The integration of thin-client technology and wireless data communications has produced a winning combination for situations in which workers need information to execute their tasks but are required to move freely about their venues. This type of application not only represents a further maturation of client-server computing, but also takes advantage of two significant IT trends: First, tablet computers have reached the affordable "commodity" level, opening the door to wider exploitation and extension of their usefulness; and second, wireless networks, which for years floundered in a sea of IT management indifference, are becoming increasingly accepted components of the corporate datacom infrastructure.
Client-server computing and relational database technology was revolutionary in enabling databases to respond to structured queries with only the requested data rather than having to transfer entire files. Nevertheless, clients remained stationary, so information normally had to be printed in order to be useful in applications requiring mobility—warehouse pick orders, for example. The wireless thin clients from BOSaNOVA, Inc. change that, taking such requests off the conventional network and eliminating the need for take-along printouts. Instead, they enable a "last-mile" delivery capability that lets users ask for and get the data they need—on screen, query by query, no paper involved.
Capitalizing on Convergence
Phoenix, Arizona–based BOSaNOVA has been in the iSeries and thin-client markets for many years, and not long ago, the company perceived that with better tablet computer technology, falling prices, and greater wireless network availability, the time had arrived when affordable and functional portable thin clients would have wide appeal in its primary market and beyond.
BOSaNOVA's portable thin clients address key verticals within its favored marketplace, the iSeries/System i community. These verticals, to name a few, include manufacturing, distribution, warehousing, healthcare, and retail, where mobility contributes a major value-add over static thin client/PC operations.
The BOStablet is available in two versions: the 360XP, powered by Microsoft XPe; and the 360CE, which employs the Microsoft CE .NET operating system. Both the XP and CE units can operate as information appliances executing local and browser-based applications, and both are configurable to operate as thin clients/terminals through embedded terminal emulation (5250, 3270) and client-server ICA and RDP protocols.
Prior to 2003, wireless thin-client computing had sputtered for a while under pre-CE .NET/XPe operating systems, and device choices were limited. By 2003, the CE OS had matured significantly, and the XP OS allowed for much more application flexibility.
The feature-rich XPe version of the BOStablet includes, among others, BOSaNOVA TCP/IP (5250), Adobe Acrobat Reader 7.0, Microsoft Outlook Express, MS Office 2003 Viewers, RDP, ICA, and IE6 SP2.
The platform for both versions of the device is a ruggedized tablet with a slip-resistant protective jacket that can withstand a four-foot drop without sustaining damage.
The touch screen is an 8.4" TFT Active Matrix LCD at 800x600 SVGA resolution with programmable four-button navigation and an on-screen soft keyboard. Where most CE-driven wireless devices are limited to 15 characters per line, BOStablets in both CE and XP versions are able to display a full 24x80 screen. Thus, there is no need to rewrite the applications to fit on the small screen.
The XP version—most popular of the two models—features an AMD LX 800 processor, an embedded Microsoft XP operating system, a Compact Flash expansion slot, a PCMCIA card slot, and a USB port. The CE version now also offers the AMD LX800 processor and similar functionality. Other expansion capabilities are possible via the charging cradle or various mounting devices.
Connectivity choices include Bluetooth and 802.11b/g wireless LAN/WAN and optional GPRS on XPe. Full 16-bit audio, built-in stereo speakers, and a microphone are standard, as are the cradle for charging and for USB connectivity. Options include a wall/vehicle/desktop-mountable cradle and hot-swappable second battery packs. Internal battery life is two hours, with external battery packs providing up to four.
Because it has a more robust operating system, the XP version offers greater flexibility, allowing the admin to download, for example, drivers to support scanners, printers, etc.
Macro-Driven Hot Spots
An outstanding convenience feature of the devices is their hot-spot capability, which allows operators to automate movement through an application. In a warehouse operation, for example, an operator might have to drill down through multiple menus in order to check on the availability of a part. The BOStablet confers the ability to record the keystrokes, save them as a macro, and assign the macro to a specific spot on the screen. Touching the spot takes the operator directly to the right place, and a second macro returns her/him to the original menu.
Reasons to consider: BOSaNOVA's wireless tablets allow the use of normal applications in a normal environment; they provide speed and flexibility with on-screen hot spots; the software permits on-board device management; ruggedization enables the units for arduous duty. Data security is a given due to the fact that all of the information is transferred and stored on the server, since there is no local storage.
As with the rest of its product line, BOSaNOVA's wireless thin client devices are sold through their IBM reseller channel, with suggested pricing of $1,550 for the CE model and $1,795 for the XP version, before discounts.
Victor Wortman is a freelance technology writer based in Santa Monica, California. The author can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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