Reddit Really Good Questions

On reddit /u/ronaldtrip just asked some extremely good questions, which turned out to have answers beyond the 10,000 character limit arbitrarily set by reddit. Instead, they're linked here. Really grateful for the opportunity to talk about this stuff, ronald.

So you are targetting the average human being, who needs reliable computing, without being gauged every two years to support the latest Windows version du jour with new hardware and new ways to spy.

yep. and makers and hardware engineers who get screwed by GPL violations who see the low-cost tablets, want to use them for a 1k production run by taking out the PCB and re-using it, but when it comes to software they can't re-program the SoC. by the time they've got a stack of $35 tablets a metre high they give up. no this is not a hypothetical scenario. i have TWO engineers who independently tried to buy low-cost tablets from china, so that they could save $20k NREs in development... they couldn't do it, thanks to illegal copyright violations.

and... many many more scenarios.

Can I ask you a hard-hitting question? How are you going to get through to your target group?

one step at a time. i have access to a mass-volume manufacturer but i only have one chance to make a presentation to them, so i am in need of making absolutely sure that the designs work 100% before talking to them. long story, but it has to remain confidential: we're not quite at that stage yet.

I'm genuinely interested in your battle plan, because that has to be a formidable one. We are talking about the user group here which throws out perfectly serviceable hardware, because Windows got slow.

oo, free hardware for linux users! :)

The group who keeps on using and buying Windows, despite hating it and the problems it causes. Who are (willfully?) oblivious about alternatives,

.... but even in the linux world it's much the same problem - just on a different timescale. hardware goes wrong or doesn't compile stuff in a reasonable time any more? whoops, chuck it in landfill - all of it.

To be brutally honest, I know what is at stake. I know the insidious dangers of unauditable blobs.

and the sheer bloody inconvenience. that's what i didn't really "Get" until i was contacted by Chris from Thinkpenguin. he was the one that explained to me that "Libre" actually means "hardware that just works", which in business terms means "loyal repeat customers". as a result he actually supplies a percentage of the world's WIFI adapters. like... he's over one percent and there's only three people in the whole company!

I can understand the design trade-offs in the EOMA68 standard. I like the fully libre aspects of this initiave on a conceptual level. I know the Allwinner A20 is comparable to the RPI2 BCM2836 speedwise

grrr :) grumblegrumblecomparisontoacompanythatbootsfromaproprietarygpu grrrr :)

(which is not wholly unworkable). If need be, I could do my light tasks on a system like that.

... and rdesktop / ssh in to beefier systems online, just like that guy who went off-grid... in his flat in san fransisco. i wish i could remember some of the keywords to find you the story, it's pretty hilarious. he eats out 2-3 times a week with friends, he doesn't have a kitchen (he has these algae protein drinks instead), he charges up a 12v battery array with solar and uses it to power a DLP project (for films) and a NUC and a decent, large 12V-operated LCD monitor. he said he was asked to provide a utility bill after he shut off the electricity, to get some government ID or something, and he had a bit of a "moment" until he remembered that he still has a water bill... :)

Yet, I'm not getting worked up about this libre system. Why is that?

i honestly couldn't tell you :) i.e. it's an open question with a lot of possible interpretations.

one interpretation: nobody's ever had such upgradeable systems (never mind that i put two OSes on it, one fully libre, one free but not libre). we don't know what people will truly think of them over the years when they find that they are saving money and their lives are easier (if they remember to upgrade instead of chucking the whole thing away): what i do know is that in talking to the average person (at my tennis club for example), they all went, "wow, when can i get one?" i had to say "not yet!" of course i'm no longer in holland doh...

i do know that one kid i put debian on, at Earth University in his first year - i helped him put debian on his laptop because he was getting fed up with viruses and also wanted to bypass the university's filters so he could download films.... he got a lot of people asking for help in installing debian... :) - he did an internship in the USA after he graduated, and i will never forget the message he wrote to me where he described how absolutely insane it was to be forced to go back to using windows systems. i think he really felt very sorry for those people who don't know that there are alternatives, and this - this TOTALLY NEW hardware paradigm - is very much the same.

To be frank and honest about myself, I'm too weak to forego some amenities that the proprietary hardware world has lured me in with. I tolerate the blobs like BIOS, UEFI and peripheral firmware as a trade-off for the sheer raw power the hardware has.

:) i'm sitting here with a 13in macbook pro (running debian), 2560x1500 LCD with text crystal-clear at only 2mm per letter - i get it.

... it's just that that level of hardware requires an investment of somewhere around $500,000 to deliver to people from scratch, a team of expert engineers in their respective fields....

... and then there's me (and by that i really do mean JUST me), funded by a single business as a sponsor, using a home-built 3D printer instead of shelling out $200k on injection-molding, doing a split design set of PCBs, one set is 2-layer and costs $50 to get made, the other one (the main computer) costs $1700 to get 5 samples made up, and putting in plywood because i didn't want to waste time printing out a flat rectangular piece of plastic.

so i think the point i'm trying to make is: i'm not saying that everyone should abandon their high-end hardware and get one of these systems. i think what i'm saying is, we need both kinds, and we need to be more responsible about our buying decisions. i fully intend to keep this medium-end 3-year-old well-engineered laptop in use as a main development machine for at least another 3-5 years. eight years for GBP 1,000 worth of computer works out at GBP 125 per year. eco-conscious-wise, i can live with that kind of math.

at the moment we can definitely say that the current strategy of mass-volume manufacturers trying to create "budget" laptops... well... it's not working out very well for them: i just had to return an HP 250 laptop (bought for a client) because the WIFI was utter rubbish and the Ethernet (hardware) failed in under 3 hours.

remember that mass-volume manufacturers have to have "obscelescence by design" otherwise with their current strategy if they made hardware that actually lasted they'd go out of business. and when you bring people budget hardware that is also designed to fail, people get REALLY pissed off.

in short: if you ignore the eco-conscious bit, the laptop housing is baaasically comparable to something that you'd buy from Walmart, Best Buy, Asda's or Tesco's for around $300 (or $EUR 300 in Europe or GBP 300 in the UK, thanks to tax....) and that's probably why you're not going "mmmm i want one!" because you need - for the tasks that you do - a much higher spec.

When it comes to an Allwinner A20, driving graphics on the CPU via the framebuffer... That is a mighty step back from what we've come to expect when turning on a computer. 2D, unaccelerated desktops. 2GB Ram. MicroSD for storage? I've got an RPI2 and MicroSD for storage isn't all that hot.

quick answers - 32-bit processors max out at 4gbyte addressing.... you need some space for memory-mapped peripherals... have you tried using sandisk extreme plus microsd cards: i'm getting sustained 20mbytes/sec out of those (on the EOMA68-A20 Computer Card).... i've got g2d framebuffer acceleration up and running, it makes moving windows around the desktop much more snappy... it's all via the framebuffer, even on x86 - you have more-or-less accelerated 2D / 3D depending on the hardware: the A20 has something called G2D, while intel has... i915... somethingsomething....

if i could get an 64-bit SoC which could address over 2gb RAM, i would have done so. even the GPL-violating Allwinner A64 can only address up to 2gb RAM.... i outline a glimpse into the processor-evaluation world here - it's not pretty, it's a major indictment of the state of the entire SoC industry in 2016. "picking a processor"

So what is your marketing plan to get people infinitely well less versed in technology than your average Linux enthusiast to want an EOMA68 machine?

(a) go initially for the techies, the makers, the innovators, the eco-crowd and the "long-term money-saving" crowd, and people who just love the idea that as one person i have a strategy to dance on the rooftops of all the billion-dollar mass-volume manufacturers, shouting "ya can't touch this" in a gleeful and utterly childish way (but don't tell anyone that last part, ok?) i need the techie/maker people - we need these people - so that there's an ecosystem around which everyone else who doesn't understand computers can get some reassurance and/or help (preferably paying for it).

(b) keep it utterly simple. internet. documents. email. printing. if the average person isn't happy with what's on this machine i've got it completely and utterly wrong. i do however have a handle on what's "simple". i have been maintaining some KDE 3.5 (now Trinity Desktop) systems for some clients, now, for just over 10 years. they sell horseboxes. they love the simplicity of what i set up for them. they can do business without fear of losing hundreds of thousands due to ransomware viruses and keystroke loggers that empty their bank accounts, deprive them of working capital and force them to go bankrupt.

so, thank you for asking. there's an article coming out soon, i mention in it that i've basically dropped out of the software libre world to focus on this, to plan what would work and to try it out. it won't be perfect, but i'm prepared to keep at it until it does. constant feedback. so - thank you for the feedback and the questions, they're really appreciated.