One of the great advantages, however, of the browser as the new thin client is how simple it is to mix browser-based apps with traditional apps. The move is transparent and most large businesses are moving in this direction today - even if there is no overarching strategy to do so. The market momentum to develop all new apps for the web is causing this to happen naturally.
Another key advantage of a completely "web based" architectural model is the great ease with which it can be exposed for users outside of the corporate network. Instead of using cumbersome VPN clients and company laptops, employees can find any web browser, sign in to the company network and have secure business applications delivered to any browser, anywhere.
What all of these devices have in common is a focus upon being primarily thin web appliances - thin clients for consumers. With the majority of consumer computing focused upon web connectivity, the need for anything else from a platform is nearly non-existent in the consumer market. So within a very short period of time users who once expected their home PC experience to be duplicated in the office will see web-based thin computing as the standard.
When this shift happens IT departments with need to rethink their internal application delivery strategy. The change doesn't have to be dramatic if current development trends are used commonly and legacy systems are routinely updated. In fact, one of the great benefits of this new model is that traditional fat clients function very well as browser platforms and will do so for a very long time to come, most likely.
Companies adopting this model will likely be able to slow desktop purchasing cycles and prepare for purchasing some form of traditional thin client with embedded browser. Or theyll move to a business version of the new Nettop trend that we are beginning to see emerge in the consumer space.
Some businesses may even attempt the rather dangerous path of using consumer devices. But the lack of management and security features will likely keep this from being popular in all but rare instances.
I believe, though, that this swing of the pendulum will not be as dramatic as the last one, just as it was not as dramatic as the swing before that. It will be an important trend but IT departments understand more and more that no new technological shift is a silver bullet. With each new opportunity comes new challenges.
Most IT departments will need to implement some degree of browser-based thin computing over the next few years, but most will retain a majority user base of fat clients. Hybrid environments, like we've seen for many years with more traditional models, will continue as before. Each technology will be used in target areas where they make the most sense.
The one area where thin clients continue to be challenged the most is in mobile computing. Here, disconnected users end up being digitally marooned away from their company networks, unable to continue working until network connectivity is reestablished.
This is a significant issue for power users who must travel extensively and need to be able to continue working regardless of their current connectivity. Today this is being solved in the traditional thin client arena thanks to companies like Citrix who continue to advance the state of the art in thin application delivery.
In the browser-based arena, in the past we have had to turn to technologies like Google Gears and Adobe AIR, but these had poor market penetration. Coming down the pike, however, is the new HTML 5 Offline API, which is set to redefine how the web works for users who need to go "off the grid" from time to time.
With HTML 5 incorporating offline capabilities and a richer feature set into the specification for the web itself, we expect to see broad and rapid adoption from all of the leading vendors - most likely even before the draft standard is finalized. While still quite some ways away this new standard will certainly lay the groundwork for a significant shift towards the browser as a ubiquitous, standard and robust platform.
The future of thin computing looks to be incredibly promising, both in the enterprise as well as for the first time in the consumer arena. Adoption of thin computing models will be spurred on by the current movement towards Software as a Service models. And SaaS adoption will continue to be encouraged by the widespread presence of thin computing devices.
In many ways browser-based thin computing represents the technology aspect that is now maturing in the SaaS arena, where SaaS itself is maturing in social acceptance rather than technical feasibility.