Wyse Technology has announced a laptop thin client that has no disk drive or fan, a relatively long battery life and a full-size keyboard.
The device also supports multimedia and runs silently. It's intended for business use, but analysts said it's the type of device that may be a forerunner of future notebook computers.
The Wyse x90e looks like an ultralight notebook. But it has been designed to work with 3G high-speed cellular networks and Wi-Fi and to deliver applications via the browser available in the embedded version of Microsoft Windows XPe.
The Wyse notebook can also be plugged into Ethernet networks. It weighs less than four pounds and includes 512Mb of flash memory, which holds the operating system and any applications that may be added, and an equal amount of RAM. This seems like a small amount of memory, but Wyse officials insist that it's more than enough to do the job. The RAM is expandable to 2Gb. With no spinning parts, fan or disk, battery life can range from five to seven hours.
The notebook thin-client market is new, and vendors are focusing on selling to organisations that already deliver applications from servers to terminals, such as healthcare, public safety, schools, retail and financial services - environments where many workers are using similar applications. But acceptance by consumers and knowledge workers of thin-client notebooks may expand as wireless networks improve and as Google, Microsoft and others develop online application services.
"All the things that were really necessary are only now reaching a level of adoption that can justify devices depending on them, but it's still a hard sell," said Bob O'Donnell, an analyst at IDC.
The thin-client notebooks have a lot of advantages in terms of security and durability. It may be no more difficult to replace a damaged thin-client notebook than it is to replace a TV set. Thin-client notebooks "may make all the sense in the world from a logical perspective," O'Donnell said, but IT decisions aren't always based on logic. He also noted that there may be resistance from a PC-focused IT staff, as well as from corporate knowledge workers.
Jeff McNaught, chief marketing officer at San Jose-based Wyse, said these devices are becoming alternatives for the most demanding group of employees, the knowledge workers. And the company's interest in supplying a product for the consumer market may grow "as we find ways to make these devices even smaller and easier to use," he said.
Notebook thin clients make up a small amount of the overall thin-client market, and these products are just emerging.
Wyse rival Neoware released a portable thin-client notebook, the m100 with a Linux or Windows XPe operating system, one year ago next month. In July, Hewlett-Packard said it was acquiring Neoware for $214m (£107m). The Linux-based system is listed at $759 (£375), and the Windows one is listed at $799 (£398).
In the consumer market, what could have been one of the first widely available portable thin clients, the Palm Foleo, was cancelled this month by the company. That notebook-like device with a 10-inch screen and full-size keyboard was designed to be a companion to Palm's smartphone.
Ed Colligan, Palm's CEO, said the company was dropping its Foleo to focus its energies on the next-generation operating system for its handhelds.