Generally speaking, a thin-client computer is a stripped-down PC that runs programs off a powerful server computer instead of from a unit on the desk. A new trend is adapting thin clients to run Linux, the popular Unix derivative developed in 1991 by Linus Torvalds.
IBM isn't the only major PC maker backing Linux for thin-client systems. Compaq Computer in October introduced the T1500 thin client, which runs Linux. Hewlett-Packard during the summer started manufacturing its first thin-client systems running Linux.
But Big Blue backing Linux could help foster the adoption of the alternative Unix flavor on thin clients. IBM has a long history with thin-client computing, in 1996 introducing its first Network Station. The thin client relied initially on Citrix WinFrame running off Windows NT servers to connect to data running on disparate systems, such as mainframes and Unix and NT servers.
The worldwide thin-client market grew 83 percent during the first half of 1999 from a year earlier, according to International Data Corp.
Wyse, IBM and NCD/Tektronix dominate the market, with combined unit share of 78 percent and 79 percent share for revenue, according to IDC. Market leaders posted strong growth, with Wyse shipping 200 percent more systems than a year earlier and HP 125 percent more.
"In the spirit and manner of the open-source community, we are going to post on our Web site information for our customers and software developers to implement Linux on the Network Station series 2200 and 2800," said Howie Hunger, director of thin-client marketing for the IBM Network Station.
IBM already supports Linux on its servers, PCs and portable computers.
IBM will also offer a forum for exchanging information between customers and software developers. Those interested in running Linux on IBM hardware will find instructions for other systems, and for setting up access for Windows applications, creating browser applications and using the Java Virtual Machine (JVM)
Big Blue will initially support Red Hat Linux 6.1, but plans to later include other Linux variants. The Web site will also offer support for setting up browser plug-ins, such as Macromedia Shockwave, Adobe Acrobat and RealAudio and RealVideo.
Today's added Linux resources supports IBM's position "that thin clients are more than just systems accessing servers with emulators," Hunger said.
"We've always positioned our product line in such a way as to foster the use of the browser and the JVM in the device and global execution of applications on the device," he said. "This is really taking us to the next plateau to allow us to work with customers and (software developers) to highly customize the thin client as well."
IBM sells the Network Station 2200 for $679 and the Network Station 2800 for $899.