Sharing a computer doesn't have to mean sharing a computer.
Microsoft is working on a new product, due out next year, that will let multiple students work independently and simultaneously off a single PC.
Although each student will have their own mouse, keyboard and screen--and be able to work on their own application--the computation will be done by a single PC running a new version of Microsoft's Windows Server operating system. The new product is being dubbed Windows Multipoint Server 2010.
"Over the past few years, we at Microsoft have been exploring the area of shared resource computing--a new computing category that allows a customer to tap into a computer's excess capability to let a single computer support multiple users simultaneously," Multipoint Server General Manager Ira Snyder said in a blog posting. "In the world of education, shared resource computing has great potential to extend the reach and utilization of affordable computing for students."
The approach is similar to one taken by NComputing, a start-up run by former e-Machines CEO Stephen Dukker. Will Poole, the former Windows executive who also led Microsoft's emerging markets efforts for a time, . NComputing sells Windows and Linux-based systems to both schools and businesses.
Multipoint Server can handle up to 10 different set-ups, each with their own keyboard, mouse, and monitor. The product is based on the latest server OS--Windows Server 2008 R2. Systems running the new software will be built by computer makers, who will then offer them to schools in the U.S. and across the globe.
The product shares a name--but is separate--from an existingthat allows students to each have their own mouse and work off a single display. (Note that the story I link to has Poole--then at Microsoft--talking about the MultiPoint mouse.)
Microsoft hasn't said what it will charge for the product, but on the software side, Multipoint-based systems require a license for the server and then a client access license for each set-up that is connected to it.
For now, Microsoft says it's aiming the product only at the education market.
Update: I asked NComputing for comment and expect to have something later Thursday. In the mean time, I asked Microsoft for its thoughts on what this means for NComputing. Here's what I got back:
Microsoft does not wish to comment on its relationship with NComputing at this time. Through the implementation of Windows MultiPoint Server 2010 and other shared resource computing solutions, we believe that education scenarios including school labs, classrooms and libraries can greatly benefit by potentially reducing total cost of ownership and providing more users with access to computing. We believe that with Windows MultiPoint Server 2010, we can deliver great value with a platform that provides a stable and well-supported Windows experience for a shared environment.
There are many companies, like NComputing, who also offer shared resource computing solutions. Windows MultiPoint Server 2010 is a product that will be available to all OEMs, and we encourage third party providers in the shared resource computing space to participate with this product.
Update 2, 4:15 p.m. PT: In a telephone interview, Poole indicated that NComputing was likely to be among the companies selling products based on MultiPoint server.
"We knew it was coming," Poole said. "We obviously have close relationships with Microsoft. We have not announced any products here yet but you should assume that we would."
The availability of the software option from Microsoft could bring more competition, Poole acknowledged, but said there is enough demand for shared computing to support additional players in the market.
"It certainly could create additional competition coming in and we feel fine about that," Poole said.
About three-quarters of NComputing's sales are in the academic market, with the remainder coming from the business space, Poole said. Just this week, NComputing announced a large deal with India's Employee State Insurance Corporation. There NComputing, along with Wipro, will be setting up 31,000 virtual desktops throughout the country.
The "vast majority" of NComputing's sales are of Windows-based systems, Poole said, although NComputing also offers Linux-based options.