EOMA68 crowdfunding campaign (and those x86 concerns)

Elizabeth Myers elizabeth at interlinked.me
Mon Jul 11 22:20:13 UTC 2016

On 30/06/16 17:04, Paul Boddie wrote:
> Hello,
> I've mentioned this fairly recently in discussion threads on the 
> security/surveillance concerns with x86-based platforms [1, 2], but I thought 
> I should pass on the news that the EOMA68 initiative has opened a crowdfunding 
> campaign for its products:
> https://www.crowdsupply.com/eoma68/micro-desktop
> The Free Software relevance here is that the hardware to be delivered supports 
> a completely Free Software environment, with no proprietary drivers or 
> firmware required. More discussion of that can be found here:
> https://www.reddit.com/r/freesoftware/comments/4qhm1y/earthfriendly_eoma68_computing_devices/
> And Joshua Gay, of the FSF, participates in a discussion about the RYF 
> (Respects Your Freedom) certification of one of the products in the campaign 
> in the following message:
> https://lists.gnu.org/archive/html/libreplanet-discuss/2016-06/msg00212.html


This looks fine for something for light work, but doesn't really look
like something I would want to use every day. I would prefer a more
powerful workstation type computer similar to the Talos boards being
proposed by Raptor (or something MIPS based, which is also an open

To give you an example, on my laptop (which runs entirely free/libre
software, but not hardware unfortunately), I'm presently using 4.8 GB of
RAM. I'm not even doing anything fancy - I'm using Firefox (admittedly
with many tabs), I'm checking email, I'm using IRC and IM, and I have
some editor windows open. This admittedly says something about the
modern state of software being bloated, but that is besides the point.

> Meanwhile, the hardware is "open source hardware" at the circuit board level, 
> and the physical design of the laptop being offered as part of the campaign is 
> also freely available for people to print themselves if they really want to. 
> One of the goals is to make sustainable hardware that is not unnecessarily 
> resource-intensive to produce, hence the unconventional use of plywood panels 
> in the case designs.

I agree. Now more than ever it's important to have open hardware
(especially in this age of rogue intelligence agencies), but I also
believe in choices. Something like this wouldn't cut it for my needs.
This also doesn't address the dire need for server-class libre hardware,
which at the moment, there really is not any. The UltraSPARC T2 was
GPL'd, but since Oracle bought out Sun, they've been keen to shut
everything away.

> What I find personally interesting is the modular aspect of the concept. There 
> are lots of single-board computers but they are often either not particularly 
> expandable or their accessories are infuriatingly specific (which may seem 
> unproblematic if you are one of the many people using a Raspberry Pi, but the 
> fun may lessen somewhat when they bring out a new version which is different 
> in some way, rendering some accessories incompatible). In principle, this 
> initiative could help people to concentrate more on developing other aspects 
> of open computing devices.

It is an interesting concept, but this also does not really address
higher-class needs, as stated above.

> On the topic of the perceived problems with x86 platforms and the intersection 
> of that topic with this campaign, there's a blog post by Think Penguin who 
> have been sponsoring this effort:
> https://www.thinkpenguin.com/gnu-linux/crowd-funding-kick-backdoor-free-eco-
> consious-libre-computing

There are plenty of problems with X86, including memory areas even ring
0 cannot access. See

> The computer cards offered employ an ARM-based CPU, and it appears possible 
> that other architectures will be offered at some point in the future. For 
> example, a MIPS-based card was prototyped and it has been indicated that it 
> isn't too far behind the ARM-based card in terms of readiness, but I don't 
> intend to second-guess those involved in any of this. I'm hoping that other 
> cards will be offered during the campaign, but they may end up waiting until 
> afterwards for all I really know.

ARM is a rather closed architecture requiring licensing agreements for
modification and is closely held by ARM holdings. Getting some
documentation for ARM processors actually requires signing an NDA. This
includes features such as Jazelle off the top of my head, but I know
there are others.

> Although I intend to support this effort, I am not endorsing it as such. This 
> message is meant to inform people about the recent concrete progress of a 
> project that has been many years in the making and has had its ups and downs, 
> occasionally in a rather public manner [3]. There are other projects offering 
> laptops and other "end-user-friendly" computing devices [4, 5, 6], and it is 
> up to everyone to decide which one balances their own interests with what is 
> being offered in a way that they find personally acceptable.

More agreement; I do support such an effort, but I can't fully endorse
it myself.

> For instance, some people might find the Librem laptop [5] an acceptable 
> platform for running Free Software despite its reliance on an Intel CPU with 
> the notorious "Management Engine", and they may be reassured by Purism's 
> efforts to petition Intel to release the "Firmware Support Package" under a 
> free licence [7]. Others may not expect Intel to cooperate, leaving the Librem 
> susceptible to the concerns raised previously. Some people wanting x86-based 
> hardware might find something like the APU1 [8] acceptable because it employs 
> an AMD CPU that supports Coreboot, even if the hardware is not "open source 
> hardware" (nor is the Librem, for that matter).

See above about x86 concerns; x86 hardware cannot be truly called libre
in any sense.

> I hope that, if nothing else, this has given people a few things to look at a 
> bit more closely. I encourage people to ask questions about the campaign 
> mentioned in this message if they are wondering about any aspect of it; 
> there's a link at the bottom of the campaign page below the growing list of 
> questions and answers. If nothing else, it will help people figure out where 
> the next opportunity lies in open and free hardware for Free Software.
> Paul
> P.S. I would have blogged about this, but blogs.fsfe.org is not responding. 
> But I guess the topic is worthy of discussion, anyway. ;-)
> [1] http://mail.fsfeurope.org/pipermail/discussion/2016-April/010913.html
> [2] http://mail.fsfeurope.org/pipermail/discussion/2016-June/011102.html
> [3] http://blogs.fsfe.org/pboddie/?p=933
> [4] https://www.crowdsupply.com/sutajio-kosagi/novena
> [5] https://www.crowdsupply.com/purism/librem-15
> [6] https://olimex.wordpress.com/2015/11/24/a64-olinuxino-oshw-linux-laptop-
> idea-becomes-more-real/
> [7] https://puri.sm/posts/bios-freedom-status/
> [8] http://www.pcengines.ch/apu1d4.htm
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