Thanks to Axel for staring the thread. As they point out the term is being used different ways by different vendors. This gets confusing so in my opinion its better to look at the solutions rather than get hung up on the exact definition.
For the record, at Wyse we talk about a zero client if it does not have a local operating system that needs updating. Every client will have some software on it, but the the distinctions between BIOS, firmware and operating system are very imprecise - so one person's zero client could be another's thin client.
What does this mean in reality? At Wyse we have two type of 'zero client' solution.
1) Wyse WSM - this is a streaming solution where the zero client or diskless PC does a network boot and the operating system and applications are streamed to the client. The key difference with this solution is that OS and apps run on the client, not on the server. This gives full PC functionality and much reduced server loads. Multimedia performance is native, peripherals plug & play, but you still get the benefits of centralised OS and application management. Wyse zero clients for use with WSM have no local storage so they have RAM only, no Flash memory.
2) Wyse P20 - this is a zero client specifically for VMware View and contains the Teradici PCoIP chipset and firmware. In concept its really a pure terminal - which is where Wyse started nearly 30 years ago with our green-screen terminals - for those of you who can remember these
bio (17th December 2009)
Saying there is no OS, then saying there is firmware is contradictory. The firmware that runs an iphone is firmware, but it is still an OS. Same with managed switches (Cisco IOS, for example, or the firmware on Procurve Switches). All firmware, but all still OS's.
We seem to be debating what is or isn't an OS. If that's the case then I would say that if the code that hosts the network stack and video interface only exists to support a single application (e.g. RDP), then that's firmware. An OS is about providing a platform for multiple applications to access the hardware etc.
I do think the term 'zero client' is misleading though. I can't see any difference between a device that has firmware built in but that can be updated over the network to one that boots part of its code across the network. Using this logic, a PC is a zero client until you switch it on and it loads its OS off the hard disk.
Surely what matters is where your applications run. If they run on the device, then it's using an OS and is therefore NOT a thin client. If the device cannot run applications other than a remote desktop, it's a thin client. Everything else is marketing or system management mechanism.
Last edited by ajbritton; 17th December 2009 at 10:09 PM. Reason: fixed couple of typos
The point of Zero Clients is not to open a debate of of what exactly an operating system is, whatever the exact definition is largely irrelevent to the topic.
A device with tiny firmware footprint (500kb), that uses 5 watts of power, boots in 2 or 3 seconds, is the size of a cigarette packet and in most cases offers significantly higher performance than competiting techologies with much more hardware on-board is fundamentally different to the conventional Linux/CE/XP thin clients around - so deserves a different classification - why not "Zero Client" ?
From a support perspective, when an end user rings the service desk, one of the first questions might be 'are you using a PC or thin client?'. Do we now need to include 'zero client' in the question as well? Of course not, because it's essentially the same technology. If the user has a device labelled 'zero-client' it might be confusing for them. My point here is that no matter what you sell them as, they are likely to be referred to as 'thin-clients' within customer sites for the sake of simplicity.
From a support point of view you'd ask them for the asset tag and from that you'd then know what sort of client it was it shouldn't matter and indeed should be transparent to the end user.
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