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Software Switches One Computer Into Many

June 16, 2008
by Henry S. Kenyon

A Canadian company is offering two free software packages that allow a single computer to support two workstations. Besides supporting multiple computers, the software provides computers with a range of office applications.

The Userful Corporation is giving away the software as part of a promotional package, explains the firm’s marketing head, Sean Rousseau. He says that the firm has extended its offer, allowing people to sample the free product and then buy it for their businesses or organizations. “It is a full-fledged product. It’s not a beta,” he shares.

Userful is mainly targeting libraries and schools for its promotion. Rousseau notes that the company represents some 20,000 “seats” in schools and in many libraries in the United States and Canada. But he adds that the firm also supports government and military customers. For example, the Canadian military is currently using Userful desktop applications in Afghanistan to support Internet cafés for its troops deployed there. The software’s ease of use, its security and the ability to manage multiple workstations were key reasons for its selection by the Canadian military.

Much like other NATO forces deployed in Afghanistan, online communications with friends and family are important to maintaining morale. The Canadian military had been operating Internet cafés using individual personal computers, but personnel constantly had to upgrade and patch the system. Military officials, who could not be named for security reasons, indicated that the ability to manage multiple workstations from a single computer and the software’s authentication and secure logon-logoff procedures were key reasons they selected the application package. Other clients include businesses and public enterprises such as Internet cafés and hotels.

The Calgary, Alberta-based company offers two products, Userful Multiplier and Userful Desktop. Userful Multiplier allows any Linux-based computer to support up to 10 workstations. Userful Desktop is a full software package that provides more than 40 applications in more than 30 languages. The Desktop software is part of the free offer and includes a two-computer version of Multiplier. “We have the ability to turn one computer into 10 computers. We’re just giving away the two-user version,” Rousseau maintains.

Userful Desktop enables users to operate a range of features such as an operating system and office applications such as spreadsheets, word processing, graphics applications and databases. Rousseau notes that the software uses Open Office, and that it features more than 40 applications such as Firefox and Thunderbird. He adds that his firm leverages open-source software.

Rousseau maintains that the software allows secure, managed desktop use in public areas such as libraries and universities. It also features a Web-based application that permits users to completely configure all of the workstations on a computer network. He says this capability is similar to what a system administrator would do in a typical network but, he adds, the software is very simple to use. “We originally designed it for librarians and school teachers to administer,” he says.

Another feature is Userful Manager. This Web-based management portal allows users to customize all of their systems. It also is a secure desktop, offering lockdown and secure Web filtering capabilities such as remote monitoring and administration.

Rousseau maintains that Userful Desktop is very secure and that it is very difficult to hack into or to plant malware onto a public workstation running the software. The free software giveaways represent the latest, most updated version of Userful Desktop. He adds that the firm provides its customers with regular software updates. “When people buy our software, they buy all the updates, all the upgrades—all the support—everything,” he says.