Ex-Microsoft VP Will Poole Looks to Take a Few Good Companies Global

2/11/09Follow @gthuang

If you’re interested in creating technologies for developing countries, or involved with a Web-based software startup in the Northwest, you definitely want to know Will Poole. OK, that covers a lot of people, but it’s not an overstatement.

Poole is one of the most prominent ex-Microsofties to leave the company in the past year. Until last September, he was vice president of Microsoft’s Unlimited Potential Group (one of the better division names, in my opinion), and was in charge of providing software to markets in less-developed nations around the world. Before that, he was responsible for the Windows desktop operating system, so he knows a few things about shipping large-scale products. He first came to Microsoft in 1996 through its acquisition of eShop, a company he co-founded in 1991. Some of his post-Microsoft insights can be found on his “creative capitalism” website here.

I recently spoke with Poole to find out what he’s up to. I got the sense that his new role as a dedicated social technologist and investor is yielding a slew of projects we’re going to be hearing about soon. He also had some provocative thoughts on the challenges faced by organizations like the One Laptop Per Child Foundation—and anyone selling technology globally.

“Most people advised me to take a whole year off, but that’s not in my nature,” Poole says. “My overall goal is to contribute to the formation and growth of companies that can, by virtue of their successful and [large] scale operation, deliver good financial results to investors and shareholders, and also deliver on social and economic development.” That could mean improving education, nurturing an ecosystem of collaborative software developers, solving problems of how technology can assist healthcare, and so forth.

It sounds like he’s in a better place to do that now. “The thing I’m enjoying now is operating across a broader range of organizations that have a greater range of ways of doing things,” says Poole. “Microsoft does [software as a service] that goes out over global distribution channels. That’s only part of the story. What I get to do now is work more closely with nonprofits, thought leaders in academia,” and other groups, he says.

His most public new role is as co-chairman of Redwood City, CA-based NComputing, which provides personal-computing technologies to schools and businesses in developing markets. “I saw they had a disruptive technology,” Poole says. “It delivered a computing experience at a dramatically lower cost—at initial purchase and in ongoing management and energy consumption. It really changed the game.”

Poole says NComputing is having a “profound effect on markets that were previously unable to use computer infrastructure because of cost.” His role is to help the company build its business from a strategic perspective, using his knowledge and contacts from around the world. “The exciting thing about NComputing is they’re already at scale,” he says. “It’s cheaper to fill up a school [with these PCs] than any other choice out there.” Poole says NComputing has about 150 employees in 14 countries, and they’re currently selling into 90 countries.

The most important lesson from his time at Microsoft and NComputing? … Next Page »

Gregory T. Huang is Xconomy's Deputy Editor, National IT Editor, and the Editor of Xconomy Boston. You can e-mail him at gthuang@xconomy.com. Follow @gthuang

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  • http://olpc.tv Charbax

    Ncomputing just makes cheaper netcafés.

    Students need their own laptops to take home.

    Otherwise you aren’t changing and improving education, ncomputing is simply teaching students how to use computers, while OLPC uses computers to teach students about everything.

    ncomputing requires lots of power consuming LCD screens and host computers.

    OLPC puts the thin client in a cheap laptop and make 1000 of them work using the cloud as the processor and for storage.

  • Farah R

    Charbax,

    OLPC is not usable or available in India. I met a man in Bangalore who went to a tradeshow in north India and hooked up with ncomputing and within days got computing going at his school for “poor kids” with totally no headache.

    OLPC sounds good as a concept. There is no real meaningful delivery especially when the creator has totally abandoned his original vision and Mary Lou and Walter abandoned the great visionary.

  • Cabby

    OLPC and other similar technology’s that were rolled out in Africa failed becuase of theft and poor technical support. It ended up costing more to repair and replace these technologies. From what I hear, NComputing is fixing up what others have failed to do.

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