Looking Back At Thin Clients and Forward To the Internet of Things

Some of the world’s greatest inventions were an accident.

Dell Wyse AIO Like the Post-It Note, everyday plastic, tire rubber, and even the beloved chocolate chip cookie, the thin client computer was never meant to do what it does today or will tomorrow.

“The story of thin clients is the unlikely invention of an industry,” says Jeff McNaught, executive director of marketing and chief strategy officer at Dell Wyse and co-inventor of the machine.

It begins by looking back to the mid 90s, when an estimated 31 percent of all American homes had at least one PC, and industry analysts expected growth in the home PC market to expand between 30 and 40 percent.

“There is no way PC makers like Packard Bell, IBM, Apple, Compaq, Dell, Gateway, AT&T, Digital Equipment Corp. or Hewlett-Packard can grow at 30 or 40 percent when they all have similar overhead costs for similar products-not with prices dropping as fast as they are,” Philippe de Marcillac, director and principal analyst of personal computers worldwide for Dataquest Inc at the time, told the Chicago Tribune.

McNaught was at Wyse and recalls that “rather than fight for scraps, Wyse senior management asked me, Curt Schwebke, and a couple of engineers to ‘go figure out what we’ll do next.’”

That same year, McNaught and company tinkered with several prototypes.

“We wanted to make terminals cool again,” he explains. “But that could never happen with the text-based nature of traditional terminals. So we came up with a lightweight, graphics and mouse-driven device called the Winterm 2000.”

Winterm won “best in show” at the 1995 Computer Dealers’ Exhibition in Las Vegas, and was later awarded the thin client patent.

And, although thin clients never went mainstream, with individual consumers, they’ve enjoyed sustained interest over the years from enterprise, finance, government, and education customers, McNaught says, due to their security, cost and maintenance benefits.

So what’s next for thin clients?

Dell WyseThey’ve expanded recently to further blur the lines of what a company issue computer can look and work like. After Dell acquired Wyse in 2012, we setup “cloud-client” laboratories around the world to help our enterprise customers understand the three different types of thin clients we sell today—thin, zero, and cloud—as well as which middleware, end-user interfaces and back-ends work best for any given use case.

“The fundamental architecture of thin clients is being used in all end-points in which PCs aren’t ideal,” says McNaught.

While thin clients continue to expand, they’re also getting smaller. In January, Dell launched Cloud Connect, a “micro client” that offers accessibility, affordability and the ability to transform into any device a worker needs it to be.

More than that, though, McNaught believes the micro client will largely power the internet of things and the increasing number of screens we encounter every day.

“In the future, screens will be everywhere, just like in the movies,” he predicts, citing Blade Runner, Minority Report, and Space Marines as influences. “They’ll be in our cars, homes, and wherever we look for information and media.”

McNaught predicts “they’ll be powered by thin devices such as Cloud Connect. They’ll be powered by low cost, energy efficient, and wireless secured devices that we used to call ‘dumb terminals,’ only this time, they’ll truly help us create order from chaos.”

Not a bad prognoses for such an unanticipated invention.

Do you agree with this outlook? Share your thoughts on the topic below and watch for a series of articles coming from McNaught here on Direct2Dell.

About the Author: Laura Pevehouse

Laura Pevehouse was profiled as one of five “social media mavens” in the March 2009 issue of Austin Woman Magazine and named an AdWeek’s TweetFreak Five to Follow. She has been part of the Dell organization for more than 15 years in various corporate communications, employee communications, public relations, community affairs, marketing, branding, social media and online communication roles. From 2014-2018, Laura was Chief Blogger/Editor-in-Chief for Direct2DellEMC and Direct2Dell, Dell’s official corporate blog that she help launch in 2007. She is now a member of the Dell Technologies Chairman Communications team. Earlier in her Dell career she focused on Global Commercial Channels and US Small and Medium Business public relations as part of the Global Communications team. Prior to that, she was responsible for global strategy in social media and community management, as well as marcom landing pages, as a member of Dell’s Global SMB Marketing, Brand and Creative team. When she was part of Dell’s Global Online group, Laura provided internal consulting that integrated online and social media opportunities with a focus on Corporate Communications and Investor Relations. She managed the home page of Dell.com, one of the top 500 global web sites in Alexa traffic rank, and first brought web feeds and podcasts to the ecommerce site. In her spare time she led Dell into the metaverse with the creation of Dell Island in the virtual world Second Life. Laura has earned the designation of Accredited Business Communicator from the International Association of Business Communicators, and received her Bachelor of Arts in Journalism from Louisiana State University. Before joining Dell Financial Services in 2000, she worked at the Texas Workforce Commission and PepsiCo Food Systems Worldwide.