Microsoft Preps Thin Client For XP

UPDATED: Microsoft is developing a thin-client version of the Windows XP platform targeting large organizations and businesses, analysts note.

Code-named Eiger, the software will allow businesses to run Windows applications on a bare-bones PC with the bulk of the business logic performed at the server.

According to Steve Bink at blog site, the client will need to only meet the barest of requirements by today’s standards: a monitor supporting 800×600 graphics, a Pentium-class processor, 64MB of RAM, a 500MB hard drive and a network interface card .

The entry also mentioned the existence of a second thin-client application, with the code name Monch, that features everything found in Eiger with added support for mobile devices, wireless networking and VPN support.

Thin clients, from an administrator’s point of view, are a boon to the business in many ways. The applications are housed within one server, making application and security updates dramatically easier. And the company doesn’t have to update the hardware as often to satisfy the increased CPU needs of newer software applications.

On the flip side, putting the bulk of control into one server introduces a single point of failure. If the server goes down, everyone connected to it goes down, though that can be alleviated to a large extent with backup servers and other redundancies.

According to a Microsoft spokesperson, Eiger is in the very early stages of development and testing at this time and that it is too early to discuss the features to be found in the software or a possible release date or pricing expectation. The company confirmed customers are testing out the product and providing feedback.

Officials believe Eiger, which they refer to not as a thin client or smart client but as a “mid-client,” is designed to reduce the total cost of ownership of the company’s desktop infrastructure — companies that might not have the resources to update to the latest hardware and operating systems.

While Eiger will have more capabilities than a traditional thin client, the Microsoft spokesperson said in an e-mail statement it will nonetheless be less functional than a full-blown Windows XP-based PC. The software will also still require maintenance.

“Eiger will be designed to get the most out of legacy hardware without going beyond the capabilities of that hardware,” the spokesperson said in the e-mail. “For those customers that are unable to upgrade, we are working to make sure that they still have a good solution to incrementally improve their infrastructure — and this solution is Eiger. When a customer is finally able to upgrade their hardware, Eiger will provide a great migration path to Windows XP or to Longhorn running on a new PC.”

Microsoft’s solution departs from the traditional thin-client model in that Eiger will allow companies to use older computer systems to act as the end user’s machine rather than just a terminal client using just a monitor, keyboard and mouse.

Brian Madden, an independent industry analyst who runs a blog on thin clients, said Eiger isn’t a new concept, but the Microsoft name attached to it will bring enterprise customers over some of the less-entrenched companies in the industry.

“Microsoft did not invent the concept of Eiger,” he said. “There’s a whole bunch of companies that make purpose-built, thin-client operating systems you load onto old computers. Like with everything else, though, they’re going to bring legitimacy to this. People will always wonder, ‘Do I want to buy some product that I have to pay with [something like] PayPal vs. an enterprise solution from Microsoft?'”

Others aren’t convinced of Eiger’s role within the Microsoft product line, or why they’re even developing the software in the first place.

Joe Wilcox, a senior analyst with JupiterResearch, isn’t convinced a product like Eiger is the right direction for Microsoft, or companies, to take. (JupiterResearch and are owned by Jupitermedia.)

“Technology should not be about containing costs,” he said. “Technology should be about adding value to the business, making the business more productive, helping the business make more money.”

The cost benefit of getting the last bit of use out of a system’s lifecycle doesn’t compute, he said, adding that there are a lot of little expenses that eventually add up in the end, such as the cost of maintaining older systems.

“There’s all these little gotchas that can happen because it’s not really supported hardware or software anymore.”

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