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Is thin client still thin?

June 12, 2011

One of the early promises of "thin client" computing was that the heavy lifting would take place on the server and the client workstation could be quite modest. But is that still a reality? I’ve found recently that modern browsers and web sites seem to push more of the processing back onto the workstation. The speed at which the browser itself and individual web sites load and refresh seem pretty much proportional to the speed of the workstation. I’ve got several older computers that I’ve kept around for accessing the Internet and other simple tasks. The machines haven’t gotten any slower over time but the way they respond when running major browsers certainly has.

Lower hardware requirements are not often cited as a benefit of Cloud Computing these days — and apparently with good reason.

Are there real technical reasons for what I’m seeing?

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  1. Anonymous permalink

    It sounds strange but a lot of CPU power nowadays is needed for uncompressing content. Images, files, movies. Everything is compressed nowadays and uncompressed at runtime. Javascript also is a memory hog. Has always been will probably never change. It is a client side language. Javascript libraries that hold a lot of functionality (and are compressed by the way) will do the rest. On the other side I own a Tablet PC and the browser works quite well. The build-in CPU should have less power than the CPU we have in our older PC’s. It seems that tablets (or mobiles) benefit from not running Windows (cheap shot I know).
    It has little to do with thin clients but the tendency to use virtual machines seem to take away a lot of performance (at least on the client side). This is true for either Java or Microsoft .Net.


  2. Anonymous permalink

    This post assumes that the browser will run on the client. One could do the heavy lifting of the browser on the server and merely transmit the screens to the client. That’s what I do for most installations. It works quite well except for video. Huge advantages of performance result: the browser starts more rapidly because, with GNU/Linux on the server, all executables are cached and shared among users. The server will tend to have faster/more storage as well making everything snappier.

    Even if JavaScript is a bigger burden these days, doing it on the server makes sense. Between page loads that processor is idling. On a server when the processor is idling for one user it can be running for another. That is much more efficient in terms of CAPEX and power consumption.


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