Microsoft Architecture Update newsletter: Just what are 'Smart Clients' and why are they so smart? The term Smart Client was coined to highlight the differences between the typical 'Rich Client' applications of yesteryear and the next generation of client applications. To understand these differences, and to understand how they are likely to change the face of client-side computing, it is useful to take a trip down memory lane... "
If a client application displays these characteristics, then it can be said to be smart:
Utilizes Local Resources
A smart client application always has code artifacts on the client that enable local resources to be utilized. What do we mean by local resources? We mean everything from hardware to software resources. A smart client may take advantage of the local CPU or GPU, local memory or disk, or any local devices connected to the client, such as a telephone, bar-code/RFID reader, and so on. But it may also take advantage of local software, such as Microsoft Office applications, or any installed line-of-business (LOB) applications that interact with it.
Smart client applications are never standalone and always form part of a larger distributed solution. This could mean that the application interacts with a number of Web services that provide access to data or an LOB application. Very often, the application has access to specific services that help maintain the application and provide deployment and update services.
Because they are running on the local machine, one of the key benefits that smart client applications offer is that they can be made to work even when the user is not connected. For applications running in occasional or intermittent connectivity situations, such as those used by traveling workers or even those running on laptops, tablets, PDA's, and so on, where connectivity cannot be guaranteed at all times, being able to work while disconnected is essential. Even when the client is connected, the smart client application can improve performance and usability by caching data and managing the connection in an intelligent way.
Intelligent Install and Update
Smart client applications manage their deployment and update in a much more intelligent way than traditional rich client applications. The .NET framework enables application artifacts to be deployed using a variety of techniques, including simple file copy or download over HTTP. Applications can be updated while running and can be deployed on demand by clicking on a URL. The Microsoft(r) .NET Framework provides a powerful security mechanism that guarantees the integrity of the application and its related assemblies. Assemblies can be given limited permissions in order to restrict their functionality in semi-trusted scenarios.
Client Device Flexibility
The .NET Framework together with the .NET Compact Framework provides a common platform upon which smart client applications can be built. Often, there will be multiple versions of the smart client application, each targeting a specific device type and taking advantage of the devices unique features and providing functionality appropriate to its usage."
Also see the Venn diagram in the full article.