A Man of Many Hats Tells Us About His Early Years Developing The Thin Client

Jeff McNaught has done a lot of interesting, fun stuff in the course of his IT career. He started his own software company, worked for Radio Shack on the TRS-80, and during his 23 years at Wyse was co-developer of the first Windows-based thin client that remains the model for all thin clients sold today. Currently, he's chief marketing and strategy officer at Wyse, a position that enables him to hop on a plane, jot down some ideas on a few slides and then turn those ideas into a product.

The thin-client prototype story is illustrative. It was 1994, and the PC was king. McNaught teamed up with Curt Schwebke -- currently the Wyse CTO -- to produce a product that would enable companies to recentralize PC applications. To many, this meant dethroning the king: Microsoft. In fact, when McNaught and Schwebke presented their idea to Wyse President Doug Chance, he walked out of the meeting.

Chance's negative reaction to the thin client was not a confidence booster for McNaught, who recalls, "Oh yeah, back then there were many times when I walked back to my desk and said, 'I am so fired.'"

Fortunately, Chance changed his mind: The thin client was prototyped in cooperation with Citrix and debuted at Comdex in November 1995. It was unveiled on Monday and won a "Best of Comdex" award on Wednesday. Then, as McNaught recalls, "Thursday morning we got a call from Microsoft essentially saying, 'What the heck are you people doing with Windows?'"

That led to an immediate trip to Redmond for McNaught and Chance, and as they waited to meet with a platform VP, they said, "If Microsoft doesn't like this idea, we're toast -- we're working at Taco Bell next week." Undeterred, however, the duo spent three hours demoing and explaining the thin client to the skeptical Microsoft VP, who said the product might have some value "in the future." He also said Microsoft wouldn't try to stop the thin client, but he didn't see how the company could directly support it. The VP's name: Paul Maritz.

More recently, McNaught exercised his creative side on two new products, PC Extender and Wyse Xenith. The idea for PC Extender, which converts a PC into a thin client, came in June 2009 after meetings in the field with customers, partners and prospects. McNaught brought the concept to his engineers and collaborated with the product team on its design, production and marketing, and after a lengthy beta period, it was unveiled this May at the Citrix Synergy conference.

The genesis of Wyse Xenith came in late January of this year when McNaught hopped on that plane and started creating slides. Xenith is a "no-compromise" zero client that delivers new benefits to existing customers moving to Virtual Desktop Infrastructure (VDI). McNaught took the idea to influential Citrix employees and generated internal excitement with them. He also went to Richard Antuna, Wyse senior VP of product management, business development and alliances, who joined forces with him to push the product through design and engineering. Once Citrix President and CEO Mark Templeton gave his blessing to the product, it was finished in time to be introduced in May with PC Extender at Synergy.

Does his chief strategy side ever clash with his chief marketing side? "It doesn't have to be a Jekyll-and-Hyde approach," McNaught says. "Good strategy is really developed when you consider who you're trying to build for, the business objectives, and the needs and desires of your close partners."

E-mail me at bhoard@1105media.com.

About the Author

Bruce Hoard is the new editor of Virtualization Review. Prior to taking this post, he was founding editor of Network World and spent 20 years as a freelance writer and editor in the IT industry.

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