Somewhere at home I have this awesome little thin client computer called a Sun Ray. It doesn’t have any disk in it and has limited memory – basically it is a front end for a server. A visual terminal if you like. I think I got it for about $20 on eBay 7 or 8 years ago. I love the bracket, it is from space which is odd as in space you don't need supports.When you boot it up it makes a DHCP request and, in addition to the normal data returned by DHCP, the server gives it the location of an image to boot. All the actual computing a user does is performed on a server and the Sun Ray simply shows images. The idea was that instead of buying a bunch of desktop computers which quickly become outdated you buy these thin clients and just upgrade the server. You might not even need to upgrade the server so much as add more servers as the old server could be upgraded easily. IT management costs would be reduced as there was no reason to send out techs to people’s offices except to replace a keyboard or mouse. The Sun Ray had no moving parts so the chances of failure were pretty damned small. Also it was built by Sun which had a reputation for making the most bullet proof hardware imaginable.

It was a well deserved reputation. Years ago we had some E450s and used them as go-carts around the office. We never broke one. Walls? Yes. A door. Yep. But the machine? Never.

Not even a purple shell could break one.Not even a purple shell could break one.

Without the need for onsite techs you could outsource all your desktop support to SE Asia or a country with more stans in its name than Syd Hoff’s famous book

More popular that the sequel "Stanley is Devoured" More popular that the sequel “Stanley is Devoured”

For me to spend $20 on this thing I must have been convinced at the time that thin clients were the future. But look around today and do you see any thin clients in your offices or your house? I don’t know what happened. They are a great idea and one which seems even more sensible in a cloud computing world.

While I don’t see any thin clients on my desk I do see a Windows XP workstation. It hasn’t been upgraded by the IT group yet because they are too busy doing their normal jobs without running around upgrading thousands of work stations. Any ever-greening programme which existed has been crippled by the financial crisis and even those getting new machines are getting Windows XP workstations. Upgrading an entire company is a huge undertaking both in terms of time an money. If the business is persisting on Windows XP then what’s the advantage in upgrading? It is a good question and the only answers are

  1. Older OSes are not being supported any more and if you find an issue you’re on your own

  2. Newer technology is more efficient from a power perspective and from a workflow perspective

  3. People like having new hardware/software. It is a low cost way of keeping people happy (at least people like me)

Instead of upgrading all the workstations upgrading the servers is much easier. You can even do it remotely using virtual machines and have an easy downgrade path should it be needed. Why thin client computing hasn’t taken off in business I don’t know. Looking around the office here it seems that almost everybody just uses excel which can easily be put on a thin client without worrying about network latency. I suppose you could argue that Google’s Chromebook is a thin client but I don’t think it is the sort of product which is going to be on corporate desks any time soon.

So I’m asking: What happened to thin clients?