EOMA68 crowdfunding campaign (the last few days) plus ways forward for Libre Computing

Paul Boddie paul at boddie.org.uk
Mon Aug 22 17:10:13 UTC 2016


I last mentioned EOMA68 on this list in early July, noting that I would have 
blogged about it, too, but couldn't at the time. Unfortunately, real life got 
in the way of either following up with the blog volunteers about the blogging 
service (which I greatly appreciate as a service of the FSFE Fellowship) or 
actually writing anything about this topic on my blog. In fact, I only wrote 
about it there recently:


(Reminder: EOMA68 is a standard for modular plug-in computer cards; the 
campaign offers one kind of card with different operating system choices, plus 
some devices that can use the card.)

Once again, I may have pledged for rewards in the campaign, but I'm not 
explicitly endorsing it. Everyone should weigh up the different factors and 
their own needs when supporting such efforts. However, it is worth noting that 
there are only 4 days left until the campaign ends:


(Here, I am only repeating this because maybe other people had real life 
intervene on them in July and August, too.)

There has been a range of responses from enthusiasm about the modular 
computing concept and support for hardware that fully supports Free Software 
through to criticism about the performance and the ethical record of the 
system-on-a-chip vendor that happens to be used for the first card. Reading 
some of the responses, I note that maybe there is some kind of law of public 
discourse that the more severe the criticism, the less constructive it tends 
to be.

On this list, there was a discussion about how bad modern x86 derivatives are 
by enabling surveillance at the hardware level...


...but either people feel completely powerless about it or they like to talk 
about the situation more than how to alleviate or resolve the situation. 
Amusingly, all sorts of observations came up about that discussion and I even 
mentioned one of them here:


(Yes, SPARC might even be a candidate for an alternative hardware platform, 
but its supporters need to bring finance and people to the effort instead of 
reminiscing about Sun's glory days. The referenced discussion is, however, 
rather interesting to read in parts.)

Now, I saw a couple of responses to my previous message, combining the EOMA68 
topic with the surveillance topic - SPARC even got a mention! - but maybe July 
is not a month in which much discussion tends to take place. But I feel that 
there does need to be a proper discussion about the way forward for Libre 
Computing (Free Software on Libre Hardware) and how the various communities 
can deliver sustainable platforms:

* Whether EOMA68 (and its siblings) or something similar (see next point) has 
a role to play in this, perhaps only as a step towards the eventual goal of a 
set of platforms we can rely on

* Whether there are other ongoing efforts in this area (not one-offs) that 
just need more attention than they have been getting

* Whether or when libre CPUs and SoCs might be viable choices for such 

* Whether some existing products are good-enough choices for hardware 
platforms, even if they are not libre hardware or employ encumbered 
microarchitectures (which a lot of established products do, of course)

There's an interesting summary of processor suitability done for the criteria 
of EOMA68 that some might find interesting:


"It should also be pretty clear that there is literally not a single processor 
that checks every single box! As in, there is not a single processor in the 
world that is eco-conscious, respects software freedom, is ethical and 
accessible. This is a pretty insane situation to be in, in the year 2016."

There needs to be a constructive debate about incrementally improving this 
situation. Instead of "I hate that processor" or "wait for my radical SoC I've 
just started designing", people need to help find products that uphold 
software freedom and privacy while also being usable (obtainable, for the most 
part) for small libre hardware projects. And there needs to be an appreciation 
that this work is not meant to create the "toy of the month" - a gadget that 
is fun for a while and then stashed away somewhere - but instead to build an 
environment where we shouldn't be constantly needing to urgently figure out 
what kind of hardware we can use that uphold our values.

So, does anyone have any opinion about the kinds of projects (most likely 
being undertaken already) that need our attention or support? How do you 
envisage a sustainable computing platform? And since all discussions 
inevitably lament how much memory Firefox uses these days, how do you envisage 
a less demanding form of computing being extended to online services?

Sorry for the long message!


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