Software

Endless wisdom from a simple, Linux-based PC

Look out Chrome OS, there's a newer, cheaper platform ready to blow the roof off the cost-effective PC market. Could the Endless PC be the solution for getting computers in every household and school across the globe?

endlesshero.jpg
Image: Endless

Nearly every pundit on the planet has chimed the death knell for the desktop PC. After all, isn't everyone pretty much glued to their smartphones at this point?

It's Linux.

But wait, didn't Endless say that Linux was "too hard"? In fact, the creator of Endless said (of the various platforms):

  • Windows was too expensive and didn't run well enough on lower-powered hardware
  • Android was fundamentally a mobile platform
  • Chrome OS required connectivity
  • Linux is too hard to use

To get around that, Endless wound up using Linux with a new, simplified user-interface. So effectively, it's Linux.

The machines

The main purpose of these machines is to get computers in the hands of people that couldn't normally afford them. At the same time, they've designed really sweet looking hardware. There are two different machines:

  • Endless Mini
  • Endless PC

Each of these can be purchased with a base or an extended model (the Mini at either 24 or 32 GB of storage and the PC at either 32 or 500 GB of storage). The high-end Endless machine sells for $229, whereas the lowest end Mini goes for $79. The specs are pretty much what you'd expect to find in a low-cost machine:

CPU

  • MINI: Amlogic® S805, Quad Core, ARM® Cortex A5, Mali®-450 GPU (burst speed 1.50 GHz)
  • PC: Intel® Celeron® N2807 1.58 GHz Dual-Core processor (burst speed 2.16 GHz)

MEMORY

  • MINI: Either 1 GB or 2 GB
  • PC: 2 GB

The platform

But it's not the specs that you should consider at the moment. What should really appeal to you is the platform. This is a highly customized version of Ubuntu Linux, running GNOME tweaked in such a way that it can easily make use of a television as its display. That's right. The goal was to make the Endless PC as cheap as possible. Considering the vast amount of televisions in homes across the globe, it made sense for Endless to design a PC around that idea.

Beyond the display, Endless has done something incredibly intelligent. They've crafted a machine that doesn't depend upon internet connectivity in order to depart with its wisdom. How did they do that? Simple: Endless loaded the machine up with a huge library of applications that all contain helpful data. For example, the systems all ship with a vast amount of pre-installed Wikipedia, so there's no need for internet connectivity to locate information. The desktop systems also ship with plenty of productivity tools as well. At the heart of Endless OS is the need to get information to places where access is restricted.

Unique take on package management

Instead of opting to go with apt, yum, dnf, or any other package management system, Endless went a completely different route. By using OSTree to manage a read-only file system and bundle an application overlay on top of that, they've made everything as fool-proof and easy as possible. Endless knows who their audience is...and it isn't the tech-savvy users so often associated with Linux. Endless aimed all their sights on simplicity and it looks like they've hit the mark with every shot.

For open source purists, there is one tiny glitch. Although much of Endless OS is open source, there is some proprietary code within. That doesn't mean you should turn your back on this product and company. In fact, Endless does fully embrace open source software, with the following philosophy:

We embrace the principles of free and open-source software and acknowledge a great debt to it in creating Endless OS. Whenever we can, we work upstream and contribute back to open source. Although not everything we create can be open source, we release most components of our system under free software licenses. Many members of our core team have a long history with open source projects, and continue to be an active part of those communities.You might notice that we maintain forks of many upstream packages. In most cases, this is because we submit our patches upstream and backport them to the stable versions that we ship.

If you want to get a glimpse of all the packages installed on Endless OS, check out their Git page. The list of packages isn't as massive as you might think, but it's enough to get the job done.

How will Endless fare

This is the big question. So many companies have undertaken similar projects with less than stellar results. I believe, however, that Endless is doing everything right. The idea of not depending upon connectivity and enabling users to simply connect the machine to an existing television can place these devices in locales that platforms like Chrome OS simply cannot venture. This could be a real dream come true for schools and colleges where cost and connectivity are serious issues.

However, as you might expect, only time will tell. The world and its consumers are very fickle. Today the Endless might seem a sexy solution for a daunting problem. Tomorrow, it could be a little more than a shake of the head.

The good news is you don't have to wait too long if you want to give Endless OS a go. You can already purchase an Endless PC (shipping now). You can purchase the Endless mini, but they won't be shipping for another two weeks.

What do you think? Can a device like the Endless PC succeed? Or have we reached a point where the computer is truly worthless without internet connectivity?

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About

Jack Wallen is an award-winning writer for TechRepublic and Linux.com. He’s an avid promoter of open source and the voice of The Android Expert. For more news about Jack Wallen, visit his website jackwallen.com.

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