True costs (and false reporting?)
Still, the economic incentives are compelling. Schools already get substantial discounts from software vendors, especially Microsoft. For instance, Pace said an academic copy of Windows costs just US$49 for his district, while leasing Microsoft Office costs just US$16 per year.
Prices are even lower in developing nations, where schools may qualify for Microsoft's US$3 software bundle, which includes Windows XP and Microsoft Office 2007.
But those costs can be reduced even more if schools choose to buy only a single software license per PC, rather than one for every student workstation as most software licenses technically require. Dukker said that NComputing is aware of the issue, but isn't in a position to enforce other vendors' licensing agreements.
"It's not our bailiwick, though we assume our partners are doing this right," he said.
Of course, the cost of software can be eliminated through the use of Linux and open-source applications, which about 40 percent of NComputing's customers -- including most of its nonschool users -- are using, Dukker said.
The rest of NComputing's users are on Windows, which can be even run on Mac hardware through virtualization software such as Bootcamp or Parallels, Dukker said, though that is not popular.
NComputing is also "green." Dukker claims that schools using the 30-user L200 device can make back the purchase price within one year on electricity savings alone.
The flipside is that schools used to holding onto their old PCs may need to upgrade to support NComputing, Dukker said, who recommends PCs no more than 2 to 3 years old.
And while schools can cut down on the number of PCs they use, they still need a keyboard, monitor and computer mouse for each student. That's not a big deal, said Visalia's Smith, citing the vast quantity of unused monitors and peripherals it can recycle.
Beyond targeting schools, Dukker's goal is to start licensing NComputing's chip to be built into devices such as flat-screen monitors and cell phones.
As he sees it, PCs are only going to keep getting more powerful. Enabling other devices to cheaply and conveniently tap into that unused reservoir of processing power only makes sense. And it could allow hardware makers that license NComputing's technology to differentiate their products sufficiently to charge more and maintain their profits.
"We can help re-establish profitability to the ecosystem," he said.