While most think of thin clients as a replacement for terminals, supporters of the technology say that's only half the story--and they predict that the small size and minimal performance requirements will make them widespread.
Both the physical and electrical lightness of these client devices means that they can be shrunk, squeezed, or wedged into spaces where PCs can't go or haven't worked well, said Jeff McNaught, senior director and general manager at Wyse.
"Through industrial design, thin clients can meet the needs of users," he said. "These devices are optimized for their environments."
The list of potential environments amenable to thin clients is vast. Various hospitals, for instance, have asked about the possibility of putting communication stations in individual patient rooms, McNaught said. Space remains limited, while electromagnetic transmissions from CRT screens have raised concern among certain health professionals.
As a result, PCs can't be used in these locations, but terminals or another form of thin client can do the job. Hostile environments--dusty shop floors or wet kitchen areas--can be accommodated through hermetically sealed cases, McNaught added.
To this end, Wyse is emphasizing industrial design as a major product vector. Currently, the company makes six distinct shapes of terminals, a list that includes a box where the terminal and screen are fused to a wireless units. Two more will be added next year. The company also makes a series of different logic boards for each of its terminals to adjust for space considerations.
Kiosks present another potential market. Users will swipe a smart card through a public NC and use private email accounts anywhere in the world.
John Frederiksen, group product manager for Hydra at Microsoft, said the company's terminal platform will be aimed at the traditional terminal and laptop markets. Hydra the code name for server software used to run Windows-based Terminals.
"There are going to be situations where mobile workers will need to access applications that are way too heavy to load onto the laptop," he said. Such applications might include an inventory management application or a trading system. Rather than load a huge client onto the laptop, Hydra could be grafted onto the application. Users would access the application through a Hydra client on the laptop.
The laptop would essentially function as a terminal for a few applications and otherwise work as a computer, Frederiksen said. Such a system could also improve security.
A major contributing factor to this flexibility, of course, is the fact that the system can be controlled from a central server, said Mark Templeton, vice president of marketing at Citrix. Computing units can be dispersed geographically, yet updated constantly as a result.