The Progress of Thin Clients
By Martin Pladgeman
When thin clients first appeared on the market over 10 years ago, IBM was a great proponent of this technology even though the first units had slow CPUs, limited memory, and Linux-based operating systems.
In the early days of thin clients, networks were still employing hubs instead of switches. Hubs share all network traffic with all the attached devices; therefore, this type of technology did not work well with the boot-server type of thin clients. In other words, when many thin clients were started at the same time, the network was unable to handle the traffic caused by downloading the OS to every thin client.
As time went on, new operating systems like Windows CE were developed,. Networks started to use switches, eliminating the need to share bandwidth between devices while being capable of full duplex traffic (sending and receiving at the same time). Small in size, Windows CE could fit on the Disk-On-Chip (DOC) mounted inside the thin client as well as provide a place to embed applications.
Windows CE, however, had its own challenges. In addition, the Windows server platforms (NT Terminal Server and Windows 2000 Server) and the early version of Citrix were delivering what people expected from a server platform for hosted applications in colors, compression and encryption.
Thin Clients Today
Over the last few years, the average CPU speed has increased to over 1GHz. With a faster CPU, running Linux or embedded Windows XP (XPe) has become much more feasible. These operating systems are better-suited to running local applications; in addition, many provide full-function browsers with Java Virtual Machine (JVM) capability, email, enhanced terminal emulation, and much more of the functionality that users are used to seeing on the PC.
Windows for thin clients now has high-color support, sound delivered to the desktop, data compression, and better printing support. Citrix has also updated its product to provide better security, better compression, bidirectional sound, published applications, and security enhancements such as smart card and biometric device support.
Consultants have been saying for a long time that thin clients are the future. Thin client technology has finally caught up with the vision. Most intelligent thin clients can work nearly like a PC, giving the user all of the desired flexibility and performance while providing the data processing department with its control and security benefits. Today there are many thin client models to choose from with varying CPU speeds, memory capacities, storage capacities, and operating systems.
Customized Thin Clients
Customization of thin clients is gaining importance with both Linux and XPe models because customers have their own ideas of what is needed on a machine. Thin-client manufacturers that can respond quickly to customization requests are gathering momentum in what is becoming a huge market.
Tablet Thin Clients
A new thin-client device that is proving to be beneficial to many companies is a wireless tablet. The tablet takes the place of a hand-held barcode scanner with small display.
In a warehouse environment, since inventory control software normally comes from an iSeries, a fixed terminal from which data is entered and checked is usually placed somewhere in the warehouse. Some thin-client manufacturers now sell wireless thin-client tablet displays so that existing full-screen inventory programs can be used directly on the tablet anywhere in the facility, eliminating the need to modify the inventory program. The tablet can be carried by the user with a neck strap or mounted on a forklift or on the wall.
All-in-One Thin Clients
Another growing trend is the use of "all-in-one" thin clients. These thin clients have the thin-client technology contained inside an LCD flat-panel monitor. The benefit here is to minimize the amount of desk space used and remove the clutter of additional wiring. The apex of this is a wireless all-in-one unit with a touch screen.
Biometric Security Features
The ability to secure access to thin clients with a biometric device is beginning to appear in thin-client applications. A biometric device is a fingerprint reader that is either a direct-attached device or a device that connects via the mouse, keyboard, or monitor. When prompted, the user places his or her index finger on the reader and the device verifies identity by comparing the fingerprint with those already recorded. Once a user is verified by a biometric device, the thin client can start various programs based on who the user is and how the software is programmed. Biometric authentication saves time, provides an additional layer of security, and eliminates the need for users to remember their passwords.
A New World of Thin Clients
The demand for thin-client technology is increasing while smaller, faster, more portable, more secure, and more adaptable thin-client products keep appearing on the market. 10ZiG Technology is a leading developer of enterprise-class thin client and network appliance solutions for Linux, XP, and CE.Net.
Martin Pladgeman is President of 10ZiG Technology (formerly BOSaNOVA, Inc.), a leading developer of enterprise-class thin client and network appliance solutions for Linux, XP, and CE.Net. Martin can be reached atMartinp@10zig.com.