Stephen Dukker: Breaking down barriers to computer access

If not for his faith in a drastic redistribution of computer access, NComputing CEO and chairman Stephen Dukker might still be flying sick patients from the remote countryside to medical care.

In the late 1990s, Dukker said, he founded eMachines with the aim of reducing the cost of computers so more people could gain access and expand the market. The company engineered a $400 computer, Dukker said, and eMachines was credited with adding 25 million users to the computing market.

“When eMachines was sold [to Gateway] and I retired, the last thing I wanted to do was get back into the computer industry,” Dukker said. “Unless what I could do was really outstanding in terms of getting people into the market.”

In his idle time, Dukker had begun flying airplanes. He joined a group called AngelFlight, contracting to deliver people too sick to take the train or drive for treatment and medical attention in San Francisco or other major cities.

But then Dukker’s friend and former partner at eMachines, Young Song, called him and told him he had been talking with German innovator Klaus Meier. Meier had come up with a technology which allowed any computer to be shared and used simultaneously by multiple people.

“I told him, ‘Call me back when it works,’” Dukker said. “I told him you could potentially change the world. But I also warned him that this was very hard to do.”

Song did call back. Eventually, Dukker joined him and Meier in developing NComputing, which sold more than $1 billion in its first year. The Wall Street Journal awarded the Redwood City company its 2007 Technology Innovation Award.

NComputing’s breakthrough is a device, a small box with no moving parts, connecting a computer to a terminal that replicates the computing environment. In theory, dozens of users hooked up to similar boxes could share one or a few computer processors, greatly reducing the machine cost for each user.

Recently, NComputing sold 6,000 units, which are manufactured for about $10 each but sold to end users for about $60 to $70 apiece, to a school district in Texas. The company also won a bid to make Macedonia the first country in the world whose schools offer as many computing stations as students.

Dukker said he sees the greatest potential in spreading computingaccess to the remote third world.

On the NComputing web site, Dukker is quoted as saying he won’t retire until everyone who wants a computer can have one. When asked, he insisted he expects that to happen in his lifetime.

“NComputing is a first in a new generation of technology companies that are actually removing the last barriers to access to computing,” Dukker said. “I see within the next 10-15 years opening access to the next billion users.”

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