Following in the footsteps of One Laptop per Child, an interesting new startup seeks to bring 5 billion in emerging markets into the personal computing age. But the company—called Endless—isn’t doing so with trendier new products likes phones or tablets. Instead, it is focusing on desktop PCs.
Why would that be? Isn’t the world racing to smart phones and, to a lesser degree, to tablets? The answer is simple, and would warm Microsoft’s collective heart if only Windows was a part of this, is that you can’t efficiently perform most productivity tasks without a real PC. More important, you can’t enter what Endless CEO Matt Dalio. calls the knowledge economy without PC experience.
“You must have computing literacy,” Dalio says in a TED Talk videothat nicely outlines Endless’s vision. “Four and a half billion people do not have access to that.”
What’s interesting to me about Endless’s push for computing literacy is that it mimics the model used by Commodore, Atari, and others in Western markets at the beginning of the personal computer age: They are relying on the fact that everyone already has a television, and so these budding PC users can use the screen they already have.
The Endless PC solutions utilize what Dalio calls “a desktop operating system that is so easy it doesn’t require training”—yes, it’s based on Linux—that runs on cheap processors and with few hardware resources. The result is something that’s cheaper—much cheaper—than even a tablet. Most important, the Endless PCs are built specifically for users in emerging markets. In other words, the next 4.5 billion people, and starting with China, India, Indonesia, Bangladesh, Brazil, and Mexico.
And the Endless PCs are inexpensive, with the cheapest model starting at just $79. That buy you a cute Endless Mini PC—housed in an early iMac-like round case—with an ARM processor, 1 GB of RAM, 24 GB of eMMC storage, gigabit Ethernet, 3 USB 2.0 ports, HDMI and composite video, and a 3.5 mm combo headset/mic jack. The customer needs to supply a display, mouse and keyboard, but an HDMI cable is included. (As is the power adapter, of course.)
You can of course upgrade from there. A version with 2 GB of RAM, 32 GB of storage, Wi-Fi and Bluetooth is just $99. And there is a non-mini Endless form factor (sort of ghost shaped, for lack of a better term) that runs $189 to $229 and provides Intel processors, 2 GB of RAM, 32 GB (eMMC) or 500 GB (HDD) of storage, 2 USB 2.0 ports, 1 USB 3.0 port, gigabit Ethernet and Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, HDMI and VGA out, a 3.5 mm combo headset/mic jackand an integrated speaker. As with the Mini, the customer needs to supply a display, mouse and keyboard with these PCs as well.
I haven’t learned much about the built-in OS yet, aside from the fact that it’s called Endless OS and is Linux-based, and includes over 100 applications. These include “office suite, games, a photo editor, and more.” And according to a VentureBeats story, it also includes Wikipedia, plus “word processing, presentations, spreadsheets, games, and Khan Academy educational lectures” applications.
Whether Endless can be more successful than other attempts to bring personal technology to emerging markets is unclear, and certainly there have been some high profile failures. (Google’s Android One initiative has gone nowhere fast, for example.) But it’s hard to argue with the goal.
If only Microsoft could be part of this.
Tagged with Linux