Thin-client computing is on its way back and will allow companies more flexibility in the devices and applications they use, according to the boss of Citrix.
The idea of thin-client computing and server-based application sharing has been in and out of fashion over the last few years.
Personal computing for many started out with a terminal connected to the mainframe. Later, Oracle tried to revive the idea with the ill-fated Network Computer project.
But now, at enterprise level, the idea is again gaining ground, and moving beyond the desktop for the first time.
Speaking to vnunet.com, Citrix president and chief executive Mark Templeton acknowledged that he faced a challenge. "We have a lot of educating to do," he said. "But the more people get involved the easier the task will be."
More competition is healthy in this sector of the industry since the more people there are singing the praises of thin-client computing the better, he added.
Citrix has over three-quarters of the market but is looking to grow the number of companies that use the technology.
In the longer term, the company is trying to expand the market by increasing the range of applications available to users, rather than trying to break into new markets. Until now, Citrix has concentrated on providing a limited set of thin-client applications.
New products include application sharing software to allow more collaborative working, enhanced security features for remote workers and software aimed at cutting the amount of helpdesk support needed.
"We're a big fish in a small pond," said Templeton. "Now we're a smaller fish in a bigger pond but we need to keep growing the business. Extending our applications base in this way will mean we're part of a $10bn [£6.4bn] market by 2008."
Citrix is looking at thin-client options beyond desktops. "PCs are all well and good but there's a lot more to computing these days," said Templeton.
"The difficulty comes in getting companies to see that with any new technology there's a drop-off in productivity initially before you reap the benefits."
Citing the Tablet PC as an example, he said that after using one he was enthusiastic about the technology, but recognised there was about a two-week period where he was less productive while learning about the new interface.
This might be too long for some consumers, but businesses should see the benefits.
David Friedlander, analyst for Forrester Research, said: "There are opportunities for major growth, particularly over remote access and secure sockets layer virtual private networks.
"Virtually all of Fortune 500 companies use Citrix and while there's broad penetration it's not particularly deep - only about 10 per cent of people within the organisation use the system."
Although the Tablet PC market will grow, there could problems for companies trying to develop software for clients with very small screens, he cautioned.
"As for alternative devices, Tablet PC will be a growth area, but anything below a half-screen size and users will start to have problems unless software vendors can come up with an interface that can shrink the screen."
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