Replacing home PCs with virtualized thin clients

Gabe Knuth imagines a world where ISPs deliver virtualized desktops to thin clients in homes the same way cable and telephone services are provided. It's possible, but practical?

I recently read an I, Cringely article about how the author, Robert Cringely, moved his five-person house entirely to thin clients. It reminded me of the speculations we made many years ago about where the MetaFrame/Terminal Server technology could go.

Back then, we weren't thinking about our kids or wives -- we were thinking about the possibility of delivering desktops and apps with utility-like availability via thin clients. At the time, application service providers (ASPs) were trending (even though "trending" wasn't even a word) and it's not hard to see the parallels between those offerings  and today's Desktop as a Service (DaaS) solutions from providers such as Desktone and tuCloud.

Rather than leveraging the cloud, Cringely supports his own back-end hardware, but it's not hard to imagine how his approach to delivering home desktops could take on a new form in cloud-space.

If your cable or phone company built their own back end desktop delivery infrastructure or partnered with an existing DaaS company and leased thin clients to customers, a large portion of their user base could wind up using desktop virtualization and be none the wiser. Plus, since the Internet Service Provider owns the infrastructure, they can guarantee uptime and a certain level of user experience that perhaps even businesses can't commit to.

Before you get defensive, I'm with you. You'll have to pry my laptop and iPad from my cold, dead fingers. But my wife, kids, parents and grandparents would all get along just fine with a thin client (even one in a laptop form factor) for everything they do. There would be "parity," as Cringely calls it, across devices because each device would perform as well as the other devices. Plus, the data and applications would be available no matter what device was being used and each person would have a unified experience across the board.

So, why hasn't this approach to home computing taken off? I can think of a few reasons:

  1. It's not sexy. In no way is it a "ZOMG! I have to have this" kind of offering.
  2. It's only recently become somewhat practical to implement a thin client solution at scale. Prior to 2009, the technology wasn't robust enough to support the concept.
  3. Devices are becoming mobile. As Cringely notes, there wasn't much in the way of desktop computers in the Black Friday ads. It could be too late.
  4. The cloud is looming in front of us, waiting to solve all of our earthly problems.

There are plenty of roadblocks to this concept, but I've been hearing discussions about such offerings over the past few months. A solution like this is all about infrastructure and the applications, and once the masses have the access points, flipping a switch on the back end from Windows to whatever comes next means that the users won't have to worry about a thing. It will just be done for them, which is what most of them want in the first place.

Read more from Gabe Knuth

Gabe Knuth is an independent industry analyst and blogger, known throughout the world as "the other guy" at BrianMadden.com. He has been in the application delivery space for over 12 years and has seen the industry evolve from the one-trick pony of terminal services to the application and desktop virtualization of today. Gabe's focus tends to lean more toward practical, real-world technology in the industry, essentially boiling off the hype and reducing solutions to their usefulness in today's corporate environments.

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