Friday, April 11, 2008

Are Thin Clients Still Viable?

While I was reading the post linked above, and I started to reminisce. While I haven't talked about think clients on this blog, those who know my Slashdot persona of the same name will probably remember some of my posts and journals about them.

I started with thin clients in the pre-1.0 LTSP days. They worked well for what I wanted them to do. Thin clients might not be the best choice for those of you wanting fancy effects, but they make a great defense against 6th-12th graders who do everything they can to mess up your network every day.

At our school in Thailand a few years ago, I got a pallet of cast-off computers from Japan for a song. They had been stripped of all storage except floppies. The guy who got them was going to try to find used hard disks and CD drives, check them for failures, then resell them for about USD90 apiece. I pieced together a fairly powerful (for the time) consumer-level PC, maxed out the RAM, installed a Thai-enabled Linux distribution, and configured LTSP.

Back then, you had to do all that by hand. I learned about NFS, TFTP, and more advanced DHCP issues trying to get that network up and running. Lots of headaches back then, let me tell you. Now, though, LTSP, Edubuntu, and K12LTSP make all that stuff virtually plug-n-play.

I made boot floppies, shoved the drives back into the machine a little bit, covered the bay with plastic, and had nice little P133, 32MB thin clients that worked with virtually no issues. Children who screwed up their desktops got their files deleted and desktops reset, so they were careful not to mess around too much.

Printing was easy. Sound was doable. There was virtually no downtime unless the weather got too hot and the "server" went over.

I still keep up on LTSP, and am finding that a lot of apps (like especially FF) won't work on a thin client with 32MB anymore because, even though the app is running on the server, it stores images in the X server on the client. I understand that FF3 may solve this problem, but FF is not the only offending application.

The end result is that clients which used to be viable and which really do no more work have progressively become less appropriate as thin clients.

The developer world is making a lot of assumptions about the app running locally.

So ... I'm going to do something I rarely do -- ask for opinions. Are thin clients still viable? If my TC needs 256MB to run, why bother with remote X at all? What do you think?


Post a Comment

Other I' Been to Ubuntu Stories