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Its time to start giving back

London Meetup

PINE64’s commitment to giving back to the community, partner projects and the society has been outlined by TL Lim during our community meetup in Hyde Park, London on 18 August, 2018. 

 No one has ever become poor by giving ~ Anne Frank

Free as in a bird, not as a beer. Libre and not gratis. We all understand this concept while simultaneously appreciating that open source software is, for the most part, also free of charge to regular end-users. By relying on donations and sponsorships to make revenue and keep the light on, most projects maintain a low barrier to entry for new and prospectus users. Anyone with a computer and an internet connection can readily use just about any Linux or *BSD operating system, as well as any open software these OS’ run. Not to mention that anyone is welcome to study, contribute to and alter the said software. I know that I am preaching to the choir but FOSS is amazing. That said, these are hardly the only reasons for using open source software. For a sizable number of people, the payment-free model also means access to good and viable alternatives to proprietary software, which may be financially out of reach. I myself, as an undergrad student in the early 2000’s, resorted to using OpenOffice - not for ideological reasons, but rather because I couldn’t afford the MS Office Suite.

That said, projects need money to sustain the development process and, ultimately, the software they deliver free of charge to end-users. Much has already been written on the subject of sustainability of FOSS projects by people more knowledgeable than myself, so if you’re interested in the subject matter then search for FOSS financial sustainability. In a nutshell, keeping a FOSS project financially sustainable is very difficult; In the words of Andre Staltz, data shows “(…) that open source creators and maintainers are receiving low income” and “[t]his is not the first time [in history] hard-working honest people are giving their all, for unfair compensation”. The statistics vary vastly, but it is estimated that only a marginal fraction (approx 0.0001%) of people who ever, at any point in their life, used open source software have donated any amount of money to a project. It comes as no surprise then that even very large projects, such as Linux Mint, receive monthly donations that average $13K ($24k max / 7k min) from their user-base.

The question then arises, how can we do our share for the projects we work with? (by ‘we’ I mean both Pine Microsystems and PINE64 community). All of PINE64 hardware relies on community software and third-party projects,  but the one piece of hardware that is solely supported by third-party projects is the PinePhone. Since the PinePhone is an experimental project in its own right, we decided to also make it a testing ground for an idea we’ve had for some time now. From the very start of the PinePhone project we were clear that we wish to work with existing and well established Linux-on-phone projects. This decision stemmed from a firm belief in these projects competences and our ability to deliver a true FOSS phone. To this end, we have now made the decision to relay all revenue from PinePhone sales to the development community and third-party Linux-on-phone projects. In doing so we hope that, on the one hand, this will help Linux-on-phone projects grow and prosper, and on the other, entice developers to commit their time to PinePhone development.

Before proceeding let me just state the following: if this model works, and all parties involved are happy with it, then it is likely to be implemented for other similar devices in the future.

How it’ll work

Unlike many of PINE64 products that bring in no revenue (for instance, the Pinebook and Pinebook Pro) the PinePhone has an ‘in-built’ profit of ~$10 per unit. I provide the USD value as an approximation due to fluctuations of component prices and other market variables which there is no control over. It is exactly the $10 sum, per unit sold, that we wish to donate to the partner projects working on the PinePhone. Just to make it clear, the $149 will always be the final price for end-users and no-one will be asked donate money. As it were, we’re making the donation on your behalf.

We seek to make financial contributions in two ways. Please note, that only PinePhones sold in the PINE Store will be subject to the points below:

1) Via OS promotion campaigns (large).

2) Allowing users to indicate directly which project they wish the money to go to (small).

Lets start with the first of the two options. Once a partner project decides that an OS build for the PinePhone has been completed, and we too are satisfied with the OS image, then an entire PinePhone production run will be flashed with the OS build in question. We may also end up customizing the PinePhone for each campaign with project-specific phone’s covers, as well as include the project’s stickers, etc., so as to make each campaign truly feels OS-specific. Lets say, to make the math simple, we produce a batch of 1000 PinePhones for one of the projects. So, with 1000 units sold, the donation made to the project will amount to USD $10,000. Depending on the project size, its existing install-base of users, as well as general level of interest in the PinePhone, these batches may be significantly larger or smaller. Let me also assure you that we will ensure that the entire process, from start to finish, is both clear and transparent to the end-users making the purchase during the campaign period.

The second way in which we wish to contribute to partner projects is by giving you - the end-users - the option to indicate which Linux-on-phone project should receive the $10 from your PinePhone purchase in the PINE Store. Each partner project will be assigned a code that you’ll be asked to key in (if you so choose) when completing your PinePhone purchase. To make the process completely transparent, and so that there are no speculations about how the system works, we will likely list the help of community developers to build it. The source for the system will, subsequently, also be uploaded to github or gitlab for anyone to view, study and alter (if need be). But what happens with the $10 if no project is indicated at check-out? - the answer is that the money will go to a PINE64 community fund. This will allow us to help send community members to conferences, support community initiatives and activities, and much, much more. 

There is more: contributing to closing the digital gap

But wait! there is more. We are also making our contribution to closing the digital gap - a term used to describe the inequality of access to a computer, internet and technology of underprivileged individuals or groups. It may be inconceivable to many of you, but access to a computer, to secure and sophisticated software, as well as the Internet remains a privilege of less than half of humanity. And the number of children with regular access to a computer worldwide is just a measly 19%. While not as important as access to fresh water, food, shelter or electricity, access to a computer has a substantially positive effect on individuals and thus also the communities they inhabit. A recent UN report has outlined that providing school-age children with a computer correlated directly with improved literacy rates, access to further education, financial independence (particularly important in the case of girls and young women) and perhaps most importantly safety (in many less economically developed countries, children access the internet and do homework at internet cafes. Travel to-and-from the internet cafes, as well as the cafes themselves, frequently exposes children to potential danger).

Enter the Pinebook - an ideal laptop for distribution as an aid in closing the digital divide. It is inexpensive, sturdy and durable as well as simple in design, which effectively means that it can be repaired by anyone with limited resources. All that is needed to access the Pinebook’s internals is a Philips screwdriver, and in the event of a component failure spare parts can be had for a very small fee. Moreover, despite its low cost, the Pinebook has all the basic networking and connectivity one would require for basic tasks, allows for a wide array of software to run on it, has a very long battery-life as well as reaps all the benefits of running open source software.

How will this be achieved?

Our commitment to closing the digital gap will start with the PinePhone launch. There will be two types of covers available for the PinePhone in the PINE Store - a soft rubber cover (likely transparent) and a hard plastic one. The following refers to the soft covers sold in the PINE Store only. The final pricing for the cover isn’t set in stone yet, but I expect that it should be in the $10 range. All revenue from this soft cover will go to a only sole purpose: funding Pinebooks used in our initiative to help close the digital gap. The math is simple, but let me outline it anyways; 10 soft PinePhone covers sold in the PINE Store ‘buys’ one Pinebook for someone in need. You get your PinPhone cover and someone in need gets a Pinebook, what’s not to like?

How will you decide whom to send the Pinebooks to?

We intend to make this a community process. Details are still being worked out, but I envision having community members submit suggestions for people and places, charities and institutions, existing projects dealing with the digital divide, etc., that would either directly benefit from using Pinebooks or help with their distribution. In time there may be an advisory body consisting of PINE64 community members as well as notable people from the broader Linux community, whom will be tasked with weighing in on the proposals and put them to a vote. We’ll see how it goes. If you have any suggestions regarding this subject matter then please make sure to share your thoughts in the comments section. 

Lastly, if you are a developer or represent an existing education-focused project, and would like to tailor an OS build for the Pinebook then make sure to get in touch with me.