Bringing you up to speed on the latest happenings in the thin-client market

At the beginning of this year, I wrote a series of articles in which I defined the facets of thin-client computing (see my January, February, March, and May Lab Reports). I concluded the series after Microsoft released the beta 1 version of Hydra and Citrix released the beta 1 version of pICAsso. Many market changes have occurred since these products were released, so I'd like to bring you up to date and correct some information I reported that turned out to be erroneous.

The Name Game
Unless you've been living in a cave, you probably noticed that Microsoft and Citrix changed the names of their thin-client solutions. Microsoft's Hydra is now officially Windows NT Server 4.0, Terminal Server Edition, and Citrix's pICAsso is now officially MetaFrame.

Microsoft's apparent intent is to integrate Terminal Server technology into NT Server, so NT 5.0 might include this technology. However, Microsoft is noncommittal on this point. For now, you can choose from NT Server 4.0, Standard Edition, NT Server 4.0, Terminal Server Edition, or NT Server 4.0, Enterprise Edition. The Standard and Terminal Server editions are the same price; the Enterprise Edition costs more.

Microsoft is changing the name of the underlying protocol used to interface clients to Terminal Server. Whether Microsoft changed the T.share (or T.120) protocol so much that the company needed to rename the protocol or Microsoft simply wanted a flashier name, this product is now officially called the Remote Desktop Protocol (RDP).

In addition, Microsoft doesn't like the term thin client because it implies that traditional NT, Windows 95, and Windows 98 PC systems are "fat." So don't be surprised to see a flurry of new buzzwords and acronyms as all parties rush to invent a new tag line for thin-client technology.

Citrix's pICAsso, an add-on for Terminal Server, is now named MetaFrame. This name change won't affect Citrix's keystone thin-client product, WinFrame, which Citrix will con-
tinue to market as an NT 3.51 solution. Citrix is also relabeling its technology (it was previously known as Thin Client Computing). The company referred to the technology in recent product literature as Thin Client/
Server Computing (TCSC) because the product is "really about the server and not about the client."

Mea Culpa
When I described the IBM Network Station (see "Thin Clients for Thick Applications," May 1998), I erroneously commented that you had to boot it from an NT system. Although this fact was true when IBM introduced the product, IBM recently released a complete line of boot and management software for the AS/400, S/390, Advanced Interactive Executive (AIX), and NT environments. Sorry, IBM­bad timing on my part.

In the same article, I speculated about network computer (NC) vendors introducing RDP support to NCs. As it turns out, this support won't happen any time soon for legal reasons. For the next 2 years, Microsoft will license RDP in only Windows-based environments (e.g., Win95, Win98, NT, and Windows CE). Because NCs run Java-based operating systems (OSs), they currently don't qualify for RDP. Therefore, Citrix Independent Computing Architecture (ICA) will support connectivity for all non-Windows-based devices. As part of its agreement with Microsoft, Citrix can license its ICA protocol in both Windows and non-Windows-based environments. However, when this agreement expires around the year 2000, anything could happen (e.g., NC vendors could introduce RDP support to NCs).

Fun with Hardware
You can now purchase Windows terminals with or without Windows CE as the OS. However, if you want RDP, you must have a Windows CE OS in your terminal. If you want to run ICA, you can use either a Windows CE or non-Windows CE OS. Why would you want to run ICA instead of RDP? Currently, ICA offers three advantages: support for printer redirection, support for sound, and better performance over WAN links. These advantages are temporary, however; you'll certainly see them in future versions of RDP.

When I reviewed MaxSpeed MaxStations, their speed impressed me. However, their dependence on MultiNode, an NT 3.51 multiuser software product, disappointed me. I'm happy to report that Citrix has developed a small, free add-on to MetaFrame called DirectICA, which lets MaxStations connect to a Terminal Server or MetaFrame system. Because MaxStations are direct-connect technology, you can't deploy hundreds of them on one server. However, you can deploy dozens of them simultaneously and get blazing fast performance.

Finally, VXL Instruments has created an innovative method to help old PCs retain their value. VXL Instruments manufactures and sells an adapter that turns computers into Windows terminals. The adapter has an onboard network connection and ICA protocol, so the PC doesn't require any software. In fact, you can pull the hard disk from the PC and use the PC as a dedicated Windows terminal. Alternatively, you can set up a dual-boot environment so that the PC can boot from the adapter and function as a Windows terminal or boot from the hard disk and operate as a regular PC. You can check out VXL Instruments' Web site (http://www.vxl.co.uk). For information about purchasing the adapter in the US, go to Esprit Systems' Web site (http://www.espritsys.com).