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Wyse targets TVs, PCs and phones with 'thin-client-on-a-chip'

Thin client hype extends to new markets

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A realist, Kish knows that hardware sales won't be the driving force behind reaching the $1bn goal.

"People have just seen thin clients as having hardware value," Kish said. "That value declines over time. It's not about the device itself. It's about how it interacts with the network."

In the past, thin client makers have presented their systems as safer, quieter, cheaper and easier to manage than PCs. You simply hand the worker or consumer a stateless device with no moving parts and let an administrator take care of all the management dirty work from one spot in the data center.

With all these benefits on their side, thin clients makers have only been able to capture a small fraction of the PC market where close to 100m units are sold every year.

Kish, however, thinks that will change thanks, in part, to Wyse's software efforts.

To complement existing management packages, Wyse released Streaming Manager in March.

We had a look at this software, and it's pretty impressive. Administrators load up all the applications they want to make available to users on a central server. They can then pick and choose which applications particular users can access and, obviously, upload new applications from a central point, as needed.

When a user clicks on an application icon, their thin client begins to "stream" that application from the server and actually lets the application temporarily sit on their thin client device, improving overall performance. Companies can also create reports on all the applications used by their employees for help assessing licensing contracts.

Streaming Manager is not mind-bending stuff, but it's a nice, clean application that makes controlling a lot of thin clients, applications and users easy.

Following the release of its thin client-on-a-chip, Wyse plans to take the software story to the next level. The chip hardware along with some complementary code from Wyse will make it possible to run just about anything found on a PC on a thin client. During a demo, CTO Schwebke showed 16 separate videos streaming onto one of the new thin client devices, and we're told it can stretch up to 32 simultaneous feeds. In addition, the new chip has VoIP and a "well-known graphics engine" built-in.

With all of this gear, customers "won't be able to tell the difference between a thin client and a top PC," Kish said. "That gets rid of a big, past criticism about thin clients."

In addition, Kish thinks the prevalence of myriad high-bandwidth networks has made a potential thin client boom possible.

"The PC was designed from the ground up not to have a network," Kish said. "That made a lot of sense in a time when network availability was sporadic and not very rich. It doesn't make sense anymore."

It's so easy to become enchanted by the thin client pitch. The model makes an incredible amount of sense on paper.

Ultimately, however, consumers in the PC-saturated parts of the world have proved reluctant to send their hard drive off into the ether. And, while networks have improved, they've hardly reached the point where one would give up on the ability to do off-line work at home.

Businesses too have spent so much time sucking from Wintel's golden teat that they don't have the courage or the time to uproot their computing infrastructure just to suck off a teat of a different color, even if the teat is very quiet.

These negatives though might not have much impact on Wyse's future business model. Sure, it will continue to serve businesses and schools with "classic" thin client systems if they want them. But Wyse wants to charge after the "billions of units not millions of units world," according to Kish. That will require great success in young markets, some innovative service providers and most of all the customer desire to have a thin client crammed into a TV or a printer.

We can see how people might want all that, but we're not convinced thin client makers will take the lead in delivering it.

Still, congratulations go to Wyse for getting the hard work done. It will soon have the chip and the software it needs. Then, it's time to start selling more vision and keep the fingers crossed. ®

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