As best I can tell, Tim Negris is the man who coined the term Thin Client when he was with Oracle. It originally described scaled down applications that ran in conjunction with a full version of an application that was loaded on a server.
When Windows OS versions that allowed multiple users came on the scene, one of the first hardware companies to start selling client hardware was Wyse with the introduction of their WinTerm in 1995. This made sense – Wyse was already a huge seller of “dumb” terminals for mainframes and providing a Windows Terminal was logical.
The devices went through a bit of an identity crisis and it looked for a while like the term Network Computer (or NC) was going to stick. This was a good descriptive term however it gradually became replaced with the now familiar term Thin Client. The idea of a “Thin Client” made sense when applied to the devices because of their scaled down hardware requirements.
Back in a September 1997 cover story, “Thin Is In,” Mark Smith coined the term lean client to describe what he was seeing as an emerging trend in Thin Clients – clients that took on more and more of the processing role. He claimed that a lean client runs a significant portion of an application, whereas no portion of the application runs on a Thin Client.
The expansion in the capability of the Thin Client was mostly born out of the same motives that bring us cell phones that display maps and play games, or game consoles that double as telephones or Internet browsers – the need to differentiate one product from the other. But in the process of trying to make a product more marketable it sometimes wanders away from the main focus.
I would argue that a true Thin Client:
1. Stores nothing locally
2. Has no high-level applications
3. Works like a dumb terminal does on a mainframe
Some have faster processors, some have fans and some don’t, and some have high temperature ratings. The bottom line is this – find the Thin Client hardware that meets your requirements (temperature, serial ports, USB, cost, etc.) and use that device.