Don't scrap those PCs yet

A potential advantage of server-based computing (SBC) is that the particular client device becomes immaterial. As long as the users can connect to the server via the Internet or a private network, it doesn't matter if they're using the latest PC, one that is 5 years old, a handheld computer, a wireless phone or a thin-client terminal, which is a stripped-down PC without drives. Despite this flexibility — with the possible exception of thin-client terminals — the use of alternative client platforms does not seem to be growing rapidly.

Officials at Citrix Systems Inc., the primary SBC vendor, lack exact statistics, but they estimate that fully 70 percent of their customers' users have standard Microsoft Corp. Windows 32-bit PCs. The remaining 30 percent use Unix workstations, Apple Computer Inc. Macintoshes, various handheld devices such as personal digital assistants or smart phones, and thin-client terminals.

David Friedlander, an industry analyst with Giga Information Group Inc., believes that few, if any, agencies will encourage workers to connect to their applications via handheld devices, rather than PCs.

"Most applications' interfaces are too complex to be displayed and used comfortably on a PDA or cell phone," he said. One solution is to provide a separate user interface that contains a small subset of the full application for PDAs.

Although Friedlander acknowledges that there may be some instances where this approach is helpful, "in general, there is very little perceived value in using a PDA [for thin-client computing]. Few agencies will invest in it."

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