimenting with my favourite new PC, namely Asus' Atomic powered Eee Box. It's really rather good and at 20 watts draws no more power than a terminal.

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