HP introduces thin client disguised as a laptop

With data storage and system management handled remotely, HP Compaq 6720T Mobile Thin Client reduces risk of data loss, but could be hard sell for many users

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In an effort to push mobility into thin clients, Hewlett-Packard is adding a laptop with minimal storage and wireless networking features to its lineup.

The HP Compaq 6720T Mobile Thin Client has 1GB of internal flash storage and will be more of a terminal than a full-blown PC, with data storage and system management handled from a remote server, the company said Thursday. The laptop boots off Windows XP Embedded OS in the flash module.

Because data isn't stored on the laptop, there is less risk of a company losing data, said Thai Nguyen, HP worldwide product marketing manager for thin clients. The thin-client laptop is also managed from a server, diminishing management challenges such as issuing software updates, Nguyen said.

Along with better security and easier system management, thin-client architecture uses less power than traditional PCs, said Klaus Besier, vice president for thin clients at HP. The thin-client laptop does not have a fan or moving parts such as a hard drive.

The product is targeted at vertical industries such as health care and insurance, Nguyen said.

Weighing 5.4 pounds (2.45 kilograms), the laptop is powered by an Intel Celeron M processor. It includes 802.11a/b/g wireless networking, wired networking, integrated graphics, three USB ports and two PC Card slots. It includes a DVD-ROM drive and stereo speakers.

The laptop comes with terminal software, including HP Session Allocation Manager, which establishes a secure network connection to remote servers.

Priced starting at $725, the 6720t thin client will be available in North America and Japan later this month.

Users may not be inclined toward the HP thin-client laptop, said analyst Roger Kay, founder and president of Endpoint Technologies Associates. Terminal users such as financial brokers prefer powerful thin clients that support multiple monitors, and mobile workers want something like Research in Motion's BlackBerry, he said.

The biggest problem with the HP thin client could be its lack of mobility. "You don't want a situation where you can't use it unless you are connected," Kay said. With minimal storage and no network connection, it would be useless on an airplane, for example.

HP could be experimenting or demonstrating the laptop as a new concept to the thin-client market and as a predecessor to future HP products, Kay suggested. "It's an odd product. It won't be all that successful," Kay said.

However, the thin-client laptop isn't aimed at "mobile warriors" who spend a lot of time on the road, said Tad Bodeman, director blade PC and thin client solutions at HP. "We're not trying to replace every laptop PC," he said.

The laptop works better in environments like hospitals, where nurses walk around with laptops on carts wirelessly pulling patient data from a central server, he said, adding that it may also be useful within an office environment. The laptop minimizes the risk of data loss related to theft and gives corporations a device that is low in cost to support and maintain.

Bodeman declined to comment about HP's plans for future thin-client products.

HP competes with IBM and ClearCube Technology in the thin-client hardware and software space.

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