Thin clients have their roots in multi-user systems, traditionally mainframes accessed by some sort of terminal computer. As computer graphics matured, these terminals transitioned from providing a command-line interface to a full graphical user interface, as is common on modern thin clients. The prototypical multiuser environment along these lines was Unix, and fully graphical X terminals were relatively popular thin clients in the 1990s. Modern Unix derivatives like BSD and GNU/Linux continue this multi-user tradition.
Windows NTbecame capable of multi-user operations due primarily to the efforts of Citrix Systems, which repackaged NT 3.5.1 as the multi-user operating system WINFrame. Microsoft licensed this technology back from Citrix and implemented it into Windows NT 4.0 Terminal Server Edition, under a project codenamed "Hydra." Windows NT then became the basis of Windows 2000 and Windows XP. Today, Windows allows graphical terminals via its Remote Desktop Services component.
Since the clients are made from low-cost hardware with few moving parts, they can operate in more hostile environments than conventional computers. However, they inevitably need a network connection to their server, which must be isolated from such hostile environments. Since thin clients are cheap, they offer a low risk of theft in general, and are easy to replace when they are stolen or broken. Since they don't have any complicated boot images, the problem of boot image control is centralized to the central servers.
On the other hand, to achieve this simplicity, thin clients are generally highly integrated systems. This means that they may lag behind thick clients in terms of extensibility and accessibility. For example, if the server does not have support for independent audio streams, or the communication protocols don't transfer such streams, one simply cannot receive audio from the server. Similarly, if the client lacks USB ports, or if there is some communication failure of its USB signals over the network, the client might be wholly unable to support an unexpected USB peripheral.
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