Simple PCs for the World's Poor--and Me

NComputing sells cheap gear to students around the globe but not yet to U.S. consumers.

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We run multiple PCs at home, and it's a drag. They're expensive, and even worse is the time spent keeping each machine working. Something like the start-up NComputing might have the answer.

NComputing links multiple users to one computer. It's what techies call "thin computing" or the Network PC. Few have tried it outside big business. But NComputing has sold 500,000 units of its new, simpler gear around the world. Most have gone to schools in poor nations, but U.S. schools have bought a sizable number.

The approach competes with simple laptops being designed for underprivileged students. Instead of putting notebooks into hands, NComputing is putting PCs on desktops. NComputing has just announced a big sale to the school system in Macedonia, which rejected the laptop approach. Macedonian officials say NComputing more cheaply gives all students access to their own computer.

Or at least what appears to be their own computer. Each student gets a keyboard, mouse, and monitor. But seven typically share one computer. Splitting the excessive power in a standard PC leaves everyone with enough oomph, says NComputing CEO Stephen Dukker: "It's plenty, unless you're an extreme gamer or video editor."

Dukker is best known for founding eMachines, which popularized cheap desktops with a $400 version. His new venture is an admirable effort—helping the world's poor while making a profit.

But what about poor me? NComputing's approach could cut the cost of each new virtual PC to about $200, maybe even half that. And if it works as advertised, it could greatly cut the hassles. But Dukker isn't ready to sell NComputing to consumers just yet. Maybe by the end of next year, he says.