Sitting here in Santa Rosa drinking too much coffee while the turkey cooks I’ve been reading the Black Friday sale fliers and you know what’s missing? Desktop computers.  Radio Shack doesn’t even have a desktop on sale tomorrow and even Walmart has only one. This season marks the triumph of notebook and tablet computers I’d say, though not at chez Cringely. At our house we’ve just gone thin client, instead.

With five people in the house we’ve been making do with one desktop and three notebooks for family use (don’t mess with Daddy’s PCs). You’d think with the number of iPod Touches and Roku boxes we have as well that there would hardly ever be a squabble over computers but that’s not the case.

My decision to go thin client was not based on cost savings.  It was the most versatile way for me to create a standardized desktop computing experience. By repurposing as servers three computers I already had I was able to add five workstations (one for each person — even me) that can run any mix of Linux, Mac, and Windows applications.

Each workstation has a 23-inch Hannspree 1920-by-1080 LCD display ($139 at Tiger Direct) with a Chip PC LXP2310 thin client ($166 from NewEgg) literally Velcro’d to the back of the display. Add an extra-short DVI cable and generic PC keyboard and mouse and each seat runs around $350. But given that I can beat that by $52 tomorrow at WalMart for an HP desktop with an 18.5-inch LCD display, why go thin client at all?

There are several good reasons but the most obvious ones are ages 9, 7, and 5.

Little boys break things, spill things, and leave things out in the rain. The advantage of a desktop computer is you know where it is and have a much better shot at controlling access. They can’t put coins or toys inside a thin client. If they spill on the keyboard it’s a $19 replacement.  And with total parity in screen size and power (nobody ever wanted to use the netbook, for example) there’s no more squabbling.

Every application I own is available at every desk so my kids can learn to make fake ID’s with PhotoShop without putting at risk any family pictures. Every user is backed-up hourly and all storage is mirrored both on- and off-site.

Having set up three workstations for the kids I quickly added two more because I wanted to share their screen size versatility and speed.  Yes, speed.

I went a little overboard when it came to the Mac server, upgrading my 2011 Mac Mini Server to eight gigs of 1033MHz DDR3 RAM and a pair of RAID0 128-gig Solid State Drives with an external 1TB LaCie Thunderbolt drive. My original thought was that I’d use the Mini as my workstation while also running the kids in background using the Aqua Connect OS X terminal server, but Aqua Connect messed with the DisplayPort so I had to use the box as a pure server. And now I’m glad I did because it is, if anything, faster while still supporting all the external interfaces like audio, webcams, etc. that I need.

Best of all, computing at our house is now silent.  And for that I am truly thankful.