PC plays Possum While Thin Clients Spit and Hiss

By Cameron Sturdevant  |  Posted 2011-10-25

I'm wrapping up a look at thin client computing and the one thing that's clear is that "thick" client PCs are doing pretty well by just playing possum.

The sheer technology momentum behind the desktop PC means that increasing processor power and graphics capabilities along with dirt cheap storage go a long way towards making low-cost desktop systems attractive. And nobody in IT ever got fired for buying or leasing a PC.

Thin clients are the hardware devices that present the user interface and provide some processing power for "desktop" applications that are hosted in a virtual environment, usually provided by Citrix, VMware or Microsoft. Slowly buy surely, hosted desktop solutions have increased performance and decreased security and configuration concerns to make compelling for some use cases. In my research health care and education examples swamped all other uses including call centers. So as the third "first date" between IT and thin clients starts I'll be interested to see if the relationship takes off. (The first two dates were stymied by trust issues with network reliability and an "it's complicated" matter having to do with the back end platforms.)

In the evolving world of thin client computing it's also becoming clear that some hardware clients are thinner than others. The fattest of the thin clients come with embedded operating systems and act as life support systems for aging applications that can't make the jump to the data center with the rest of the fleet. The thinnest of the thin clients, the "zero clients" probably signal the future of true in-the-cubicle physical desktop hardware. Tablets and smartphones will play the role of mobile desktop.

Even as the PC platform rests on its laurels, the thin client hardware makers and the virtual desktop platforms that love them are getting back in the ring with a vengeance.

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