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I have one main, self-built computer that runs windows 7 with way more processing power and memory than it needs. I also have several underpowered laptops, my goal is to run thin clients on these laptops while still being able to use the "server" for everyday computing.

I have looked around for a way to do this but relevant information on thin clients is hard to find. The "server" is used by a lot of people so reinstalling the OS is not an option, and I do need to be able to use graphical programs. RDP is not an option because (unless I'm mistaken about the fact that RDP takes control of the host desktop) I need to be able, for example, be typing out a document on the "server" while my friend browses the web on the "client". Forgive my ignorance, I know very little about networking.

P.S. It would be helpful if any software is free

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What does your 'server' run? – Journeyman Geek Nov 8 '12 at 23:32
Re "RDP takes over the host desktop". It can do that. It can also spawn new logins, as done with terminal server. The difference is a DLL and license costs. – Hennes Sep 7 '13 at 16:47

Thats not true, information on thin clients is actually quite plentiful.

A very easy way to achieve a thin client is by installing Linux on both server and client and then connecting to the server via an "ssh -Y" to forward graphical programs. You will quickly notice that the latency is annoying and will abandon the idea.

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thin clients on a decent lan is workable. Heck, with the right protocol, its usable over random wan links. – Journeyman Geek Nov 9 '12 at 0:31
I don't know man. I have only seen it usable In 256 color and some god forsaken resolution. – Mikhail Nov 9 '12 at 0:59
RDP works fine, hell, the latest versions even support compositing. NX is blazing fast as well. I've also run chrome remote over the lan. x forwarding isn't the best protocol here – Journeyman Geek Nov 9 '12 at 1:09

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