I was looking at the Librem Mini and am thinking about possibly buying one. One positive thing about the Librem Mini is that the hardware and software are intended by design, to be compatible.
The Librem Mini looks very much like a standard Intel NUC7 with a board that (from outside) could very well be a stock $100 PC board made for a NUC type of PC. When loaded up with the RAM and HD and other options that I would choose, the price for the Librem Mini would cost significantly more than a NUC7 based on matching specifications. Of course, that is without any of Purism’s hardware customizations (if there are any), and PureOS (a free download).
Can someone here explain what the Value-Added features are about, when compared to a NUC7 loaded with a free PureOS download? Where is most of the value added?
The added value is the Coreboot port that Purism employee Matt Devillier (MrChromebox) did, a neutralized Intel Management Engine whose code has been replaced with zeros, and Heads + support for the Librem Key. This is the first NUC to get a Coreboot port, so you can’t go buy a different NUC and then install Coreboot.
You can install PureOS in an Intel NUC7, but then you will have to go and manually install some proprietary bits like the Intel WiFi/Bluetooth firmware from the Debian non-free repository.
Also, you get to support a company that promotes free software/hardware and user rights, whereas Intel has a history of abusing its monopoly power, so you will probably feel better about giving your money to Purism. Also, consider the fact that we are in a global recession that is harming electronics sales at the same time that Purism is trying to roll out 3 new product lines (Librem 5, Mini and Server), so Purism likely needs your support.
One obvious answer to that is … will that even work? and who takes the risk and hassle when it doesn’t? So one answer is that you are paying someone else to get the software working with the hardware.
If you are confident setting up a franken-repository (at least for the WiFi/BT, at least temporarily) and worst case don’t mind the hassle of returning the box to the supplier for a refund if you can’t ever get enough working to meet your requirements then you might take the integration risk yourself.
If you just want it to work out-of-the-box because you have better things to do with your life, then paying someone else to get it all working in the first place could make sense.
This may not be an Intel NUC - but it is certainly similar in format. As far as Intel is concerned, Linux is not even a supported operating system for NUCs. That would be my starting point if buying a random box i.e. asking the vendor about use of Linux on the box. (I’m pretty sure that Linux does work on random NUCs but as a consumer you have no comeback if Linux doesn’t work right when running on the box and the vendor didn’t ever say that it does.)
I currently have two NUC6s. One is running Windows 10 and the other is running standard Ubuntu. I am happy with the performance on both. I never even considered the possibility that this hardware might not run linux before I bought it since it is generic PC hardware (very low risk) designed by Intel. There was nothing special involved with getting linux to install and configure all internal hardware and peripherals automatically before the first time booting in to it. The Amazon seller would have absolutely given a return of my money if it didn’t work. I bought the NUC6CAYH version which comes without an HD or RAM and the only changes I made to the hardware was to install the missing SSD and RAM. I would have pulled that RAM and SSD out and back it would have gone for a full refund of my money if it didn’t run either Ubuntu or Debian. At the time I bought it, you could get the NUC6 for a song. I would shop for something later now since the NUC7 has probably gotten pretty inexpensive by now.
But this doesn’t mean that anyone should get a NUC instead of purchasing a Librem Mini. Like I said, I am still considering it as yet one more PC because I like the enhanced privacy. I also like the fact that Purism has already installed and debugged a higher-security OS (value added if you really really want PureOS). Ironically, the one time I installed Pure OS (on to an older laptop), the live boot-up worked, but I couldn’t get a graphical login after the actual installation to the SSD. Another ‘value added’ might be in getting a PC that supports PureOS without needing to do any extraneous configuration work that some people might not be capable of doing. Typically, Ubuntu and Debian install and just work on their own on most PC hardware. A newbie who knows nothing about linux can just run the installation and everything magically works on its own. With PureOS…, not so much. Most experienced linux users will power through whatever it takes to get PureOS working with their hardware if it doesn’t just work to begin with, whereas the Linux newbie would just be stuck which is where it would end for them. I don’t know that the difficulty of getting PureOS to work on your own hardware is a net-positive good sales point for Purism. Even though I could have debugged the graphics driver issues from a bash prompt on my older laptop, it was just easier to plug in a ubuntu image and install it instead.
My initial question to this post about ‘value added’ seems to have been answered now. As a social purpose company, I do not know how important profit margin is to the value of the Purism with respect to the company’s mission. If margin isn’t as important as it would be to a publicly traded company, Purism may want to consider lowering the price of the Mini or selling a bare bones version like the NUC6 that I described (except keeping their current motherboard and CPU version), to increase the number of sales. For those who know how to shop for NUC type PCs and can buy and install their own commodity-priced HD and RAM, the premium paid for enhanced privacy on the Librem Mini seems extremely high. But if people just want to support Purism, that is a good reason to buy a Librem mini also.
That’s because those distros are willing to include blackbox software that is not open source and which does not reach the highest standards of transparency or auditability or privacy or verifiable security.
If you get PureOS running on “most PC hardware” then it can be that you had to compromise on having a “higher-security OS”. So if the thing that you like about PureOS is the higher security / privacy, you should not run it on any hardware where it won’t run out of the box (or, maybe the hardware components that don’t work are ones that you don’t care about).
That’s what Purism sells in its laptops range and now ultra-compact ‘range’! Part of the premium could be said to be going towards Purism doing configuration work that some customers are not capable of doing.
I don’t speak for Purism obviously, but I don’t think there would be any major technical obstacles to doing that. It’s quite likely that over the years some Mini customers will replace the RAM and/or disk anyway - and, as always, those customers will take the integration risk of doing that. Usually works. Doesn’t always work.
I have bought several ultra-compacts. All run Linux. All were bought either without RAM or without disk or without either. So far I am N from N (on successes). Doesn’t mean I don’t consider the possibility that one day I too will strike out.
Can depend on how bleeding edge the hardware is (more bleeding is worse). It’s certainly better than it was years ago.
Intel is responsible for UEFI and I have definitely seen generic x86 hardware that won’t run Linux due to UEFI - or which can run Linux but only with incredible acrobatics that many newbs would give up on before achieving. UEFI is not hardware of course.
Yes, I hate UEFI. It looks to me like UEFI is just a tool for Microsoft to control your hardware more than they should be capable of doing. The BIOS system does everything that needs to be done.
All of your comments about the hardware and software issues are correct. Things that just work with no effort tend to be more proprietary. Too often when the software is free, it’s because the free software is not the product. You (the user) are. This privacy stuff is just damned expensive. But with Purism, you do get what you pay for. I wouldn’t want to diminish that.
Also, sometimes it is easy to forget that not everyone is experienced in this kind of thing. I’ve been wiping and re-installing and experimenting with different operating systems since the days when resolving IRQ conflicts often involved changing jumper settings on the hardware. I remember the first time I erased my hard drive on my first and only PC, it was damn scarry. Now I barely give it a thought if or when it is necessary. Hard drives are so cheap now that it’s safe to just swap out your old drive with a new blank one and if you mess up the new install you can just put your old drive back in and pretend the attempt to install the new OS never happened. But unless you consider this to be fun, or even at times a game like I do and you have time to put in to it, you’re better off just paying Purism for their product. The first thing you’ll want to do when you get your Librem Mini is to clone the HD. Then if/when you mess up your OS (you can’t learn if you don’t take risks), you can pop in your cloned HD and start over without many consequences. Having that kind of an insurance policy is often enough by itself, to prompt you to learn how to do your own installation and configuration work.
but the same can be said about proprietary software as well.
the gov can print trillions of dollars “out-of-thin-air” and invest it in whatever piece of tech it’s most interested in for various national or international agendas whereas the people have to work for their pittance …
we’re in the deep either way … only with free-software you get to see the source-code and KEEP all your digital freedoms while CHOSING when/if you will invest time into it …
I think that Richard Stallman said it best “…free as in freedom of speech, not free beer”. The Google type of free where you are the product is like the free beer, whereas the stuff that Purism contributes and promotes is more like the free speech.
That’s the core of it. Why did the customer buy the computer? Was the computer an end in its own right? Or not?
If the main goal is to learn how to install and configure Linux and to learn how to troubleshoot Linux then perhaps a customer is better off not paying to have that done. If the main goal is some unrelated activity that happens to use a computer then a computer that just works out-of-the-box is a good thing.
as a side note to that. from what i could observe so far in the EU region products that ship from across the ocean there tends to be a higher time window for the products to reach the client as opposed to the ones that are ordered through local retail shops that (maybe) have contracts/relations to the outside big-business and get special treatment at the customs (i.e bulk verification and clearance etc.)
i.e Purism is not considered big-business as far as i can tell … that may change in the future but so far it seems that there is a certain time delay happening across the board (the global economic context might have a part in it)
As far as I know, Purism hasn’t commented on this, but Eglobal Tech is probably the OEM of Purism’s Mini. MrChromebox commented at r/Purism that Purism asked Supermicro to make some modifications to its standard design when manufacturing the Librem Server. The same may be true with the Librem Mini, so I wouldn’t assume that the Mini is the same as the MU01-8565U sold by Eglobal Tech. One obvious difference is that Purism is offering an optional WiFi Atheros ATH9k M.2 card, so you can have 802.11n without proprietary drivers/firmware in the Linux file system.
I had hoped that Purism would offer the same Redpine Signals RS9116 M.2 card in the Mini that it is using in the Librem 5, because it reportedly has better reception and is more energy efficient than the Atheros ATH9k WiFi/BT. It appears that Purism had to do a special order, because I can’t find anyone selling the RS9116 on an M.2 card. I had hoped that Purism would use the RS9116 in the Librem 13/15 v5, but if it isn’t happening in the Mini, we probably won’t get it in v5. Shorter-range WiFi reception isn’t as big of a hindrance on a NUC as a laptop, since you don’t carry around a NUC, but I’m sad that we will still have to deal with the crappy Atheros ATH9k WiFi in the Mini.
This question is how does Purism pay the salaries of Matt DeVillier (MrChromebox) who does the Coreboot porting work and the people who work on PureOS (Jeremiah Foster, Adrian Alves and Arno Bauernöppel). Software devs are expensive, especially if they work in the San Francisco area, and Purism can’t spread those costs over millions of units like Apple does. Even if Purism offers a barebones model, it will still have to charge a lot for it.
Purism so far has gotten $91,284 in preorders for the Librem Mini, meaning roughly 121 orders in 2 months. If Purism only gets 60 orders per month when it launches, then we can guesstimate that it will only get 30 orders per month in the future when there is no pent-up demand and no publicity from its launch. If we guesstimate that Purism charges a markup of $350 per unit and sells 360 units per year (12x30=360), then that is $126k per year in extra revenue, which is basically the cost of employing 1 software developer (remember the cost of living in the San Francisco area and health care).
Maybe COVID-19 is suppressing demand, and Purism will get 60 orders per month in the future, but that still only means $252k in extra revenue per year.
$126K is probably more like half the cost of employing one developer. With matching payroll taxes and other overhead, one rule of thumb is to consider that twice the employee’s salary is the actual cost to a company for employing someone. Purism needs a bigger product line.