Please note - Ndiyo has now officially closed its doors, at least as a legal entity - but we've kept the site alive in case any of the information is useful to others.
Our thanks to all those who helped out and were involved in so many different ways! The Ndiyo legacy lives on in the ultra-thin-client work at its spin-off DisplayLink, at Plugable, at NoPC and elsewhere...
Frequently Asked Questions
What are you selling?
Basically, we're selling a meme -- a powerful, contagious idea. This idea is that networked computing doesn't have to be done the way we do it at the moment. And that there are good reasons -- technical, social, environmental, economic -- for doing it differently. In concrete terms, we believe that ultra-thin client computing and Open Source software can deliver affordable and robust networked computer workstations, of benefit throughout the world but particularly in developing countries. See also our Project Intro.
What is an Ndiyo system?
When we refer to an Ndiyo system, we are talking about a server PC, running Open Source software, driving a cluster of ultra-thin-client workstations. We developed a particular solution, using the Ubuntu Linux operating system and the Nivo hardware that we have created with our partner DisplayLink, that provided a solution that was cheaper than any existing way of providing networked computer workstations, while providing good performance and high usability for typical office or communications use. See also our page on the Ndiyo system.
Is the Ndiyo project tied to a particular vendor?
No. Ndiyo is a non-profit project, fundamentally independent of any commercial interests. But we felt that existing thin-client hardware didn't live up to our vision and we were conscious that nobody would take our idea of ultra-thin-client computing seriously unless we could demonstrate that that it really works, technically and economically. So we decided to create a company to design and build kit that would enable our vision of an architecture that is spare, elegant and economical. At present we believe that the Nivo technology that emerged from our collaboration with DisplayLink had the best price/performance ratio, but we are also evaluating hardware from other sources. We're pretty demanding, though - it must be both very high performance and very low cost.
How is Ndiyo funded in the meantime?
The project has been funded in the past by philanthropic donations from a number of people who have personally benefited from their inventions and investments in technology. We welcome offers of financial and other support. If you are interested in helping, please get in touch.
Where is Ndiyo located?
In Cambridge, UK, though we have had active supporters and participants in a number of other countries, including the US, South Africa and Ireland.
Isn't the thin-client idea old hat?
It's a very old idea, for the simple reason that it makes sense. It's had a bad press because earlier attempts to create working thin-client networks were over-hyped and tended to give disappointing performance. Fundamentally, we believe that to achieve our vision of a truly affordable thin-client terminal we had to design a piece of hardware using a completely different design philosophy.
The nivo client that has emerged from our collaboration with DisplayLink had a very different design philosophy to existing thin-client hardware. Whereas most designers started with a PC and then looked for components they could take out, we started with a bare monitor and asked what we would need to add to create a working thin-client terminal. The Nivo was a specialised electronic unit carefully optimised to the task of pulling pixels over a network!
Who else is doing thin clients nowadays?
Lots of people, including big players like Sun Microsystems, HP, Wyse and IBM. These companies are producing thin-client solutions because the technology appeals to large organisations who find that the burden of administering, supporting and upgrading systems with thousands of networked PC is becoming prohibitive. But we were interested in much smaller organisations -- companies employing less than 50 people, schools, universities, Internet cafes and households -- which need networked systems but lack the IT skills and budgets needed to deploy conventional technology.
What happens if my Ndiyo server isn't powerful to support all its clients?
Two options: (a) buy a more powerful machine; or (b) put another PC alongside it to form a Linux cluster. The point is that, unlike conventional PC-based networks, if the system becomes too slow you don't have to replace every thin client.
Are you trying to replace the PC?
No. What we are seeking to replace is the wasteful and cumbersome networking architecture based on linking together one PC per person. A better way of looking at an Ndiyo system is as a 'PC multiplier'. With the right operating system, most modern PCs are powerful enough to support five or ten users. With the Ndiyo approach, almost any PC can serve several users -- and provide them with the same level of service they get from a standalone machine.
Will your system work with Windows?
Yes, technically there's no problem. But from the point of view of the Ndiyo project, running Windows on our systems militates against our desire to be free of proprietary software, and also increases the costs dramatically because of the licence fees involved. Each client, for example, needs a Windows licence, the server software is licensed on a per-seat basis, and multiple licences for Microsoft applications software dramatically push up the cost -- and reduce the scalability -- of a thin-client system.
The majority of the world's Windows users, of course, are running pirate copies for which they have not paid, and this does help reduce costs! But we don't feel it's a good model to be promoting for the world when legal, and in many ways superior, alternatives exist.
Why not just use reconditioned or discarded PCs as thin clients?
This is an approach extensively used in developing countries at present as industrialised countries unload their obsolete PCs. But our discussions with government and NGOs tell us that using refurbished PCs involves a lot of maintenance, support and general hassle. A typical PC also uses about 20 times as much electricity as a Nivo, which can be a significant cost that is often forgotten.
What kinds of applications did you envisage for Ndiyo technology?
We started off with ideas for three kinds of packaged networked systems:
- A 'classroom in a box'
- An 'Internet cafe in a box'
- An 'office in a box'
These were intended to demonstrate how compact an Ndiyo network can be -- you could fit an entire five-screen office system in a large cardboard box about the size of those in which large plasma TVs are delivered. Our friends in the NGO world have suggested another application -- a 'Humanitarian Information System' (HIC) in a box. HICs are what NGOs and disaster relief organisations set up on location. They are used, for example, as a way of building databases of missing or displaced persons so that families can be reunited. Setting up an HIC with conventional PC-based networking in disaster zones is logistically and practically difficult. Our more compact systems may well prove useful in such settings.
Does an Ndiyo system have to have flat panel displays for the clients?
Absolutely not. If a device can display pixels and has a VGA cable, it can function as an Ndiyo client. That means, for example, that you can build an Ndiyo network using CRTs that companies are throwing out.
Can the nivo ultra-thin client be powered using Power over Ethernet?
We could power it that way, certainly, but since there needs to be a mains power supply for the monitor anyway, we don't think there's sufficient benefit to warrant the substantial extra cost.
Is the Ndiyo hardware generally available? How can I get an Ndiyo system?
Our current system uses remote-display technology developed by DisplayLink, a company which grew out of Ndiyo. The prototype Nivo device based on the technology was manufactured and sold by Camvine, another Ndiyo spin-out.
Please see the Availability page for more info.