Last week, I joined just under 2000 people in Orlando, Florida, for iForum ‘99, Citrix Systems’ annual server-based computing conference. It was a great conference, with lots of good networking opportunities, thought-provoking sessions, and many products that you’ll want to check out if you’re interested in server-based computing. And, thankfully, we managed to miss Hurricane Floyd’s arrival.

One of the best parts of the show—and its greatest challenge—was the exhibit hall, which provided an excellent selection of thin-client networking tools. The challenge for me and another judge from Windows NT Magazine lay in finding recipients for just two Best of Show awards from among the 60 products on display. We based our decision on three criteria. First, the tool had to be innovative. We looked for tools that set themselves apart, doing something unique or solving a tough problem in a new way. Second, we wanted the tool to be easy to set up, maintain, and configure—and easy to forget about it once it was set up. Finally, we looked for a tool that enabled ubiquitous computing, something that could give "anytime, anywhere, any device" capability.

Despite such tough criteria, we found ourselves with many good choices. After we'd walked the floor and talked to each vendor, we conferred and settled on best of show and first runner-up for hardware and software. First runner-up for hardware went to PacketShaper from Packeteer (http://www.packeteer.com), a device that you can attach to your WAN link and configure from a simple browser interface to assign higher or lower priority to various types of network traffic—or block the traffic entirely. First runner-up for software went to LogCaster 2.2 from RippleTech (http://www.rippletech.com), a performance-monitoring tool that includes all current performance objects and adds two more for monitoring applications on a per-session or serverwide basis. It's also got some easily configurable alerting tools that keep both the client and the system administrator informed about which applications are stressing the terminal server.

Our top pick for hardware was the NetXPress thin-client device from Netier (http://www.netier.com), which is based on Windows NT Embedded. These boxes, more powerful than the "toasters" built for proprietary OSs or Windows CE, represent an intermediary between flexible PCs and no-maintenance Windows-based terminals (WBTs). NetXpress devices are going to be the most flexible thin-client devices for a truly interoperative environment—an environment requiring access not only to Windows NT Server 4.0, Terminal Server Edition (TSE), but also to direct video feeds and UNIX applications. For software, our top pick was AppScape from SoftBlox (http://www.softblox.com), the first of a suite of related tools that lets you pick and choose components from any application you want to make available. Other plugins to this tool, due out over the next few months, will let you add components to applications that weren't previously there, monitor how people are using applications, and even create your own custom applications by pulling together the pieces you want from existing applications.

I’ll hope to see you at iForum next year—even if I have to bring an umbrella (or possibly a boat).