Would you crowdfund a $500 Ubuntu “open to the core” laptop?

UPDATE 2 (11/28) – We’re 77% of the way to 1000.  I guesstimate we would have raised at least $300,000 if this we’re a live campaign.

UPDATE – I’ve removed the silly US restriction.  I know there are more options in Europe, China, India, etc, but why shouldn’t you get access to the “open to the core” laptop!
This would definitely come with at least 3 USB ports (and at least one USB 3.0 port).

Since Jolla had success with crowdfunding a tablet, it’s a good time to see if we can get some mid-range Ubuntu laptops for sale to consumers in as many places as possible.  I’d like to get some ideas about whether there is enough demand for a very open $500 Ubuntu laptop.

Would you crowdfund this? (Core Goals)

  • 15″ 1080p Matte Screen
  • 720p Webcam with microphone
  • Spill-resistant and nice to type on keyboard
  • Intel i3+ or AMD A6+
  • Built-in Intel or AMD graphics with no proprietary firmware
  • 4 GB Ram
  • 128 GB SSD (this would be the one component that might have to be proprietary as I’m not aware of another option)
  • Ethernet 10/100/1000
  • Wireless up to N
  • HDMI
  • SD card reader
  • CoreBoot (No proprietary BIOS)
  • Ubuntu 14.04 preloaded of course
  • Agreement with manufacturer to continue selling this laptop (or similar one) with Ubuntu preloaded to consumers for at least 3 years.

Stretch Goals? Or should they be core goals?

Will only be added if they don’t push the cost up significantly (or if everyone really wants them) and can be done with 100% open source software/firmware.

  • Touchscreen
  • Convertible to Tablet
  • GPS
  • FM Tuner (and built-in antenna)
  • Digital TV Tuner (and built-in antenna)
  • Ruggedized
  • Direct sunlight readable screen
  • “Frontlight” tech.  (think Amazon PaperWhite)
  • Bluetooth
  • Backlit keyboard
  • USB Power Adapter

Take my quick survey if you want to see this happen.  If at least 1000 people say “Yes,” I’ll approach manufacturers.   The first version might just end up being a Chromebook modified with better specs, but I think that would be fine.

Link to survey – http://goo.gl/forms/bwmBf92O1d

45 thoughts on “Would you crowdfund a $500 Ubuntu “open to the core” laptop?”

  1. If it had a classic 4:3 proportions screen, it would be “TAKE MY MONEY!!!!one!!” immediately. I’d buy a whole family pack.

        1. Sure thats fine for a desktop size monitor when you can sit applications side by side but it becomes less useful on a laptops small screen.

    1. +1 to that, 15″ laptops are so 2000’s

      This, 4:3 proportions and a full-sized Enter key (2 rows), long battery life and we have a perfect laptop.

  2. I would like it to have an 14″ or 13″ inch screen. apart from that it sounds like a very attractive laptop for me.

  3. A couple of remarks:

    Intel chips won’t give you all open source firmware without significant effort, AMD chips won’t either.

    CPU microcode updates will always be an issue, too. In case you opt for Via (which might be able to work without additional firmware), their latest models probably still require a microcode update to enable CPU frequency scaling (otherwise they lock up). They might have a new revision that comes with fixed on-die µcode though.

    “No proprietary firmware” will be an issue with AMD GPUs, so those are out, too. Intel GPUs aren’t available separately, so you’ll need to check nvidia, where nouveau seems to be able to generate firmware for some models. I’m unsure if they don’t still require the VGABIOS to provide some data through tables (that are probably non-free).
    A separate GPU likely increases your partlist and BOM cost.

    A laptop will also carry an embedded controller (for controlling the lid switch, various buttons and LEDs, battery loading, probably the keyboard matrix and other stuff) – for that, you could probably use Google’s ChromeEC code base to keep it open-source (no ChromeOS required for that).

    And finally, it’s coreboot – no upper case characters 🙂

    tl;dr: I think you might need to do some more literature research – and define, what constitutes proprietary firmware for you (definitions vary wildly). Besides that, good luck!

  4. I’m not interested in Ubuntu at all. Open hardware, yes. If you’re serious about this, please do what you can to ensure that open source operating systems in general (and not just GNU/Linux) can run on the selected hardware.

    1. What other open source operating systems are there besides GNU/Linux?
      They are the only ones that I am aware of.
      ChromeOS is not an option for me.

      1. At least 5 BSDs (not distributions, but entire OSs with different kernels), the Solaris descendants (using the OpenIndiana kernel), Plan 9, Haiku, ReactOS, etc….

  5. 2 Things:
    Can the RAM be extended? 4GiB seems like a step down from my 3 years old 8GiB laptop.
    What about the video output? Will the HDMI support >1920×1200 displays? Will there be a second video output? (don’t much care what, but I’d love for it to be some kind of DisplayPort (mini or normal)? I’m asking because there is an odd trend these days to have less video outputs while the the GPUs can drive more displays than 3 or 4 years ago …

    Other than that, this would definitely be a great laptop for me.

    At the price tag you’re aiming at, I guess we won’t see any DDR4 memory though (which would probably improve GPU performance a lot).

  6. What are the chances you could get hold of a 15″ non-16:9 display for an upgrade? Clearly it would be more expensive than the base model, but it could be a big selling point for developers. I’m used to paying more like $1.2k for a work laptop, but haven’t bought one in years because almost all the monitors are vertically-challenged nowadays. The Google Pixel is just too physically small; I’d happily trade less pixel-density for a physically bigger display (and keyboard!)

  7. I was looking for a phone to run linux on (like the old Nokia N900). Impossible to find. I was looking for a tablet to run linux on. Maybe old Samsung slate PC 7 can run linux. But it is really hard to find a tablet that accepts linux. x86 tablets are probably the best bet.

    It is possible to find laptops that run linux well, but it would be nice with a truly open model.

    I think Canonical, KDE, Jolla, Gnome should work together on open hardware for all linux enthusiasts. It would be great if Jolla could open their tablet to other linux distributions.

    I am really saddend that everybody seems to be doing their own thing. KDE tried their own Vivaldi tablet thing, Canonical and Gnome doesn’t seem interested in hardware. Jolla seems succesful with selling their first batch (4000 units I have read). But as long as it only runs Sailfish OS all Gnome, Unity and general linux lovers are probably going to pass this one.

    Linux is used on desktops and laptops, but there are no cool phones today like Nokia N900 or hackable tablets. Linux is missing from new form factors. It is a big problem. Canonical can’t solve it alone. We need open hardware in many form factors. Intel x86 is probably the way to go if one wants broad linux support.

    I think any hardware that offers broad linux support will be succesfully crowdfunded.

  8. I would do that, I like the idea to be a fully open platform (aside from the SSD) and Coreboot is a nice touch to all that. Go all or go home.

  9. 4GB is what I have, and I have an I5 for the same price as you suggest for an I3.

    I’ll go for the spill resistent keyboard as I like and drink LOT of coffee, but this will not be the killer feature to make me buy it.

    It’s too pricey for what the specifications suggested.

    Also I don’t care at all if the drivers are open source or not as long as they work and provide optimal performance.

    A killer feature could be full working touch pad gestures as in Mac. No pinvh-to-zoom, no deal.

  10. I’d buy one, it’s only slightly more expensive than a ubuntu smartphone for one! Just a few ideas though:

    -Offer a range of preinstalled OSs, not just Ubuntu. I’m sure it should be possible to make a few extra dis clones for that purpose.
    -How about having swappable keyboard layouts and offering a few different system key logos. That way if you run mint you could have mint system key or the alpha for Arch etc.

  11. This sounds like a great idea!
    Here are a few suggestions.
    Make the power cord connection amazing. Most laptops are terrible here ( MacBook is a good example of a good powercord connection ).
    Make the case look nice. Get a really nice simple design that looks really nice, please.
    I think the outside of the laptop should reflect the inside. And if the inside is nice (libre OS, reasonbly libre hardware) the outside should reflect that the laptop is revolutionary and amazing.
    Make it possible to easily upgrade RAM and HD.

  12. I’d fund this if it had a 12.5″ – 13.3″ screen. A 16:10 aspect ratio would be nice but I assume that’d increase the price due to 16:9 screens being more readily available than any other aspect ratios.

  13. As a programmer who often works out of the office, I would go for a 13.3 to 14.1 screen to reduce weight. 15 inch is too big (=heavy) for me.

    And I am a bit surprised that you say SSD is not possible with free firmware. These guys are offering refurbished Thinkpads with SSD and enjoy FSF endorsement: http://shop.gluglug.org.uk/

  14. Another politically designed product? No intereste from me. Things like Wireless, GPU, Chipset, etc. should have option for getting them with the proprietary drivers. They simply perform better and are reliable.

    That’s not something I’d want to have to tinker with before I hand it over to a family member if I would get them something like this for Christmas. Also, $500 is steep for a platform with, frankly, a lower quality software ecosystem and pretty poor support from companies producting the best consumer software. Isn’t a MacBook Air only about $300 more around Christmas Time (and worth it, given the ecosystem backing it). You can get Windows Notebooks with BT, SD Card Slot and i3/i5/A8/A10 Dual/Quad Core Processors and good GPUs for around $500 now. And yes, they will have Windows on them.

    Cater to the mainstream, not the very vocal minority.

    This seems like a recipe for a headache.

    In any case, with Microsoft making Visual Studio Pro free, I’m going to start dabbling in Windows Development again.

    1. “They simply perform better and are reliable.”

      I like how your concept of reliable is “they keep me on chains and send my data everywhere”.

  15. I would prefer a laptop without an OS, what works with Windows too. Not that I want to use Windows, but then you can sell the laptop also to organizations who want to use Windows, but have Linux-friendly people on the top.

    Maybe a tip: I know there are nice stickers for keyboards in other languages.

    I really like it that you want to be coreboot compatible and that you talk about an SSD as a non-free product. It tells me we are thinking the same way.

    Maybe you could take a look at compatabillity for BSD and MacOSX too.

  16. I would prefer arch linux over Ubuntu… I really don’t understand the hype people have over Ubuntu in general.

    Also, my experience with laptops that attempt to be “open to the core” AND inexpensive is that they cut corners. Sure, it’s nice to get a $30 processor, but when it burns out in 1.5 years? Regardless of whether you can replace the processor, should you have to?

    Finally, there’s the issue of trying to market it. Telling people it’s open to the core doesn’t present a very good value proposition to most people. Quality and performance seems to be more of an issue than “openness,” because if I want to run a quick CFD simulation I don’t want it to take an hour.

  17. No, I wouldn’t. While the proposed specs sound sensible and some thought went into this; there’s nothing overly unique about the whole. It’s of course a huge hassle to find a contemporary machine that’s CoreBoot-compatible or has it preinstalled – but that alone doesn’t warrant such a venture.

    Extensibility is key (primarily RAM, off-board mPCI for wireless/wwan) as everyone else concluded. But the tittysumer-esque FHD widescreen would be my personal dealbreaker. That’s not ambitious, but already oversatisified by the other 99% notebooks on the market. Unless there’s a productivity-oriented 4:3 UXGA, or at least 15:10 xSXGA display option – who cares?

  18. Yes, I’m interested. This will do everything I need. I may soon move to solely a Tor browser and tighten security as a stopgap in the meantime, but I intend to move toward a more secure system. If the article on Intel processors is accurate, I’d strongly prefer an AMD processor – and that’s what I usually buy anyway.

  19. Hells yeah, but 15″ is too big, and I really prefer a 4:3 or 3:2 (like the Chromebook Pixel) aspect ratio. Besides that, we’ve got a deal.

  20. Thanks for this initiative, nice one. Here are some suggestions :

    (#) I thought Thinkpad laptop (my laptop) looks boring. Then I realized that many other laptops looks even uglier.

    What’s wrong with these manufacturers ?

    Let’s try to make this at least looks better than my Thinkpad 🙂

    (#) 2 SATA bay : It’d really nice to finally have a laptop with upgradeable storage.

    Some folks (me) would really love to setup things like SSD (for cache/swap) + 1 TB disk in their laptop, oh God yes please.

    (#) Micro USB charging port would be awesome – I’d be able to use my powerbank to power it in emergencies

    (#) Backlight keyboard is a must for any serious / power users.

    (#) I kept running out of RAM because Chrome uses so much memory, and can’t use Firefox because it kept crashing with 50+ open tabs.

    And I run virtual machines for various, ahem, testing purposes.

    Been looking for laptops which can be upgraded to 32 GB RAM or more, so far only got some silly gaming laptops.

    Again thank you for this initiative, much appreciated.

  21. I’d recommend a few things:

    See if you can get in touch with AMD to see if you can get some of their new stuff. Their graphics driver (AMDGPU) should be included in the Linux 3.20+ kernels. Their open source graphics drivers are very good and AMD generally have great price/performance.

    Have 3 “models”.
    1) Typing, battery, and responsiveness. (Chromebook like with a small SSD).
    2) Value, performance. HDD instead of SSD, a beefier processor or graphics.
    3) Enthusiast. SSD + HDD, a discrete GPU, etc.

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