EOMA68 Computing Devices

An Earth-friendly way to easily upgrade and fix your own computer

Jul 14, 2016

Project update 10 of 75

Questions and Debates

by Luke Kenneth Casson Leighton

I thought I’d share with you how amazed and delighted I am at some of the questions and debates that this project has raised. The Trisquel forums are full of excited people who very much "get it": many of them have been loyal customers for several years of Think Penguin because of the ease of use and reduced hassle their products inherently provide. A dozen people (so far) have posted the campaign page on reddit, and a few more have had discussions that are still ongoing ever since the campaign started.

The really interesting stuff however comes from outside of the "Libre" community. Here we have people asking hard questions, most notably along the lines of "why is this so expensive for what it is?," which has a comprehensive set of logical and rational answers all its own, partly answered in an earlier update about the extremely limited available processor choices. Many of these people will be comparing this ongoing-continuously-upgradeable, money-saving, eco-conscious, right-to-build, right-to-own, and right-to-repair design strategy to their existing boxed-product, obscolescence-by-design, economically-unrepairable, landfill-after-three-years, high-end desktop or laptop, and will never have seen the Novena. However the Novena is not a modular swappable eco-conscious product family designed to reduce the cost of ownership of people’s hardware, bring them hassle-free "Good Enough" computing and make them feel less afraid of their devices.

I sometimes ask people who are not familiar with computers, who use them for every day simple tasks as best they can, "Tell me honestly: are you afraid of your computer - that you might do something wrong and it won’t work any more, and it will cost you a lot of money to fix or replace?" and they look me straight in the eye and immediately respond, loudly and clearly, "Yes!," as if they’d never had an opportunity before in their lives to voice something that’s clearly been bothering them for a long, long time.

This is the year 2016. Computers have been mainstream now for over 20 years. What’s wrong with us that we would continue to tolerate being afraid every day of the technology that we critically rely on to keep in touch with friends and family and to do business?

More critically: why are manufacturers still making devices that cause people fear and frustration, and why are we, as end-users, still buying them? Why does there not exist any mass-volume hardware that is designed to ease some of the psychological difficulties - forget the technical difficulties as that’s just a symptom - that vast numbers of people have been experiencing every day for over two decades?

In some ways it does not help that the majority of people who are seeing this launch at the moment are heavily technical computer users. On both reddit and on Phoronix the discussion has been ongoing for ten days and, at 178 comments and climbing shows no sign of ending, and it is proving to be very challenging to explain to people that the primary targets are not the high-tech power users (yet), but are the makers, the open hardware enthusiasts, and the "Good Enough Computing" average end-users. /u/ronaldtrip’s questions allowed an opportunity for this to be explored in-depth, to the point where it went beyond reddit’s limit and had to be posted separately, here.

As the earlier STM32F update showed, this project is at its critical early phase where it is definitely not asking you, the technically-aware high-end power user, to give up what you’re used to and take a step back in terms of performance by almost eight years when compared to an x86 processor. What we’re offering is in effect an opportunity for you to make a difference in the world, to learn a bit more about computing in the process, and to provide an alternative choice for other people - including yourself - who are right now absolutely sick of the way things are but feel utterly trapped by what’s on offer. You’ve seen the success of the Phonebloks concept: you know that you’re not alone here.

One person on Xataka - comment #19 - basically said exactly that (in Spanish). He’s sick of the computing rat race and is happy to back this project simply for the fact that it provides an alternative - not just to the high-end desktop PC mass-volume market but also to the embedded computing market epitomised by the Beaglebone series. Yes, embedded computers have a limited lifetime (even more so than high-end x86 computers) and end up in landfill, too.

That’s what crowdfunding is truly for: to allow people to back an idea, not for them to place orders for ready-made boxed products. We have enough of those.

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