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Microsoft's strategic relationship with thin-client specialist Citrix seems to have done more for sales of Windows, says Simon...

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Microsoft's strategic relationship with thin-client specialist Citrix seems to have done more for sales of Windows, says Simon Moores.




I found my neatly ironed, black "Citrix" monogrammed shirt hanging in my wardrobe today. It’s a long time since I last wore it, and it made me stop and wonder how the arrival of Windows Server 2003 has impacted what was once a highly lucrative ‘thin-client’ computing niche, dominated by Citrix.

Once upon a time the world was hell-bent on a course towards thin-client computing and industry figures were writing the obituary of the personal computer, which was to be replaced by network computers or ‘thin-clients’ or even Java-powered devices, courtesy of Lotus Development and its eSuite.

Nothing quite happens to plan in this business but Microsoft, careful to hedge its bets with Windows NT, developed a strategic relationship with Citrix, the darling of the thin-client revolution.

Citrix created a completely new way of looking at Windows systems based on the mainframe experience of Ed Lacobucci, its founder. Thin-client meant better management, lower operating cost, more mobility and best of all, a break between the hardware and the software upgrade cycles.

Unfortunately, in practice, the technology didn’t quite deliver the economic benefits that were promised. Why not? Well, once it is developed, software does not cost anything to manufacture so it is difficult to price. Suppliers therefore tend to set prices based on “value to the customer”. In other words, they maximise the return on each client. In the case of thin client, Citrix charged a licence fee for every client, which made thin-client computing rather more expensive than it should have been.

All right, it was all rather more complicated than this, but the results had Microsoft steadily building more thin-client technology into Windows, while Citrix increasingly specialised in the added-value department, as Microsoft nibbled-away at its functionality in every new Windows Server release.

Today, if you are running a mixed environment with non-Windows clients and Unix servers, Citrix still has a place in your IT strategy. Otherwise, its role is less clear.

Mark Tennant, Microsoft’s Windows Server 2003 product manager remarks a little more diplomatically, “Windows gives users the basic terminal services in Windows 2003 but Citrix strengthens the proposition by offering additional value, which includes single sign-on and mixed client support."

Functionally, things have, however, changed between Windows NT, Windows 2000 and Windows 2003 in a way, which could save customers an average of £100 per client, according to James Barden of thin-client specialist Insite (Europe).

According to Barden, “Even using Windows 2000 Server, delivering thin-client services to users without costly Citrix client licences meant compromises in usability, screen quality and manageability. Microsoft’s Windows 2003 sees the majority of Citrix functionality now included in the standard product. For Citrix, this represents a commercial problem, but for businesses striving to strip cost out of projects, it represents a huge cost advantage.”

So there you have it, upgrading to the latest version of Windows may actually reduce overall computing costs, with a 60% reduction in the risk of security compromise as a bonus.

If Barden has his sums right, then Windows 2003, deployed in areas, such as the public sector, where thin-client computing is popular, could spell the end of one of the great myths of our time, up there with weapons of mass destruction and the return of Elvis.

Driving down the total cost of ownership with Windows might be true after all?

What do you think?

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Setting the world to rights with the collected thoughts and opinions of leading industry analyst Dr Simon Moores of Zentelligence.

Acting globally, Zentelligence (Research) advises governments, suppliers, business and the media on the evolution, application and delivery of leading-edge technologies and specialises in the areas of eGovernment and information security.

For further information on Zentelligence and its research, presentation and analyst services visit

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