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What are Thin Clients?
Thin clients are computers built with minimal hardware that are designed to connect to a host server that performs most of its processing while receiving keyboard and mouse inputs from the thin client and sending screen displays to the thin client, making it function as a typical desktop computer.
The centralized administration of network resources made possible by the use of thin clients makes it easy to quickly update user environments with patches and applications without the need to physically touch every deployed workstation.
Network security is enhanced through the use of thin clients because all user activity is easily logged on the host server. The limited internal storage and lack of external storage makes it more difficult for users to download company data for personal use and for users to install unauthorized software.
Mobile thin clients offer additional security because they contain no user sensitive data and can easily be restricted from network access.
Now that Windows on thin clients is commonplace, users can have the same experience as they might expect from a standard Windows workstation. However, some thin client problems with Windows can occur, for which users and administrators should be prepared.
Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons/Craig Spurrier
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Windows Thin Clients and RDP
One of the most common thin client problems with Windows are those involving Remote Desktop Protocol (RDP) compatibility. Many IT administrators find that upgraded Terminal Server machines are inaccessible by thin clients that worked well with older versions of Windows Server.
This type of problem often results from incompatibilities of the new versions of Windows Server and the lack of upgradability on the part of some thin client machines.
Because some thin client computers do not conveniently allow RDP upgrades, administrators should find out from the manufacturer what RDP upgrade options are available before making a purchasing decision.
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Windows Thin Clients and System Resources
Thin client problems with Windows can occur when using thin clients that locally run the Windows operating system. Some of these clients run on machines that have just 512 megabytes of memory, processors as slow as 500 MHz, and limited hard drive space that may rely on disk compression.
Users with this type of thin client may complain of frequent crashes and slow performance, often being unable to maintain a baseline of productivity while using them.
Use of streaming operating system solutions such as Xen Desktop allow Windows to run on thin clients with minimal hardware and offer strong options that can resolve thin client problems with Windows.
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Windows Thin Clients and Redirection Problems
Other problems with thin clients running Windows can include redirection problems with physical ports such as USB and printer ports. Problems can occur because hardware connections are virtualized between the thin client and the Windows server to allow the server to act as though hardware devices on the thin client were connected directly to it.
The easy remedy for hardware redirection problems is to disable the ability to connect external devices to the thin client. Where such connections are necessary, administrators should work with Microsoft and the thin client manufacturer to resolve the problem.
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The ability to run Windows on a thin client makes secure, lightweight workstations that are easy to manage a reality in many organizations. Although some Windows thin client problems can occur, the productivity gains realized with such a configuration are probably worth the headache.