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A for-profit startup is picking up where the fallen but pioneering nonprofit One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) left off.
Endless today announced (and launched a Kickstarter campaign for) its eponymous computer, a desktop device with a starting price of $169 and a target market of the emerging middle class in developing nations.
CEO, founder, and chief of product Matt Dalio told me how he came up with the idea.
While in India, he noticed that many people had televisions — high-definition ones. Thus the unit Endless created has HDMI and VGA video outs to hook up to HDTVs and computer monitors. It lacks a keyboard and mouse, but Dalio said those cost under $10 in many developing countries.
OLPC, led by M.I.T. Media Lab founder Nicholas Negroponte, attempted to achieve what was then — in the first decade of this century — the outrageous goal of a $100, accessible computer for the 60 percent of the world’s population that did not have computers.
While it did create and reportedly delivered over 2.4 million of the innovative XO tablets at a price around $200, the effort eventually faltered when faced with falling computer prices, the rise of smartphones, opposition from Intel, and issues of support for a brand-new OS, compatible applications, and hardware.
As OLPC did, Endless designed and built its own device, including creating a proprietary operating system. Over three years, the company said, it conducted extensive research and user testing to inform the device’s development.
“OLPC’s interface was such a radical departure, and the applications were just not powerful enough,” Dalio said. “You couldn’t do a spreadsheet and run a real budget, [and] the whole thing was so simplified and under-functional.” Negroponte is now listed as an advisor to Endless, as is — appropriately enough for such an ambitious endeavor — the motivational guru Tony Robbins.
In contrast, the Endless computer has “the full power of a desktop OS,” said Dalio. “I haven’t used my Mac in over nine months.”
There are two models. One has 32GB eMMC (embedded multimedia card) and SD (secure digital card) storage, with an unspecified dual core Intel CPU up to 2.17GHz, 2GB memory, and 3 USB ports.
The 500GB hard drive model is the same, except without the storage cards and with Wi-Fi/Bluetooth. Both devices have HDMI and VGA out, and Gigabit LAN.
The OS is based on Red Hat Fedora Linux. Linux on consumer computers has never caught on, which Dalio attributed to being “built by engineers.”
Existing Linux-based applications are wrappered to run on Endless, when they are accepted into the company’s app store. Over 150 applications come bundled on the computer, which includes the open-source Chromium browser.
Curiously, when you open one of the bundled apps for the first time, you need to “download” it even if you are offline and even though it resides on the machine. Dalio said this simulated downloading is intended to provide a consistent experience whether you are offline or online, although it didn’t quite make sense to me.
Founded in 2012, the company is headquartered in San Francisco, with offices in Rio de Janeiro and Guatemala and “people on the ground” in Jordan, United Arab Emirates, and India.
Initial markets are Mexico and Guatemala, followed by other countries in Latin America, the Middle East, and Asia.
The $100,000 sought in the Kickstarter campaign will be used for marketing and related expenses to enter the first market. The computer will not be offered in the U.S. and first-world countries except as part of the Kickstarter campaign.
In developing countries, competing devices include smartphones and low-end tablets, which Dalio noted do not offer the same level of functionality as a desktop computer. Chromebooks are cheap and functional, but require a good Internet connection and, he said, are barely present in the target markets.
While Endless is trying to avoid OLPC’s mistakes, it could hit some of the same potholes that OLPC did, plus discover some new ones.
It relies on the customer owning either a high-definition TV or a computer monitor, and the target customers are people making $3,000 to $15,000 annually. But if such a customer in, say, India, can afford that kind of display, one wonders why they wouldn’t just spend a few hundred dollars more and get a more widely supported Windows machine.
Then there’s the key question of support. Dalio said flatly that his company “is not a support business,” and noted that there are many technicians around the world who know Linux.
But, since there is no major Linux-based consumer market for computers, any such technician will be focused on business needs and pricing. Even though Endless is based on the popular Red Hat distribution of Linux, there are bound to be specific issues in Endless’ adaption of the OS and the apps. And where does one go for hardware fixes and parts?
Plus, Dalio’s claim that “everybody already has a monitor in their home” discounts those millions who have neither HDTVs nor homes.
He declined to reveal the investors or how much has been raised, except to say that some of them were also donors to the China Care Foundation and that they resided around the globe. Dalio created the Foundation when he was 16 to raise money for special-needs orphans in that country.
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