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Looking Back At Thin Clients and Forward To the Internet of Things


Some of the world’s greatest inventions were an accident.

Dell Wyse AIO Like the Post-It Note, everyday plastic, tire rubber, and even the beloved chocolate chip cookie, the thin client computer was never meant to do what it does today or will tomorrow.

“The story of thin clients is the unlikely invention of an industry,” says Jeff McNaught, executive director of marketing and chief strategy officer at Dell Wyse and co-inventor of the machine.

It begins by looking back to the mid 90s, when an estimated 31 percent of all American homes had at least one PC, and industry analysts expected growth in the home PC market to expand between 30 and 40 percent.

“There is no way PC makers like Packard Bell, IBM, Apple, Compaq, Dell, Gateway, AT&T, Digital Equipment Corp. or Hewlett-Packard can grow at 30 or 40 percent when they all have similar overhead costs for similar products-not with prices dropping as fast as they are,” Philippe de Marcillac, director and principal analyst of personal computers worldwide for Dataquest Inc at the time, told the Chicago Tribune.

McNaught was at Wyse and recalls that “rather than fight for scraps, Wyse senior management asked me, Curt Schwebke, and a couple of engineers to ‘go figure out what we’ll do next.’”

That same year, McNaught and company tinkered with several prototypes.

“We wanted to make terminals cool again,” he explains. “But that could never happen with the text-based nature of traditional terminals. So we came up with a lightweight, graphics and mouse-driven device called the Winterm 2000.”

Winterm won “best in show” at the 1995 Computer Dealers’ Exhibition in Las Vegas, and was later awarded the thin client patent.

And, although thin clients never went mainstream, with individual consumers, they’ve enjoyed sustained interest over the years from enterprise, finance, government, and education customers, McNaught says, due to their security, cost and maintenance benefits.

So what’s next for thin clients?

Dell WyseThey’ve expanded recently to further blur the lines of what a company issue computer can look and work like. After Dell acquired Wyse in 2012, we setup “cloud-client” laboratories around the world to help our enterprise customers understand the three different types of thin clients we sell today—thin, zero, and cloud—as well as which middleware, end-user interfaces and back-ends work best for any given use case.

“The fundamental architecture of thin clients is being used in all end-points in which PCs aren’t ideal,” says McNaught.

While thin clients continue to expand, they’re also getting smaller. In January, Dell launched Cloud Connect, a “micro client” that offers accessibility, affordability and the ability to transform into any device a worker needs it to be.

More than that, though, McNaught believes the micro client will largely power the internet of things and the increasing number of screens we encounter every day.

“In the future, screens will be everywhere, just like in the movies,” he predicts, citing Blade Runner, Minority Report, and Space Marines as influences. “They’ll be in our cars, homes, and wherever we look for information and media.”

McNaught predicts “they’ll be powered by thin devices such as Cloud Connect. They’ll be powered by low cost, energy efficient, and wireless secured devices that we used to call ‘dumb terminals,’ only this time, they’ll truly help us create order from chaos.”

Not a bad prognoses for such an unanticipated invention.

Do you agree with this outlook? Share your thoughts on the topic below and watch for a series of articles coming from McNaught here on Direct2Dell.

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