Details are starting to emerge about something called Wyse Project "Badger," a software solution that will challenge the so-called "zero" clients like those from Pano Logic, Sun, and Ncomputing. Badger (which should come out of beta any day now) is essentially a new version of ThinOS. And although it will probably have a new name when it's released, it will be fully backwards compatible.
The big change from ThinOS to Badger is that Badger only has a 3.5mb footprint and it does not require any local storage on a client device. In other words, the client device does a network boot, downloads the 3.5mb OS image, and the user is up and running. Wyse claims boot times of under 3 seconds (even when downloading the image from the network).
What's most amazing about badger is that in addition to its small size, it also has all the Wyse TCX and VDA components built-in and it has full HDX support. (In fact people are suggesting that this HDX implementation is the best one outside of Citrix's own HDX client for the Win32 platform.) This Badger release will also have an RDP 6.x client, with RDP 7 coming soon.
But is Badger "technically" a zero client?
A Wyse employee explained the "badger" name came from their belief that Badger will "tear zero clients apart." But is Badger really a zero client? Not if you ask Pano Logic. Pano points out that their own devices have no local processors and no local firmware or storage whatsoever. They further explain that they're doing bus-level remoting, not graphical remoting, and that from an architectural standpoint, a Pano device is like a super-long video and USB cable that's been translated to TCP/IP.
Pano certainly has a point. From an architectural standpoint, Wyse's Badger is more similar to a Sun Ray where you have the client with no storage that does a network boot to receive its software load. It's just that in the case of Wyse, it comes down really fast and there's no resident trace of anything when the device is powered off.
So if we give Pano the benefit of the doubt and say that Wyse is not a true zero client, does that even matter? If it looks like zero and feels like zero and doesn't require any management of the client device, who cares what's technically happening on the back end? (This is a fun conversation to have with the Pano and Wyse. After asking whether it matters, you'll hear Pano saying, "Well Wyse has firmware you have to update on clients from time-to-time. Who wants to take the time to do that? That's just one more thing to manage!" Then Wyse will say, "ok, well, you don't *have* to update the firmware if you don't want too. You could pretend it's a Pano and just buy a new device when you want to change a capability." Then Pano will say, "Yeah but you can't use a firmware update to change hardware capabilities, and as long as you don't need to change hardware, you will never have to update a Pano." And so on...)
Zero client or not, Wyse Badger means that you can finally control all your thin clients from one place without having to update or push anything to them. (Configuring Badger can be as simple as editing an INI file on a server, although you can also use something like WDM if you're into that sort of thing.
Wyse Badger will probably be most appreciated by current customers, where the ThinOS platform represents almost 50% of all shipments of Wyse devices now. And while the previous ThinOS build required some kind of local device storage (since thin clients locally booted from it), configuring all your existing ThinOS clients to do a netboot for their Badger image might be the last client-based configuration option you ever push out.
So what does this mean for the current zero client vendors? It depends. Pano's real value is as much about their general use-of-use and complete solution as it is their physical client architecture. Ncomputing's focus on education and emerging markets probably means Badger won't affect them. Really the biggest loser is probably Sun (well, I guess its officially "Oracle" as of yesterday) with their Sun Rays. The whole "zero configuration" was always a big selling point for them, but their stuff was expensive and complex and kind of scary to Windows admins--so now that Wyse is out there with a similar message, Sun will have to work that much harder.
We'll have to wait another week or so to learn the true impact of Badger. In the meantime, does anyone have hands on experience with it that they'd care to share? What do you think about Badger in general? Do you prefer to netboot your clients versus letting them boot locally? (I should point out that you don't have to use Badger in the zero-client netboot way. If your client has local storage, you can still install Badger there and get the TCX/VDA/HDX/RDP6 benefits.