Thin clients are back…and here to stay

The “thin client” is back, and very soon, it will dominate the average user experience. What is a “thin client?” In the 1970s computer users used simple terminals (a keyboard and a monitor) with no local operating system to access a mainframe that ran all the programs the user of the terminal needed. There were no programs on the user’s computer. Thin clients are computer terminals that rely on an external computer to perform work. In the 1980s, the invention of the PC was born, and this new emphasis required complete operating systems and software to be installed and maintained on each individual computer. This so-called “fat client” sacrificed the centralized administration, security, and programming of the Mini_stationmainframe/dumb terminal configuration. Malware has flourished under this model of computing, relying on the ignorance of the average computer user for the propagation of its malicious wares.

This is one of the main reasons thin clients are making a big comeback. They also offer considerable flexibility and cost savings over traditional fat client networks, and make it easier to monitor employee use of network resources on large corporate networks. “Desktop Support” is no longer needed – if the hardware fails on a thin client terminal, replacement of the user’s “dumb terminal” device is the only solution, and is far more inexpensive than the typical fat client reconfiguration of restoring its individual operating system and the user’s directory of personal and local files.

Today, this thin-client model has the new moniker of “cloud computing” but it’s really a throwback to the original thin-client/mainframe network paradigm. The individual programs you used to download and install on your local hard drive, are now installed in the cloud (on the server environment) and when invoked by the user, are run on the server, rather than on the user’s personal computer. Today’s much faster communication speeds make the cloud user’s experience nearly identical to their earlier familiarity with locally running programs.

The greatest concern for users in the thin-client/cloud environment is not security, or personal data retention (loss of data), it is privacy. If you are reliant on communication, and storage of data in the cloud, your privacy is in the hands of the provider of that cloud. The acceptance and popularity of social media platforms suggests that most of today’s users really have little concern for privacy, are more concerned about personal security, and they will without hesitation accept the coming thin-client model. It is already happening, and as a computer security person who is old enough to have experienced the original model, and worked through the failed local model, the full circle return to a centralized network, is enthusiastically embraced.

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