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A thin client is a networked computer with few locally stored programs and a heavy dependence on network resources. It may have very limited resources of its own, perhaps operating without auxiliary drives, CD-R/W/DVD drives or even software applications.
Typically, a thin client is one of many network computers that share computation needs by using the resources of one server. A thin client often has low cost hardware with few moving parts and can usually function better in a hostile environment than a fat or rich client.
A thin client is also known as a slim or lean client.
In contrast to a thin client, a fat or rich client is a computer with many locally stored programs and resources and little dependence on network resources.
By further comparison, a fat client balances program dependence locally with a hard/connected drive and device resources, while a thin client balances program dependence with a network server’s hard/connected drive and device resources.
A system designer determines this balance, depending on whether lengthy computations must be performed by the client or server. For example, a computer that handles most of a simple drawing’s editing with sophisticated software stored on a network server may be considered a thin client. A computer that handles most of a complex drawing’s editing with locally stored and sophisticated software may be a fat client. Editing or viewing accessibility to the drawing and editing software is determined by the system designer.