Does A Thin Client Have An Operating System? (Important Info)

Thin clients are stripped down computers and many people wonder whether thin clients actually use an operating system like normal computers. Further investigation to find out if this was the case will help establish if thin clients do indeed have operating systems.

Does A Thin Client Have An Operating System? A thin client does have a operating system but this is limited in functionality and is not a fully operational operating system used by thick clients like laptops and desktop computers. The thinclient operating system is installed in the flash memory storage and provides access to peripherals like USB drives, local printers and allows connections to be made to remote servers using remote control protocols like RDP, ICA and PCoIP. The operating systems captures mouse movement and keystrokes relaying them to the remote servers and updates the desktop display based on the information sent back from the remote servers.

The following operating system choices are available:

  1. Microsoft Windows 10 IoT Enterprise (WIE)
  2. Microsoft Windows Embedded Standard (WES) 7E
  3. ThinOS (Wyse)
  4. ThinLinux (Wyse)
  5. ThinPro (HP)
  6. Smart Zero Core (HP)
  7. OpenThinClient
  8. ThinStation

There are other operating systems available, but these seem to be the common ones in use. Let’s take a detailed look at these operating systems.

1 Microsoft Window 10 IoT Enterprise

Microsoft Windows 10 IoT Enterprise is a slimmed down version of Windows 10 designed for embedded systems, that is where it is installed on memory (flash) and this memory is part of the device. Microsoft Windows in it’s different versions is probably the most popular thin client operating system, being installed across many devices and being offered as an option from many thin client vendors.

The Internet of Things, hence the abbreviation IoT in the title of this operating system is used to appeal to many other uses other than just thin clients for this operating system, as this operating system is capable of working in smaller powered devices, giving it a smaller footprint compared to other operating systems.

2 Microsoft Windows Embedded Standard

Precursor to Microsoft Windows 10 IoT Enterprise and based on the older Windows 7 line of Microsoft operating systems. This is still available in some of the older thin clients, testament to the increased lifespan thin client devices have over their desktop computer rivals. Again this is a stripped down version of the desktop variant of this operating system, specifically modified to be able to run on lower powered devices.

3 ThinOS (Wyse)

ThinOS is a custom-built operating system from Dell, owners of the Wyse brand. It’s marketed as the most secure of the thin client operating systems, based on its locked down architecture which limits the execution of security exploits. One of the ways this is done, is to remove any capacity to download locally onto the thin client using a browser, which has been removed.

4 ThinLinux (Wyse)

ThinLinux is based on SUSE Linux and is a 64-bit operating system. It is specifically designed for thin clients and was developed by Wyse. ThinLinux can integrate with management tools like Wyse Device Manager (WDM).

5 ThinPro (HP)

ThinPro is based on Linux and is used by HP for their thin clients. ThinPro is hardened by locking down the file system and incorporating firewall software. HP Device Manager software is used to manage thin clients running ThinPro.

6 Smart Zero (HP)

Another Linux based operating system from HP with support for Microsoft RDS (RDP), VMWare PCOIP, VMWare Blast Extreme and Citrix HDX (ICA).

7 OpenThinClient

Open source thin client operating systems include OpenThinClient, which is based on Ubuntu’s Linux. These open source thin client operating systems were designed primarily to repurpose older desktop computers and laptops. Breathing new life into them by changing them into thin clients.

Advanced management features are available at cost, including centralised management, integration with authentication providers like Microsoft Active Directory to smart card authentication.

OpenThinClient is also available preinstalled on to a thin client device, so there’s no need to install it yourself, just buy the OpenThinClient device and you’re ready to go.

7 ThinStation

ThinStation is based on CRUX Linux and is another open source thin client operating system. This too is designed for use on repurposed hardware like desktop computers and laptops coming to their end of life using their desktop operating systems like Microsoft Windows 7.

Does a Zero Client have an Operating System?

No, zero clients don’t have an operating system like thin clients do, they instead have a custom chip which allows the zero client to deal with specific communications like:

  • Citrix HDX (ICA)
  • VMWare PCOIP, Blast Extreme
  • Microsoft RDS (RDP)

Does a Thin Client have a CPU?

Yes, thin clients do have a processor, also known as a CPU (Central Processing Unit). Thin clients need a CPU to function, as they have operating systems, that relies on the CPU to do its calculations and send and retrieve information from the thin client hardware such as the memory and storage.

The CPU in thin clients isn’t generally as powerful as the ones in laptops and desktop computers. With the reason for this, being the thin client doesn’t need the extra power to run user applications, it just needs enough power to connect to the remote servers and exchange information and then present this information on the user’s monitor.

Does a Zero Client have a CPU?

No, zero clients don’t have a CPU like thin clients do, they instead have a custom chip which acts as the brain for operations but is limited in functionality in comparison to a CPU. Zero clients don’t need a CPU as they don’t have operating systems in the same way a thin client has one, so less powerful and simpler processing is all that is required.

Thin client how it works?

Thin client devices act as dumb terminals which connect to remote computers known as servers. These servers run the actual applications the users use and using clever software (Microsoft Remote Desktop Services) communicate with the thin clients, sending them back updated changes to how the application is presented.

So, when a user is connected to a spreadsheet application from their thin client, as they enter information into the spreadsheet, the thin client captures the keys pressed and the mouse movements made.

Relaying these to the remote server, where Microsoft Remote Desktop Services (RDS) acknowledges these inputs and applies them to the spreadsheet application on the server.

The resulting changes in the appearance of the spreadsheet, that is from having an empty cell, to now having data in the cell, are captured by RDS as a change in the screen, with the resultant screen image being sent back to the thin client to present locally on the monitor.

This is all done in real-time in milliseconds, making it look like the application is actually installed on the thin client when in fact it’s on the remote server.

Over time RDS and other thin client software like Citrix XenApp and VMWare PCOIP have become more optimised and do not send full screen images back, but only the changes made in the image on a pixel by pixel basis.


Thin client devices are designed to have enough hardware for starting up (booting) and use their own operating system (a simpler operating system compared to desktop computer operating systems), memory and storage (generally flash memory as opposed to a hard disk) to provide enough resources to connect to remote servers.

All applications and user data are stored on a remote server, with the thin client facilitating the presentation of the remote server virtual desktop and virtual applications. This gives the same look and experience of using a traditional desktop computer.


Thin client devices have some local storage, which is generally solid-state type storage and not the traditional hard disks used in computers. The solid-state storage can be flash or eMMC cards.

eMMC cards are just MMC cards, the cards you stick into digital cameras for storing your photos. The eMMC variant are soldered (embedded) onto the thin client devices motherboard. These eMMC cards are cheaper options for storage for thin clients but have the downside of being slower than flash memory.

The storage in thin clients is utilised for booting (starting up), keeping up a swap file (temporary memory file), and maintaining a session with the remote server.


Thin clients take into consideration local printing by having USB ports (parallel ports on older models for older printers), they also have audio jacks (headphone and microphone) and can interface with a number of other devices like scanners to web cams using their USB ports.


Thin clients do have operating systems, allowing them to utilise their own hardware such as USB ports, memory, storage and to be able to relay information to and from remote servers presenting virtual desktops and applications.

The thinclient operating system generally tend to be cut down versions of desktop operating systems like Microsoft Windows with some thin client devices coming with custom developed operating systems.

Bal Kang

Bal Kang is a technology expert based in the UK, with experience across a number of technology areas from phones, tablets, computers to gaming.

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