Generally speaking, a thin-client is a stripped-down PC that runs programs off of a powerful server computer instead of from the unit on the desk. The thin-client idea was championed years ago by many in the high-tech world, most notably Oracle chief executive Larry Ellison.
But the machines have failed to catch on in a big way, and many companies have pulled back their support. The decision this week by IBM and Sun to pull the plug on JavaOS--an ill-fated attempt to power a Java-only computer that bypassed Windows and other operating systems-- was another setback for thin-client advocates.
HP's announcement represents a shift in strategy for the Palo Alto, California, computer manufacturer.
Two of the new Entria models are HP designs and expand the company's use of the upstart Linux operating system to a new area.
HP's decision to adopt Linux for thin-clients makes a lot of sense, said Joe Ferlazzo, analyst with Technology Business Research.
"You're going to see companies looking more and more to Linux for their thin-client environments," said Ferlazzo. "You can scale Linux down to the bare bones, if you need. And it's free. There are no client licenses."
HP until now has exclusively used thin-client systems from Wyse for its NetVectra line, which will eventually be replaced by Entria. The NetVectra G-200 and G-210 will disappear, and the G-310 will be rebranded as the Entria G-310.
It is anticipated that HP will introduce the Entria G-220 in mid-September with a price of $599.
The Entria G-220 and G-310 come, respectively, with 166-MHz and 200-MHz Cyrix MediaGXm processors and 16MB and 32MB of RAM.
The Entria L and X are the HP-designed models, which run on Linux and use Web browser Netscape Communicator 4.6 to connect to other systems on a corporate network.
HP has not set prices for either model and expects to ship them in October.
HP and other thin-client manufacturers face another obstacle on the road to adoption: low-cost PCs that offer more performance and features for about the same price or a little more. HP executives argue thin clients are easier to administer and offer hidden cost savings.
"Those costs savings are not in the hardware. They are in the deployment and setup costs," said Wolfgang Bates, general manger of Thin-Client Operations for HP. "When you install software just at the server, you don't have to worry about deployment at the PC or maintaining that software."
Analysts said the thin-client market would at least in the short term remain limited to companies replacing terminals that connect to mainframes and to those with heterogeneous operating environments, such as Unix servers and mainframes.