Monday, May 19, 2008

A Free Thin Client in Every Box?

Slashdot reports that leading motherboard maker Asus has announced that it will extend the use of "Express Gate" technology (essentially a branded version of the Splashtop embedded Linux system) to all of its motherboards, giving about 12 million PCs per year the option of booting to a lightweight version of Linux.

I was initially thinking this would be used mainly as an exceptionally rich diagnostic environment, but a look at the promotional video reveals a much more interesting possibility. Express Gate will include Firefox, Skype, a media player and other apps, and will boot in a matter of seconds. This will allow users to bypass MS Windows when surfing the web or using web-based applications, thus avoiding unnecessarily exposing their MS Windows installation to viruses or malware on the Internet. Techgage did a good overview of Splashtop/Express Gate after CES this year.

It seems to me that for libraries, this could provide low-maintenance OPAC or lab hardware (conceivably, you could just order diskless systems or pull the drives from used systems being repurposed). Although thin clients often make sense as a public computing platform, the case is often made that adding totally unique hardware devices represents a burden for the IT support staff. Splashtop could allow libraries to choose a single vendor and variations on a single model line for both office workers and public PCs.

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