The vendor is developing the Windows XP-based thin clients, code-named Eiger and Monch, to make it easier for system builders and partners to deploy pre-packaged thin-client solutions instead of customizing software on their own or using ISVs, sources said.
Microsoft declined to comment on the upcoming thin clients. But sources said the thin clients are not low-end versions of Windows but rather alternative operating systems for customers that choose to use thin clients and a server-centric computing model rather than full PCs. Thin clients offer several benefits, including reduced management costs and enhanced security.
The Eiger thin client will address the low end that Linux is targeting while also enabling quick assembly of systems for single-function task workers such as retail workers, sources said.
The Monch client is aimed at systems for mobile workers that require form factors smaller than a Tablet PC but bigger than a PocketPC, sources said.
The thin-client packaging will benefit partners that want an out-of-the-box alternative to Windows XP Embedded or products from Wyse Technologies or Neoware Systems. Microsoft offers a basic Terminal Services client that delivers access to Windows Server 2003, but it offers little functionality.
"Many customers are looking to thin-client technology to lower the hardware costs required to run today's operating systems. In order for system builders to compete, we must be able to offer Microsoft's entire solution stack," said Steve Bohman, vice president at Columbus Micro Systems, Columbus, Ohio. "By developing these products, Microsoft has validated the concept, and channel members can sell Microsoft's solutions or those of a competitor," he said.
Microsoft partners in the server-centric computing space said the Redmond, Wash.-based company has offered thin clients in the past. These repackaged and updated Windows XP offerings will not hurt them but help them compete, the partners said.
Still, not all are convinced that Microsoft's partners won't be adversely impacted. Wyse's WinTerm line now supports Windows, Linux, Java and Unix.
Curt Schwebke, vice president and CTO of Wyse, said the San Jose, Calif.-based company partnered with Microsoft on the previous Windows CE-based offerings, and Microsoft's decision to package new thin clients to target specific workers, form factors and vertical segments will help Wyse sell hardware.
"It's the same technology but packaged for specific segments in which they're trying to become a viable technology," he said. "They validated the thin-client architecture in CE, and now they're doing it for Windows XP's new networking and multimedia components.
"HP and Wyse have their own loads so this will increase competition for them, but it will also further validate the market for this kind of solution," said Rob Enderle, an analyst at The Enderle Group. "They decided to do a better job of packaging the product for use rather than simply let the vendors build their own as had previously been the case."
One Microsoft service partner said he sees more demand for thin clients on systems built for mobile workers or remote workers than he sees for thin clients on low cost systems for single-function task workers.
"I haven't seen a lot of demand for thin-client solutions to maintain legacy systems," said Paul Freeman, president of Coast Solutions Group, Irvine, Calif. "More interest is around remote access, mobile workforce or remote management solutions utilizing thin client."