Some friends of mine in Cambridge have gone public with a new nonprofit project called Ndiyo, which builds on the old AT&T free VNC project to radically increase the number of users per PC. The way it works is that you take a single high-powered PC and a whack of cheap little network boxes that have keyboards, mice and monitors connected to them, then use free software to share resources on the server across all the users. If you can only afford one sixth of the cost of a PC (a position that some billion-plus people around the world are it), you and five friends can club together to share a single machine for browsing, document authoring, email and the like.
The Nivo unit itself measures around 12 by eight by two centimetres. It has no moving parts, but it has ports for ethernet, power, keyboard, mouse and a monitor.
It comes with two megabytes of RAM. The next version currently under development will have a USB port, soundcard, local storage capacity, and will be even smaller.
"Essentially, it is about sending pixels over the net," explained Dr Wills.
"With modern ethernet connections, you can get enough performance by sending through compressed pixels."
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