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Let me be honest: I really don’t like thin-client computing. I want as much computing power as humanly possible on the desktop in front of me.

Ever since I got my hands on my first CP/M-80-powered KayPro II computer, and I could kiss my VT-102 terminal good-bye, I’ve been a supporter of the PC-centric model of computing. Over the years, I reviewed and abused endless attempts to take computer power out of the hands of people and put it back in the datacenter. Diskless workstations, network computers, X-terms—you name it, I could find things wrong with it.

And for the most part, everyone else agreed with me. Thin-client systems remained a niche.

Now, as much as I hate to say this, I think it’s time for companies, your customers, to start thinking about thin-client solutions.

I’ve got two broad reasons for this. First, thin-client computers have gotten a lot better. Systems like Sun’s Sun Ray 100 or Wyse Technologies’ Linux-powered Winterm 5455XL, or its XP embedded powered Winterm 9650XE, give you enough horses locally that you don’t waste time waiting for your system to painfully render its GUI.

At the same time, our networks have gotten faster. I’d still hesitate to bring a thin-client solution into an office that was relying on a 10-Mbps Ethernet or 11-Mbps 802.11b Wi-Fi LAN. But these days, most businesses are running 100-Mpbs Fast Ethernet or 54Mbps 802.11g Wi-Fi networks, and those are both more than fast enough for thin-client computing.

Heck, as I sit here in the countryside in North Carolina’s Blue Ridge mountains, I have 3-Mbps down/384Kbps up DSL. That’s been more than fast enough for my wife to use Citrix MetaFrame thin-client software every day without a problem.

My other broad reason for rethinking my stance on thin clients is that computing has become ever more dangerous. A week barely goes by anymore without a serious security breach story appearing in the news. Of course, the vast majority of those are Microsoft problems, but still, that’s what most of your customers are running, yes?

One of the other traditional reasons for thin clients has always been to centralize management and patching, and that reason applies to all operating systems. While all of the patches to my SuSE Linux systems put together aren’t anywhere near as mission-critical to Windows XP SP2, constantly patching system after system gets a little old.

Yes, programs such as BigFix and Shavlik‘s HFNetChkPro, which can work with both Linux and Windows, go a long way toward making patching easier, but there’s always some system somewhere that needs special handling. With server-based computing, that’s not a problem.

Now, those are my reasons for considering thin-client deployments, but my colleague Michael Dortch, principal business analyst at the Robert Frances Group tells me that executives are coming to him with an entirely different “security” angle.

They’re telling Dortch they want thin clients because, thanks to the Sarbanes-Oxley Act’s strict internal control reporting and disclosure requirements, they feel they can no longer afford to have important company documents floating around office PCs. And under Sarbanes-Oxley, what might be considered an “important company document” can be pretty darn broad.

For example, as David Via of Ferris Research notes in an October report on Sarb-Ox and messaging, “Recent regulations from organizations such as the SEC and NASD [National Association of Securities Dealers] have specifically named technologies such as e-mail and IM [instant messaging]” as ones that must be recorded for Sarb-Ox auditing.

So, chances are you know where your e-mail is kept, but what about your IM logs? Are you sure that an e-mail message or an IM log of a conversation on Joe’s desk hasn’t been changed? You’d better be, because Sarb-Ox requires that those messages remain untampered with.

You see the point, I’m sure: Sarb-Ox dictates that company brass archives and secures internal documents and communications to a heretofore-unseen level. Now, to do that, you need many different programs, but clearly one easy way to make managing the whole Sarb-Ox mess a lot easier is to keep everything on centralized servers.

So, before you visit your customers to talk about their desktop strategy, it would pay you well to first talk to companies such as the ones I’ve mentioned earlier, or others such as Tarantella and HP, to come up with a thin-client strategy. You may just find that your customers are more than ready to give thin clients a try. Senior Editor Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols has been using and writing about operating systems since the late ’80s and thinks he may just have learned something about them along the way.

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