Ncomputing: Sharing the power of a single computer

Do you remember Digital Research's Concurrent CP/M and Concurrent DOS? In this little walk down memory lane, how about MP/M?
Written by Dan Kusnetzky, Contributor

Do you remember Digital Research's Concurrent CP/M and Concurrent DOS? In this little walk down memory lane, how about MP/M? Ncomputing is walking down the same historical path. The goal of all of these operating systems was to take currently available off-the-shelf software designed for the single user operating systems CP/M and both MS- and PC-DOS and allow multiple users to share the power of a single computer - a personal computer-based minicomputer! Is this a concept whose time has come and gone?

Later this trick was made to work with Windows XP, Windows NT and a few other Windows operating systems. At that point, the trick was using Microsoft's on remote terminal support and some tricky back-end programming to make these single user operating systems into multiuser platforms. This, by the way, is a form of operating system virtualization and partitioning.

I must, for completeness, point out that UNIX and Linux easily supported this approach using the X-Windows system.

Microsoft, by the way, appears not to have liked this little trick because they wanted to sell everyone a more expensive multiuser product and they wanted to charge each and every person the full retail price for a copy of personal productivity software. So, they changed the licensing terms on their software products to preclude this use unless the organization purchased a separate license for each user of this environment even if they were all running on a single machine. Imagine having to purchase 10 copies of Microsoft Office for a single PC when 10 people used the system.

While Ncomputing's technology is new, the concept certainly isn't. When I asked a company representative about Microsoft licensing issue, I received the following answer.

Yes, application software for the host PC and access terminals may be required by the respective software vendor and must be purchased separately.

Microsoft advises using a Windows Server 2003 or 2008 license for the host computer plus a Client Access License (CAL) and Terminal Services Client Access License (TSCAL) for each access device or user. For details please refer to Microsoft's website: http://support.microsoft.com/kb/823313 and http://www.microsoft.com/licensing/resources/volbrief.mspx (Click on the licensing brief titled: "Licensing Windows Client Operating System in Multiuser Scenarios.

However, it is important to note, that for schools and other education clients (which make up a good amount of NComputing's business), the prices are extremely reasonable: less than $100 for the Windows Server license, and about $20 per workstation.

Does that answer your question?

IT management remembers the simplicity and cost structure of sharing a single computer for "interactive computing" offered by companies such as DEC, DG, Pr1me, Wang and a few others. They look at the complex mess that the organization faces now when every staff member has one or more PCs and an amazing collection of software licenses are needed. They notice the fact that each software product, including the operating system itself, is on a separate update cycle and know that each update forces installation, testing, training and support issues into their world. They want the flexibility of today's world with the simplicity of the old world.

Many suppliers offering access virtualization software, such as Citrix and Microsoft, or suppliers of thin-client hardware, such as HP, Pano Logic or Wyse, or suppliers of PC blades, such as ClearCube or HP, are addressing the very same issue in a different way.

Which approach would be the best depends, of course, on what the requirements are in each organization. While Ncomputing might have the answer for some, I suspect that the others offering solutions will be a better fit in other cases.

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