Multiplication* beats division+

Here’s an intriguing development in the ongoing process of trying to connect residents of deep-poverty nations with the resources of the Internet and, thus, the world economy: a computing device and software that enables up to 30 people to use a PC at one time, as if each person had a computer of his/her own. While this may sound like the sort of triumph only a gearhead could appreciate, what it really means is computer access costing less than $70 per person–all the world’s knowledge in a form approaching the affordability level of bednets and clean water.

The Nonprofiteer is rarely enthusiastic about e-this or cyber-that; but making information commonly available to people who have been deprived of it is an unalloyed Good Thing, and even she’s not churlish enough to withhold her thanks and praise from people who’ve figured out how to accomplish it while making a profit at the same time. Excerpts from the company’s press release appear below.

REDWOOD CITY, CALIF., July 15, 2008– NComputing, the leading provider of desktop virtualization software and hardware, today announced it is working with leading non-governmental organizations (NGOs) worldwide to help reduce the digital divide between developed and developing countries. The company has already deployed successful partnerships with such leading NGOs as U.S.-based Save the Children, France-based Ateliers Sans Frontieres (ASF), Bangladesh-based BRAC, Latin America-based Organization for American States (OAS), UNESCO, and India-based Azim Premji Foundation to name just a few. NComputing further announced special discounts and programs to help NGOs on every continent reach their goals for digital inclusion in emerging markets.

[snip]

The NComputing solution is based on a simple fact: today’s PCs are so powerful that the vast majority of applications only use a small fraction of the computer’s capacity. NComputing’s virtualization software and hardware tap this unused capacity so that it can be simultaneously shared by multiple users. Each user’s monitor, keyboard, and mouse connect to the shared PC through a small and very durable NComputing access device. The access device itself has no CPU, memory or moving parts so it is rugged, durable, and easy to deploy and maintain – especially critical in developing nations. The NComputing software and hardware costs as little as $70 per seat. With NComputing, people and organizations around the world are maximizing their investments in PCs.

[snip]

No other attempts at bridging the digital divide have been as successful. Low-priced laptop solutions, such as the $188 OLPC XO, carry very high hidden costs—like maintenance and support—that far outweigh their benefits.

[snip]

[S]aid Medhy Davary, director of DSF[,] “The virtual desktops are extremely affordable and durable, require very little maintenance, and use only one watt of electricity. This allows users in even the world’s poorest countries to benefit from computer access and the Internet.”

“Almost one billion users around the world who would benefit from access to computing have been unable to afford it—until now,” said Stephen Dukker, chairman and CEO of NComputing. “It is only by fundamentally changing the economics of computing that our industry can bridge the digital divide. We are going to deploy more than a million virtual desktops in the coming year and are honored to work with such prestigious NGOs to improve the daily lives of hundreds of thousands of people around the world.”

“In response to increasing interest from NGOs, NComputing is developing programs to help them better leverage their skills and funds,” said Ms. Lindsay Petrillose, Government Liaison for NComputing. “We offer seed units and special NGO discounts that multiply the impact of an NGO’s limited funds.” Interested NGOs and governmental institutions seeking NGO assistance can contact Ms. Petrillose at lpetrillose@ncomputing.com, (650) 454-4991.

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*of computer access

+as in “the digital divide”

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One Response to “Multiplication* beats division+”

  1. Vanessa Says:

    I have to agree with you on not simply advocating the development of technology for its own sake. I do think that there are several opportunities that could be useful for these virtual desktops in concrete ways. The growing library of Creative Commons items and other free educational materials would be more accessible, making the availability of textbooks less necessary. This would be a great tool in building health systems within countries that have little to no solid infrastructure, enabling information sharing for disease surveillance and sharing medical expertise across discipline. It will be interesting to see how they apply this technology.

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