Did you ever walk into a library and wonder how the computers could all be so similar all the time? Did you wish at least once to be able to access your programs remotely? Have you always felt like a simple ssh connection was not for you? If you answered yes to any of these questions (or if you are just curious now), I have two words for you: thin client. Wikipedia will probably explain the concept better than I, but to be simple, a thin client is an example of facade. You install a thin client system typically on an average computer in terms of performance, and you use it to connect to a server. It then becomes possible to store and manipulate data directly on the server, or even to use its power for computation, through a graphical interface, as if you were physically in front of it. Such a process is not revolutionary, but it can become very handy. As an example, it is very easy to create a centralized system for the computers on a campus. The only problem with thin clients is that there are so many forms of them that it becomes difficult to choose one in particular. In fact, you can make your own thin client via an ssh tunnel and an export display feature, or, for the Java connoisseurs, using the Remote Method Invocation protocol. For the sake of writing about something, I decided to pick a Linux distribution for thin clients: 2X ThinClientOS.
First of all, download the distribution’s image from the official website. The ISO is around 200 megabytes, so it should go fairly quickly. The image can then be used in multiple ways: you can perform a network boot, install the OS on the hard drive, use it as in a live session, or run network diagnostics or memory tests. I simply ran a live session as a test, but the other options are also straightforward.
The desktop looks very similar to that of Windows. I guess the purpose is to avoid confusion for the majority of users.
But since 2XOS is a thin client system, we don’t really care about what the desktop looks like. It comes with all the necessary tools to configure and manage the physical computer, but the efforts are mainly focused on remote connections. In fact, the only side programs on the computer are Opera, Skype, and PDF Reader.
However, I really liked the system configuration tool, which I found very complete. It has what you expect from a configuration program in terms of resolution and other settings. In addition to that, it has been enhanced to manage the connections to the network efficiently, making easy join farms or getting information about the current one.
And my favorite feature concerns the backup settings: it is easy to save the settings of the current computer in order to import them to another one later. This feature can save you a lot of time, especially when you want to install a thin client system on a dozen computers in a row.
Finally, the icons on the desktop represent the most-used types of remote connections for a thin client, like Citrix and VMWare, and a nice shortcut: all you have to do is enter the address, the username, and the password, and you are done. The protocol you use doesn’t matter: the procedure is the same.
As I said earlier, 2X ThinClientOS is one among many. ThinStation is also quite popular and relatively similar, but I have to admit that I found 2XOS very simple to use. There are some features that you can generally expect with thin client systems, like the network boot, the Citrix protocol, or the boot-on-lan capacity. Maybe next week we will see how to install a special version of Ubuntu with a built-in thin client system.
If you know any other thin client systems, or have any experience to share about the subject, you can let us know in the comments right now.