After the $100 laptop, the $50 desktop?

May 1st, 2012

It’s almost exactly 10 years since we started the Ndiyo project, with the aim of providing computing access to people for something “closer to the cost of a VGA lead than the cost of a computer”. Ndiyo has now formally closed, but it led to many other activities, including the founding of DisplayLink, and successful past projects in collaboration with the GSM Association, No-PC, and others.

Today, there’s some more good news.

Towards the end of Ndiyo’s life we started to experiment with a model we called ‘Hubster‘ – the name coming from using a USB hub as the core of a thin-client terminal, something made possible once DisplayLink’s evolution of the Ndiyo technology allowed monitors, as well as keyboards and mice, to be connected over USB. The idea is to share the power, cost, and the carbon footprint of a PC between two or more users at once, simply by plugging in enough USB peripherals to give the extra users access to it. This is important for everybody, but especially for the poorer parts of the world where the cost of owning one PC per person is prohibitive.

Well, over the last few years, Bernie Thompson at Plugable.com in Seattle has been beavering quietly away to make this more of a reality, by providing DisplayLink-based terminals at reasonable prices and by maintaining the Open Source software to drive them. There are two bits of good news coming from his recent efforts:

  • First, he’s been working with RedHat to get support for USB terminals built in to the standard distribution of Fedora 17. We’re getting very close now to the ideal situation where you can turn any Linux box into a multi-user box simply by plugging in enough components for a new user, and a new login prompt will appear when you do so. Imagine, say, a disaster-relief information centre where one person with a laptop connected to a satellite link can easily provide access for half a dozen members of the team just by plugging them in. And it’s all Open Source. Zero extra software cost per user.
  • Secondly, in an attempt to get the cost of these terminals down and support ongoing development of the Open Source components, he’s launched a Kickstarter project called ‘The $50 Computer‘.

Some may, quite sensibly, ask how this compares to the RaspberryPi, which is, after all, even cheaper, and is a standalone machine. Well, this one comes with a box!

No, seriously, they are both excellent projects – I have a RaspberryPi on order, too – but they fill different roles. RaspberryPi, in the early years at least, will be about teaching people the basics of how computing works.
Bernie and the Plugable team are creating a system where providing fully-featured applications to multiple users at very low cost is something that a non-technical user can do simply by plugging in USB devices.

In some situations, perhaps in an internet cafe, you may just want to give extra users access to a Chrome browser. But with this system you also have the option of providing them with OpenOffice, with Scrivener, with Blender, with Corel Aftershot Pro, with Sublime Text, with Skype, with… well you get the idea! And, of course, with access to however many giga- or terabytes of storage you care to put in the PC.

I think the Kickstarter plan is a great one – I wish it had been around when we started Ndiyo.

Please support it if you can… Even if you don’t need more affordable computing devices, for your kids, your school, your internet cafe, your office, there are millions who do. Billions, in fact.

Every $10 we can shave off the cost of access to IT makes it accessible to many thousands of new people globally… and now you have a chance to help.

VNC2DL

May 25th, 2009

vnc2dl2Warning – for geeks only…

I’ve just posted an alpha version of VNC2DL on github.

This is a VNC viewer which uses the new Open Source library from DisplayLink to display a VNC session on a USB-connected display, rather than in a window.

Just in case it’s useful to anyone…

Sunshine after rain

October 9th, 2007

One of the many joys of working in the Ndiyo/Camvine shed is the view from the window, looking westward towards Grantchester. It rained for much of today, but the sun came out in the evening.

View from the Ndiyo shed

Click for different sizes

HDMI, DVI, DisplayPort are irrelevant

September 22nd, 2007

USB plugThat, at least, is the verdict of this post on The Inquirer.

The technology created by my pals over at DisplayLink is getting ever-increasing publicity, if the size of the Google Alerts landing in my inbox each morning are anything to go by! And this is all good stuff.

One of the things that inspired me, when we started DisplayLink, was a feeling that that this technology was inevitable. The speed of general-purpose data networks was increasing very much faster than the resolution of displays, or the capabiity of the human visual system, which is essentially a constant. At some point, we realised, there would be no need for dedicated video connections like DVI because general-purpose networks would be cheaper, more flexible, and fast enough. We started Ndiyo and DisplayLink because we worked out that with 100Mb/s ethernet and USB 2.0, they were already fast enough for almost everything.

With 1Gb/s ethernet and USB 3.0, they’ll be fast enough for pretty much anything. And the networking world won’t stop there.

This doesn’t mean that graphics cards will go away. Many people, especially games players, will still want them for performance reasons. But you won’t need them for electrical reasons – to drive a particular type of signal over a particular kind of connector. VGA and DVI will go the way of the Centronics printer port. So graphics cards, whether standalone or built in to the motherboard, will become optional.

One of the things that excites me most about this is the fact that almost any device with a processor will soon be able to display a user interface on a decent-sized screen, if you care to plug one in. If you’re frustrated by the limitations of the user interface on your answerphone, your photocopier, your home alarm system, you’ll be able to plug in a 15″ or 17″ LCD and get a more sophisticated version. It makes sense because the manufacturer of the device concerned won’t have to build in a graphics chip, a framebuffer, or a VGA connector.

I started playing with this kind of thing when I worked on the VNC project at ORL/AT&T. It’s great to see the DisplayLink guys making it a reality.

England’s Green and Pleasant Big Blue

September 6th, 2007

HursleyI was invited to give a talk on Ndiyo, CamVine and DisplayLink at IBM Hursley yesterday. It was a first for me – I hadn’t been there before – but it must be a nice spot to work.

Just outside a picturesque Hampshire village you turn off the road and go up a long drive through beautiful grounds to the campus. It’s centred around a magnificent 18th-century house, and though this is rather dwarfed now by the extensive modern buildings which are home to the nearly three thousand IBM employees there, it must be very pleasant to stroll through the gardens at lunchtime. And I doubt many other technology campuses have their own cricket pitch.

It was also the first time I’ve given a technology talk in a former ballroom! I met some great people and had good discussions. But we stopped short of dancing.

Getting too absorbed in my work?

August 16th, 2007

One of the pictures that didn’t get used in the recent Guardian article:

Quentin Stafford-Fraser

Many thanks to John Robertson, who owns the copyright, for permission to post it.

Ndiyo in the Guardian

August 2nd, 2007

There’s an article about Ndiyo in the Technology section of today’s Guardian.

It’s not bad – a few mistakes, but no more than the typical column. My main concern is that it sounds as if I did everything singlehandedly! Apologies to everybody else!

Update: Some have asked about the fact that I recently mentioned a photographer coming round, and then all that appeared in the article was a picture of coffee beans. This would have been entirely justified on aesthetic grounds, but in fact they did use a picture of me in the paper edition.

Ndiyo and the 940UX

July 16th, 2007

Michael and I got a couple of new toys for the Ndiyo office. We took them out of the box and plugged them in, ran some of our experimental software, and they just worked.

So we decided to point a camcorder at them and make a little movie

We’re biased, of course, but we think this is quite cool.

Ndiyo, DisplayLink and CamVine at GOVIS 2007

June 6th, 2007

Last month I was invited to give a talk about our work at the GOVIS conference in New Zealand.

The video of the full talk is now available in various formats from the Ndiyo site, in case you’re interested!

Ah, well, I might as well embed it here too… such is the magic of the web…

You saw it on the CamVine

June 5th, 2007

It’s an exciting time at Cambridge Visual Networks because we’re just starting to get orders from real customers.

CamVine

CamVine, as we often abbreviate it, is a new company which we’ve set up to develop some of the ideas generated around Ndiyo. We’ve been working on it since the start of the year, but it’s only been officially incorporated for about a month, so it’s very encouraging to get sales, however modest, this early on…

Watch this space…!

eTel 2007

February 21st, 2007

I’ll be in San Francisco next week giving a talk about Ndiyo at the O’Reilly eTel Conference. Should be fun. I greatly enjoyed eTel last year…

Bonsai People

December 14th, 2006

There was some good stuff in Mohammad Yunus’s Nobel Lecture. I’ve posted a short extract on the Ndiyo Blog.