Igel Technology has introduced a family of thin clients, called Universal Desktop, which it claims is the first to have single standard system images across the range.
Users choose which hardware model they want, which operating system (it offers Linux, Windows CE and Windows Embedded) and then which client protocols and capabilities they want enabled.
According to Steve Yeo, Igel's worldwide strategic marketing director, thin client suppliers have so far each focused on specific capability sets. They have developed devices optimised for Citrix ICA, or for Microsoft RDP, or Java, or virtual PCs, and so on, and have had to build different system images for each device.
He said that Igel itself supports 60 different system images for its legacy devices, for example. However, it will now offer a single standard image for each OS which it has customised, so specific services can be enabled or disabled. The idea is that the whole is versatile enough to take on any role in any thin client or virtual desktop scheme.
A lot of the development work has been to add software switches so that services can be turned on or off via a licence key. It is this that enables a single software image to offer three different feature sets, which the company simply calls entry, standard and advanced.
The entry packages support ICA, RDP and Java, plus basic printing. The standard versions add the likes of web and VPN access, virtualisation support and terminal emulation. Upgrading to advanced brings VoIP (though only on Linux) and the ability to reverse-publish digital services to a Windows virtual desktop, for example.
Yeo said that Linux-based clients, used as "desktop appliances", are by far the majority of Igel's shipments, with Linux being particularly popular in its home market of Germany. The popularity of Windows Embedded - which is the new name for XP Embedded - is on the rise in the UK, however.
The thin client segment has become very diverse in recent years, he said, with devices now supporting all sorts of services traditionally associated only with PCs, such as VoIP, multimedia playback and virtual desktops.
"11 years ago it was all ICA, then it was RDP and some terminal emulation. There's a lot more diversity now - one of our clients has even embedded a videoconferencing client," he added.
He said that the ability to simply put everything into every client, rather than picking and choosing which services to support, is thanks to falling processor and memory prices which have made it possible to design more powerful hardware platforms without adding much cost.
Doug Brown, CEO of virtualisation consultancy DABCC, said Universal Desktop ties in well with other trends, such as the rise of cloud computing.
"Previous arguments against thin clients had a lot to do with users' resistance to anything that didn't look and feel like their traditional desktop," he explained. "Igel is helping to usher in a new era of desktop devices, which negate the old arguments by including all of the digital services required to give those users a rich PC-like experience."
Aberdeen Group senior research analyst Jeffrey Hill agreed. "Igel's flexible interoperability approach makes the Universal Desktop a smart companion for any desktop virtualisation solution," he said
Along with the new software, Igel - it's the German for hedgehog, hence the company's logo, but the company has also reverse-engineered it into the acronym Innovative German ELectronics - announced five Universal Desktop hardware platforms with varying capabilities, including one with the device built into a 19-inch LCD monitor. Yeo said he expects the company to add a portable device to the range in the future.
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