Last week I attended a seminar featuring VMware and Wyse pitching their Virtual Desktop Infrastructure. (Is it just me or does VMware's site seldom render properly in Firefox?)
The Wyse rep passed around the Wyse S10 pictured at left. It lists for $299, "runs BSD" (called "ThinOS"), and features a 450 MHz AMD Geode CPU. Although it has USB ports you can't use them for thumb drives or CD-ROM drives. (More powerful units support those devices.) It has a PPTP client with support for SSL VPNs on the product roadmap. Also on the roadmap is 802.1X, PoE, and wireless support. The S10 is basically a box to access remote desktops using RDP, ICA, or a Leostream connection broker. The box can be managed remotely, and can have its firmware flashed remotely.
This is the future of "business computing." It may also be the future of non-power-user consumer computing, at least for people with modest, office-like (email, Web, etc.) needs. The local hardware will be nothing more than a window (pun intended) to remote desktops. I imagine people might want local storage, but most of it will be stored remotely.
I have to start imagining how to monitor this sort of architecture. I guess we'll spend far more time watching data centers and hardly any time watching end nodes?
Update: I forgot to mention that I believe at some point ISPs will replace their cable modems with these devices. Power users will still be able to use "dumb" cable modems or just avoid the thin client features in their new ISP platform. I also think some hardware vendor will package this thin client into a LCD screen, like the iMac.
In general, this sort of architecture will make it easy for smart PDAs to gain access to the same information I might want on my laptop or desktop. When metropolitan wireless is ubiquitous, we won't have to worry as much about synchronization issues either. Fun!