They used to be called “dumb terminals” but of course nobody wanted a computer that was dumb. So the name was changed to “thin client”. Much nicer, after all according to fashion you can never be too thin. However maybe they are too thin because the new name is “zero client”.
The thin or zero client is not really a computer but a terminal that allows the user to enter and retrieve digital data. All the computing is done at the server. This is the way all computers networks worked in the pre-PC days. Then personal computers sprouted up on desktops everywhere and networks were developed to connect them and allow multiple PCs to share data. This is what drove the PC computing revolution and is what really brought computing to clinical dentistry.
Now new technology is pushing things in the other direction. The latest trend is to create a virtual desktop machine on a server and distribute it to thin client terminals throughout the office. The server can be a machine in the office or a machine in the cloud. There are some definite advantages to this, especially for the IT service provider. On the other hand at this time most dental software is not designed to work optimally in a zero client environment. In fact most dental software vendors will tell you their software will not run as a thin or zero client.
The obvious exceptions to this are products specifically designed for cloud computing like Curve and Planet DDS.
Never the less I have spoken with several advanced dental IT service providers who have set up virtual desktops with thin client services for dentists using traditional desktop practice management software and they claim they are working fine.
Simple data transfer like chart notes lends itself well to thin client computing. Images are another story. It is easy to transfer images but image capture and manipulation takes lots of computing capacity that most zero client applications have struggled with in the past.
There is a real difference between leading edge and bleeding edge and at this time zero client is somewhere in between. You do not want to run out and demand your computer IT provider switch everything out to zero client. However it is good to be aware of these changes and to know what you are getting into if your IT people suggest a virtual zero client network.
Right now dentists, like all small businesses, are stuck replacing hardware every three to four years. One of the promises of zero client is that you can keep your hardware for much longer periods of time and simply upgrade the software on the server. Software updates, bug fixes, back up and virus protection will all be easier and cheaper to administer.
Maybe being thin isn’t so dumb. The future is coming and it will be amazing!