Classmate PC Architect Ditches Intel For NComputing

Beckford, an 11-year employee of Intel who most recently spearheaded the Santa Clara, Calif.-based chip giant's "World Ahead" program that spawned the Classmate PC, was on Thursday named vice president of global business development at Redwood City, Calif.-based NComputing. He joins former One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) international affairs liaison Lindsay Petrillose at NComputing, as well as Will Poole, formerly a top marketing executive at Microsoft.

"Obviously, I wouldn't have left [Intel] if I didn't think that this was a better solution," Beckford told ChannelWeb, arguing that the Classmate PC and OLPC initiatives were not as capable of providing affordable computing to underserved markets as NComputing's thin-client model.

Intel and Nicholas Negroponte's OLPC team offer low-cost, bare-bones notebooks, while NComputing provides multiple desktop display stations powered by a single cheap PC running the company's desktop virtualization software. NComputing advertises its thin-client desktops as starting for as low as $70-per-seat, while Negroponte's famous effort to produce a $100 notebook has yet to be accomplished by the OLPC initiative.

"They are a bit apples-and-oranges," said Beckford, who also served as Intel's director of global channel marketing from 2000 to 2003. "The Classmate is all about one-on-one computing. But the challenge in developing nations is that people there are not necessarily ready to leapfrog into one-on-one computing.

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"At the end of the day, Intel wants to sell as many chips and PCs on people's desks as possible. That's great, that's their revenue model. But I believe there is more potential for the NComputing model."

While the company serves more than just the education market, NComputing solutions have been at the heart of winning bids in such major projects as supplying millions of students in the country of Macedonia and the Indian state of Andhra Pradesh with computer access.

Describing NComputing's X-Series and L-Series virtualized desktop products as a "disruptive technology" for supplying computing power to poorer countries at the lowest prices, Beckford said he believes the current economic crisis will accelerate the growth of the thin-client desktop model against the no-frills notebooks championed by Intel and OLPC.

He also cited the practical concerns he had with the Classmate initiative, saying it was too easy for thieves to steal individual notebooks. Beckford said security was a serious issue in the countries best served by cheap computing initiatives, describing one Intel reseller partner who bolted down computers in a South African school only to have burglars saw the legs off the desks and carry away the PCs.