iForum: Thin clients take the spotlight

iForum: Thin clients take the spotlight

"Thin" is most definitely "in" at iForum, Citrix Systems' users' conference, which is taking place here this week: Thin-client vendors lined up in support of server-based computing, and Citrix unveiled a few surprises to delight the faithful.

Citrix unveiled a piece of its product strategy for Web-enabled applications by demonstrating two technologies code-named Charlotte and Vertigo.

Charlotte is an incarnation of Citrix's existing Program Neighborhood product for the Web. The technology allows end users to access a user profile of applications through the Web, providing secure access and authentication. Vertigo, a result of Citrix's acquisition of ViewSoft, enhances Web-based applications by facilitating richer graphics.

Under fire of late for lacking a strategy to combat an impending onslaught of Web applications that would not require the Intelligent Console Architecture (ICA) -- Citrix's architecture for thin-client computing -- the company has once again found an answer.

"We don't view the Web as a competitive force so much as we see it as an opportunity," said Ed Iacobucci, chief executive officer of Citrix.

Vertigo is currently in beta testing and is expected to become a product in the early part of next year. Charlotte will initially be released as an SDK (software developers kit), then eventually incorporated into the company's MetaFrame product. MetaFrame is a thin-client/server add-on to Microsoft Corp.'s Windows NT Server 4.0, Terminal Server Edition.

In addition, Citrix demonstrated an ability to run Unix and Java applications over the ICA protocol, formerly reserved for Windows applications. Bowing to customer demand, Citrix is diversifying its platform base, and eventually expects to bundle Unix, Windows, and other versions of its MetaFrame product together.

"We want to be agnostic," Iacobucci said.

So after successfully avoiding being swallowed up by Microsoft, Citrix is yet again one step ahead, embracing the Web application marketplace not a moment too soon, according to analysts.

"You have to believe that they are going to succeed, given their track record," said Eileen O'Brien, an analyst at International Data Corporation. "Besides, not everything is going to be done over the Web. It's like the rumour that the mainframe is going to go away . . . it never did."

Citrix also said it has aggressive plans to expand its services organisation.

Also at the show, Compaq displayed its new thin-client product as expected. Due to be officially announced on October 4, Compaq will have two systems: a classic Windows-based terminal; and a Linux-based system that runs a Netscape browser.

As expected, IBM introduced two new Network Stations, called the 2200 and 2800. The systems will be priced at $US559 and $799 respectively.

Listening to all the vendors at the show would make one wonder why anyone would ever need to use a PC. But at least one customer recited a litany of problems that resulted from the implementation of thin clients.

Rob Carter, director of IT at Federal Express, employs 6000 Wyse Winterms currently, and plans to expand the number to 20,000 by the end of the year. But Carter cited integration difficulties, a performance lag, and a frustration with hardware updates to the machines as reasons the transition has not gone entirely smoothly. Problems such as these, he said, "defeat the purpose of thin clients."

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