Retro-Freedom

A blog for things I care about.

EOMA68: My Dream Machine

I’ve been away from this blog far too long, for a range of reasons: PhDs use a lot of time, I haven’t had much useful to say, laziness, and many other reasons beside have kept me from my keyboard. However, today, something came to my attention that prompted me to shout from the digital rooftops to anyone who cares to listen. So here it is:

There’s a crowdfunding project for a libre software, libre hardware, eco-friendly, easy-to-repair computer.

I don’t think more needs to be said - go here and support them if you’re already convinced. If not, read on while I make my case…

Why you should care about this project

As I have said before, the free software world is under attack in ever more creative ways. In particular, we’re facing the issue that more and more hardware is being manufactured to be proprietary from the start, with very few (or no) things we can do about it. We need only look at the stream of hot garbage being emitted by the so-called ‘Internet of Things’ the industry keeps pushing at us for proof. However, it’s not limited to that - many low-cost and low-power-consumption devices are also severely handicapped when it comes to freedom - even the free-est devices available still have serious issues which are unlikely to be resolved in the near (or even distant) future.

This is really disappointing for a range of reasons. The freedom ones are obvious - but this is more profound than ever, because it’s not simply an issue of not having workarounds; instead, it’s an issue of workarounds being impossible. Additionally, low-power devices are much more eco-friendly than the nuclear reactors that are x86-64 devices. We only have one planet after all, and we should make an effort to not waste resources - including electricity.

Although in the libre world, we are generally good recyclers, we do this out of necessity by-and-large. It’s simply a fact that older devices are more likely to work better in freedom, as we have had more time to study them and work around their deficiencies. Even despite this, it is undeniable that tech is incredibly wasteful. Combine this with the attacks on right-to-repair, planned obsolescence and general awfulness of the industry with regard to waste, and we end up contributing to an eco-disaster. I, for one, do not want to do this.

Therefore, to truly advance our goals in a free, responsible and sustaintable manner, we need computers that:

  1. Run with only libre software.
  2. Are based on libre hardware designs.
  3. Are easy to repair.
  4. Minimize waste, and recycle as much as possible.

Up to now, almost all devices available either failed completely, or were weak, on at least one of the above.

No longer.

Why the EOMA68 solves our problems

While a lot of this will be paraphrased from the EOMA68’s excellent crowdfunding page, hopefully by spelling it out, I’ll give you some idea of exactly how and why the EOMA68 is worth our support and funding, and provides us with all four of the above.

Firstly, the EOMA68 provides a standard (creatively named ‘The EOMA68 Standard’), which is “a freely-accessible, royalty-free, unencumbered hardware standard … around the ultra-simple philosophy of ‘just plug it in: it will work’”. The idea is that the ‘computer part’ of your device is a pluggable, swappable ‘card’, which can be used across many devices, easily replaced and repaired, and thus, not be super-expensive in the short (and long) term. One cool thing is that the EOMA68 form factor is the same as the old PCMCIA cards - which means that casings and housings for those cards can now be re-used for something good!

Secondly, the EOMA68 offers a fully-libre card offering, running Parabola GNU/Linux-libre pre-installed! As this is my go-to operating system, I am thrilled. This particular card (called the ‘Libre Tea’ - nice pun there!) is also seeking Respects Your Freedom certification (which I believe it should receive). The cards themselves are comparable to high-end SBCs, which is plenty for a large range of systems and things-you-want-to-do.

Thirdly, the EOMA68 can be installed into a choice of two wooden cases - a micro desktop housing or a laptop case. Now, I don’t know about you, but I’ve always wanted a wooden laptop - I love the aesthetics of wood, and the fact that it won’t be choking up a landfill when it (inevitably…) gets replaced or damaged. For the laptop case, there are even GPL3’d 3D printer design files - so you could make (or customize!) your own if you wanted.

Fourthly, the project is ethically committed to all these things in a major way. Specifically, they are providing “full CAD files, schematics, and datasheets for all the parts (without NDAs) as well as having the 3D CAD files for the casework as a completely open GPLv3+ licensed project right from its inception”. This makes the EOMA68 a free hardware project as well as a free software one.

I really don’t think I could make a better case for this project if I tried. If you’re still not convinced now, I’m not sure what else I, or anyone else can say.

Putting my money where my mouth is

And now, for those of you who believe that we should practice what we preach:

This will become my brand-new home microserver - named Papagena. Thus, I’ve done what I can to help - and I encourage you to do the same.

What you can do to help

Shout it from the rooftops!

Saturate social media with this. Tell all your technology-minded, ethics-minded, environmentally-minded … heck, everything-minded friends and acquaintances that this thing is gold and needs your help. We will never have good alternatives to evil practices if we do not fund them!

Buy yourself one!

There’s a range of options available - get yourself one. The Libre Tea makes for a great microserver.

Tell libre-curious or libre-supporting organizations about it!

There’s a bunch of these around, which may (or may not!) be aware of what’s going on in the world. This project is pretty recent, and hasn’t exactly been screamingly publicised. Make it screamingly publicised by telling these organizations and having them post about it. The more voices we add, the more money this project will get.

Post about all the cool things you’ll do with it!

Even if this project succeeds, we need to keep people interested. If you’ve done cool stuff with it - let people know! Come up with new designs, new ideas and new uses for these awesome machines; the more, the merrier.

A closing plea

This is the most excited I’ve been about a project in a long time. It is my dear wish that it succeeds - but it needs the help of the many to make it. If you believe (as I do) in freedom, eco-responsibility and the hacker ethos, support this wonderful project and help it live.