In the first instalment of a two-part review on thin clients, we look at thin-client terminals.
Ipex WBT 370CE
Sun Ray 170
Asterisk PC reviver
What to look out for
Thin-client computing may not be for everyone but it is most likely suitable in some way, shape, or form to the majority of enterprises out there today.
While Moore's Law is definitely on hiatus for the time being, at least until someone figures out a way to use those hundreds of thousands of wasted clock cycles the average business PC user is throwing away each day, we may as well try and focus all this new found processing power and harness it in a more manageable form, which is where the server comes in.
Who are you calling dumb?
Essentially thin-client terminals are pretty dumb (hence the tag "dumb terminals"), running very light -- "thin" -- operating systems such as Windows CE or embedded Linux that provide nothing more than access to basic terminal settings and preferences and the all important network connectivity and configuration. All the smarts of the machines are delivered to them by the servers via the network. (While on the subject of networking, it cannot be emphasised enough how critical it is to have a reliable, robust, and well-designed network when running a thin-client environment.)
Slightly thicker thin clients
This being said, vendors such as Wyse are now modifying the traditional dumb terminal and empowering its newer generation of terminals with a little bit of intelligence, allowing some applications to be stored and processed by the machines themselves. The majority of terminal vendors now also allow direct Internet browser support from the terminals themselves too -- this is particularly useful if an application is designed to run from within a browser.
Increasingly, vendors are beginning to incorporate expansion capabilities into their thin client terminals allowing PCI or PCMCIA cards to be installed and allowing support for wireless networks. Some vendors are also including authentication technologies, such as smart cards, which not only authenticates the user but allows them to move complete server sessions from one client to another with a simple swipe of the smart card.
This review focuses on the terminal hardware themselves, and we have reviewed products from Ipex, Maxterm, Sun Microsystems, VXL, and Wyse.