PDA as Thin Client

Yesterday, Prakash, who was at Cebit, forwarded me an email from a company in Taiwan (whom he had met there) which offered PDAs for USD 28 in quantities of 2,000. These are very basic PDAs. The only port they have is an RS232 serial port to connect to a PC or a modem.

What amazed me was the price point. This is one of lowest computer price points I have seen. In India, the USD 28 price point would probably lead to a selling price of Rs 3,000 or so, considering shipping costs, import duties and local taxes. That is a very attractive price point. And that set me thinking.

Can we use this PDA as a thin client in addition to its standalone operation? There could be quite a few applications where one may just need to have a small screen and tap through it, without the need for a full-blown desktop PC. So, in a setup, one could have say 5 PC Terminals (proper PCs as thin clients with 14 or 15-inch monitors), and then complement that with some of these low-cost PDAs, which could connect to the thick server either through one of the thin clients or through dial-up. By running “vnc”, one could get the entire desktop on the small PDA screen.

We need to try this out. We have a Sharp Zaurus I had bought a year ago, which we will try it on with. It is already running Linux. Lets see how the apps look in reality.

What could such a PDA-based Thin Client be used for? For one, it could be used for data entry or surveys away from the LAN, and then connect to the thick server to update the data and allow the user access to his desktop. In schools, it could be used for students to go through “micro” pages or tests. In organisations, it offers one more option for some applications, given that the PDA is now a portable device. So, in a sense, one has to think of how a small footprint thin client with some local memory and standalone applications could be used in a server-centric computing environment.

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Rajesh Jain

An Entrepreneur based in Mumbai, India.