Thin-Client Boom, Finally?

Thin-client computers — inexpensive terminal-style machines — were promoted a decade ago as replacements for personal computers and desktop software mainly by Microsoft’s rivals, like Oracle’s Larry Ellison and Sun’s Scott McNealy. But the thin-client market never took off, as the networked devices couldn’t really substitute for PC’s.

But Hewlett-Packard’s $214-million purchase of Neoware, a thin-client maker, on Monday points to a second act for the thin-client market. The acquisition is a consolidation move by HP, the No. 2 thin-client maker, taking out No. 3, Neoware. In short, the world’s largest PC company is acknowledging this an emerging market it cannot ignore. No. 1 is Wyse.

What’s different this time? The software, networking and user experience for server-based computing delivered to individuals has improved considerably. Virtual software versions of Windows desktops can be streamed to thin clients, including audio and video. There are even notebook thin-client machines these days.