Thick vs Thin Clients: Marketing terms mostly. A thin client does most of its processing on a central server with as little hardware and software as possible at the user. Ideally the user will have only a screen, keyboard, a pointing device (if needed) and enough computer to handle display and communications. A thick client does as much processing as possible at the clients and passes only data required for communications and archival storage to the server.

In concept, thin clients are cheaper and require less administration than thick clients. On the other hand they tend to require greater communication bandwidth as display data will probably need to be passed to the thin clients. The thin client server must be much more capable (and expensive) than a thick client server.

The advocates of both architectures despise the other. In practice, there seems to be little to choose between the two approaches for most applications. A few situations may clearly call for one or the other. The SETI project whose whole point is to pass off computationally intensive analysis to a large collection of remote computers is an application that requires thick clients. On the other hand multicasting a entertainment or educational material to a number of clients might best be done with thin clients since exactly the same material is to presented at each.

Return To Index Copyright 1994-2002 by Donald Kenney.