Thin-client (TC) computing is shorthand for using a networked system of computers and software to handle school- and district-wide administrative matters. Individual system users have TC “appliances,” either traditional computers or handheld devices, that communicate with the network over wires or wireless.

Many districts are switching from decentralized computer systems based on individual PCs with their own software to TC computing systems because:

  • TC appliances are less costly than computers;
  • TC system software can be more easily updated than a decentralized system;
  • TC systems can be managed by fewer people and from a central location; and
  • TC systems can be adapted to work with current computers, which might slow obsolescence. For systems of 100 or more appliances, the cost differential can be significant.

The downside of TC systems is that all users are locked in to the software that is provided on the network, and for some users, that software may be inadequate. In general, these systems provide fewer programs and options (such as access to all types of multimedia) than new, stand-alone PCs. In addition, while administration can be centralized, this places a premium on having excellent back-office support for the system–or everyone suffers.

Here are a few issues that will arise when developing and deploying a TC system:

  1. Upfront planning and testing is essential.
  2. Many computer consultants do not have TC experience; make sure to check your consultants’ experience and credentials.
  3. No system is perfect, so be aware of its weaknesses.
  4. The systems lack flexibility, so they are not good in fast-changing environments (such as a rapidly growing school district).
  5. TC systems are not good for in-class education because they cannot be customized. Use TC systems only for administration.