Openthinclient vs Thinstation? 7 differences explained


openthinclient-versus-thinstation

ThinStation and OpenThinClient have some differences even though both are thin client software that can transmit the keyboard and mouse movements from a computer to another computer connected using a remote access protocol.

Openthinclient vs Thinstation? There are 7 major differences between openthinclient and thinstation, these are:

  1. Different base Linux distributions
  2. Ready made Thin Clients
  3. Centralized Management Tools
  4. Active Directory Integration
  5. Smart Card Authentication
  6. Commercial versions
  7. Maintenance
  8. Security

The 7 differences between OpenThinClient and ThinStation are detailed below:

1. Different base Linux distributions

Both Thinstation and OpenThinClient are based on Linux but the similarity ends there, with different distributions (distros) of Linux being used. OpenThinClient is based on Ubuntu’s Linux and Thinstation is based on CRUX Linux.

2. Ready made Thin Clients

Both OpenThinClient and Thinstation software can relay what appears on the screen at the remote computer back to the thin client device. To make it look and feel as though the person is actually using the remote computer directly when they are in fact accessing it remotely.

However, OpenThinClient is available as a pre-built Thin Client device with the OpenThinClient software built into the thin client device (stored in flash memory). This is appealing to organisations who like to use new slim line thin client devices instead of installing the OpenThinClient software onto older computers.

ThinStation don’t provide a pre-built thin client device and users of Thinstation will need to use existing equipment to store

3. Centralized Management Tools

When thin clients are used in larger organisations, central management makes it easier to manage multiple thin client devices remotely without having to visit each thin client device one by one.

This makes it easier to deploy new software as well as software updates, patches and fixes, with the ability to group thin client devices together, so restrictions on who can use the device can be placed, for example, only people in a certain department may use the thin client devices.

OpenThinClient beats ThinStation when it comes to centralised management, with the OpenThinClient Manager providing a single dashboard view using a web browser.

This allows Administrators to control thin clients, create additional thin clients, change settings, create applications and assign applications settings made, applications created and assigned.

Thin Client devices are organised in a tree structure, allowing Administrators to expand into each Thin Client for additional information and configuration.

4. Active Directory Integration

OpenThinClient Manager can integrate with Microsoft’s Active Directory making it easier to organise in a tree structure, allowing administrators to expand into each thin client listed in the hierarchical tree for additional information and configuration, and manage them.

Thinstation doesn’t have a centralised management system like OpenThinClient therefore it is not possible to administer multiples devices with Thinstation deployed to them from a single pane of view (dashboard).

5. Smart Card Authentication

The thin clients supplied by OpenThinClient include the ability to use RFID smart cards for authentication, allowing users to use their identity cards to log into the thin clients instead of using a username and password.

OpenThinClient Manager integrates with Evidian Authentication Manager to provide the brains behind the smart card authentication.

6. Commercial versions

OpenThinClient comes in a commercial version installed into the thin client devices they provide.

OpenThinClient uses Java packages for it’s management server and it’s management software. As the Java software is owned and managed by Oracle Systems, regular updates in theory, should be made available to fix any vulnerabilities that may arise.

Both Thinstation and OpenThinClient are developed as Open Source software (under the GNU General Public License (GPL) v2), making them available as FREE downloads.

This makes the use of both Open Source versions of Thinstation and OpenThinClient attractive to organisations who are cost conscious, like educational to charity type organisations.

7. Maintenance

As OpenThinClient comes in a commercial flavour, there is regular maintenance and updates being developed unlike with Thinstation which is only available as Open Source and not as regularly updated.

The major disadvantages with just a Open Source model and no parallel commercial model, like Thinstation. Means maintenance can suffers as there may be a limited number of developers involved. Meaning updates, fixes and patches may not always be readily available.

There are many Open Source products where the maintainer has stopped developing further features, fixes and patches, leaving the products out dated and insecure.

8. Security

OpenThinClient Thin Clients offer more security than just OpenThinClient or Thinstation software installed on existing devices. As specifically built thin client devices are easier to lock down, making it far more difficult to modify the OpenThinClient images inside the device for malicious purposes.

Similarities between OpenThinClient and ThinStation

There are a lot of similarities too between ThinStation and OpenThinClient. following 7 points highlight the similarities between Thinstation and OpenThinClient:

Standalone

Both ThinStation and OpenThinClient are standalone operating systems in their own right, allowing them to function without requiring any other additional software or operating systems.

Both include their own operating systems which are based on different Linux distributions and versions, Ubuntu for OpenThinClient and Crux Linux for TS.

PXE

Both work have Preboot eXecution Environment (PXE) capabilities, making it possible to remotely install ThinStation or OpenThinClient on a device (that meet hardware compatibility requirements) with no operating system installed, as long as the device has a network card (known as the NIC) capable of initiating a PXE boot.

The PXE functionality connects to a Dynamic Host Configuration Protocol (DHCP) Server, that tells the PXE connection the name (or internet protocol address) of the Trivial File Transfer Protocol (TFTP) Server.

The TFTP server contains the Thinstation or OpenThinClient image which the PXE connection downloads to the device and once downloaded, starts the Thinstation or OpenThinClient image.

Open Source

As already mentioned earlier, both OpenThinClient and Thinstation are available as Open Source software (under the GNU General Public License (GPL) v2). This makes it FREE to download and use the software on older computers to make them into thin clients.

Low hardware requirements

The hardware, that is the user device specifications required to install and run both Thinstation and OpenThinClient, doesn’t have to be of a high specification.

Older computers using x86 compatible CPUs such as those with Intel Pentium processors, with as little as 16MB of RAM, are more than capable of getting Thinstation up and running, whilst OpenThinClient recommends at least a 1GB of RAM, however it is possible to run OpenThinClient with less memory.

Remote Connection Protocols

Both Thinstation and OpenThinClient can use a number of remote protocols, allowing a thin client device to remotely connect to other systems such as systems running Microsoft Windows, Linux or Unix.

Citrix ICA

Citrix systems such as Virtual Apps (formerly XenApp) and Virtual Desktops (formerly XenDesktop) are probably the most popular systems remotely connected to using thin client devices.

ThinStation has a ICA Client package (enable the package “ica client” in build.conf) and OpenThinClient has an integrated ICA package (Citrix Workspace App 1903 is integrated in the OpenThinClient package).

These integrated modules allow connections to be made using the Citrix ICA protocol to Citrix desktops and applications.

VMWare Horizon

An Open Source version of the VMWare Horizon (formerly known as VMWare View) client is available. This can work on Thinstation and OpenThinClient and requires the package to be downloaded and installed.

The Open Source version of this client comes with absolutely no commercial support from VMWare.

Microsoft RDP

There are a number of software solutions available allowing remote connectivity to be made to Microsoft Window Servers and computers running desktop versions of Microsoft Windows using FreeRDP software.

Older versions of Microsoft Windows Server can be remotely accessed using Rdesktop software. Both FreeRDP and Rdesktop are freely downloadable.

Linux remote access

There are a number of ways to connect remotely to Linux based computers from Thinstation and OpenThinClient including:

  • using X Display Manager Control Protocol (XDMCP) to access the X Display Manager graphical login manager to start a remote login session on another computer;
  • using NX Technology (NoMachine);
  • using NX Technology software used as Open Source code in projects for other remote access software including FreeNX, NeatX, X2Go, 2X to Xpra;
  • using ThinLinc client provided by Cendio installed on ThinStation or for OpenThinClient (as it’s based on Ubuntu, the ThinLinc Client DEB package can be used).

UNIX

ThinStation and OpenThinClient can connect to Unix servers using SSH, Telnet and VNC (mentioned below) as well as connecting to UNIX servers running X using the XDMCP protocol.

SSH, Telnet and VNC

Standard protocols like SSH, Telnet and Virtual Network Computing (VNC) Remote Frame Buffer protocol are supported out of the box for both Thinstation and OpenThinClient.

Security Options

Using OpenThinClient and TC or any other reputable thin client operating system, provides a number of security benefits including:

Data Security

As both are thin clients they don’t actually store anything from the remote sessions locally to the user device, so using a word processor remotely won’t mean the documents are stored on the thin client device.

This makes using thin client devices a securer option than using a computer, where data needs to be downloaded to the computer to be able to be used.

Additional security possible by running ThinStation as a disk-less workstation where there is no disk and ThinStation software runs in the memory of the Thin Client device.

Connection Security

The protocols to make remote connections can provide security especially with those protocols that encrypt connections between the thin client and the remote computer.

Stopping eavesdropping on connections using Man in the Middle (MitM) attacks. This protects against the images being sent from the remote computer to the thin client device being spied upon.

Some Remote Access protocols may be vulnerable if they are not regularly updated, larger organisations like Citrix may have a more up to date patching cycle.

Others will simply be ineffectively maintained and could lead to compromises, like MitM attacks as their older encryption used is easy to break.

Device Security

Remote access to the thin clients running Thinstation or OpenThinClient can be locked down to stop malicious activities (e.g. installing key logging software) and access to the thin client device from other devices using the VNC protocol.

Raspberry Pi compatibility

Can ThinStation or OpenThinClient work on Raspberry Pi? No, neither can work on a Raspberry Pi as the Raspberry Pi is its own standalone system. With it’s own operating system so you wouldn’t need to install OpenThinClient or ThinStation.

Instead you can download the Citrix WorkSpace application (formerly Citrix Receiver) to access Citrix applications and desktops from the Raspberry Pi.

You can also install rdesktop, Xrd and Remmina to access Microsoft Windows Servers and desktop computers using the Remote Desktop Protocol or the VMware Horizon Client protocol.

Related Questions:

Is Raspberry Pi a thin client? Raspberry pi is a fully fledged computer and by installing additional software, like Citrix Workspace application, the Raspberry Pi can work like a thin client to access other computers remotely.

What is the difference between thin client and desktop? A thin client is used to access another computer remotely and a desktop is a computer that can be accessed directly without using remote access technology.

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