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Linux Gets a Bit Thinner

Thin computing on Linux got a significant boost this week with a pair of separate releases. Wyse Technology, one of the world's leading thin-client vendors, announced its newest Linux thin client.

And just yesterday, the Linux Terminal Server Project, the "granddaddy" of all Linux thin-client open source projects, released LTSP 4.1.

Thin-client computing provides server-based software, which is connected to pieces of hardware (thin clients) that don't have as much "hardware" in them, like hard disks, minimizing costs and centralizing applications for security and backup purposes.

LTSP 4.1 includes a number of major improvements that reflect its maturity in the thin-client arena. These include the new X.org server, the ltspadmin installer, better peripheral support and various stability and performance improvements. LTSP available for free under the GPL .

"LTSP is an open source project for providing facilities to do terminal serving on a Linux based platform," Bill Weinberg, OSDL's open source architecture specialist, told internetnews.com. "It has been variously integrated into commercial and non-commercial offerings and is something that is very much thriving in the open source development world."

According to Stacey Quandt, Robert Francis Group's open source practice leader, LTSP fulfills the promise of thin-client computing.

"Linux overall thin clients are a means of lowering cost of operations and can reduce complexity," Quandt explained to internetnews.com. "LTSP is an important project that delivers on this promise."

Quandt however believes that LTSP may be somewhat lacking in certain areas that may keep it from greater enterprise adoption.

"Specifically, cryptography and authentication would need to be added for LTSP to gain a wider audience and further enterprise adoption," she said.

Commercial vendor Wyse Technology, which has a long history of being a thin-client vendor on other platforms, has contributed its own Linux news this week, with its announcement of Wyse Winterm 5150SE.

Specifically geared toward enterprise users, the thin client is powered by Wyse's own Linux V6 operating system, which runs on an AMD Geode GX 533 processor. The product is expected out by the end of this year.

Additionally for Wyse, and as part of its commitment to Linux, the company this week joined the OSDL, the self-proclaimed "center of gravity" for the Linux universe.

"Wyse is a commercial organization that makes a hardware product with a software and firmware component," said OSDL's Weinberg. "They have a vested interest in Linux, both inside of their devices and on the servers their devices connect to. So it made a lot of sense for Wyse to join."

The OSDL considers thin-client computing to be part of its desktop initiative. Weinberg explained that the desktop that OSDL is promoting is an outgrowth of the data center. In his view, based on OSDL member feedback, the way Linux is getting onto the desktop in the corporate world is after a data center migration. The same organizations, as part of their efforts to lower costs and improve ROI, will often consider a thin-client solution after realizing the benefits of Linux on their servers.

"Wyse as an experienced thin client supplier will bring a lot of experience and good ideas to our desktop initiative. Both in terms of what a desktop should look like and how it interfaces with the rest of the enterprise," Weinberg said.

Linux on thin clients according to recent statistics from research firm IDC is growing at a rapid pace. In 2003, IDC estimated that Linux was in over 20 percent of thin clients and its forecast of 60 percent is higher than any other thin client operating system annual growth rate.

"Thin clients represent a very cost effective hardware node solution for a pretty broad range of information worker activities," Weinberg said. "Linux makes both ends of the thin client equation more cost effective."