Keepod: Wasting $40,000 to Reinvent Linux on a Stick
May 15, 2014 Editor 0
There’s been a lot of news outlets covering Keepod, which claims to “overcome most of the traditional constraints that are preventing personal computing for many.” Their video asserts Keepod represents a revolutionary new paradigm shift to separate the operating system from the computer to a USB stick.
This has in fact been done for many years using the LiveUSB technologies. In fact, you can do it right now in three easy steps on Ubuntu.com or there’s a kid version called Sugar on a stick.
The central claim that Keepod is “the first standardised version of a bootable OS” is demonstrably untrue.
Keepod doesn’t solve any problems
The idea that it’s a $7 computer is also untrue; it’s just a normal USB storage stick, with a customized version of Ubuntu/Mint/Android/something according to their website. You still need a computer. So you’re not enabling billions to have a computer, you’re enabling billions to boot from a USB stick and save their own desktop settings versus using a shared computer and just saving files to/from the USB stick (if they had a computer), which they could already do before with a bootable USB Ubuntu/Android/whatever.
That computer requirement is the problem. Refurbished computers, potentially the cheapest option, are not free; refurbishment and shipping costs money. So we still need to pay for the computer somehow. Then there are the issues of power, maintenance, training and theft prevention. These are probably much bigger problems than saving your own personal desktop versus having a USB stick of your own and using it with shared computers running a ‘normal’ installed operating system.
In my 7 years of experience in working with people who underprivileged and new to using computers (in Afghanistan and Africa) I find unsurprisingly they are rather less likely to be users of online banking (likely also not even having a bank account) or other high security demand applications. They likely do not have a trove of sensitive digital documents. Often passwords were kept written down on paper and kept in a diary book.
Keepod creates unneeded problems
Keepod is making inflated and misleading claims that are to the detriment of those involved in better thought out plans. On their website, they say that Keepod is “$7 computer access for anyone,” but what will happen when people realize the pilot has a cost of $800 per computer ($40,000 / 50 computers)? They aren’t any closer to connecting the next 5 billion, and by making light of the real cost of computing in underserved communities, they may be prejudicing donors from listening to the next, better developed plan.
Worst of all, if you read Keepod’s Indegogo page, you might think that Keepods alone will “create new economic opportunities that will in turn allow the people [Mathare slum, Nairobi, Kenya] to solve other problems”. As if waving a few LiveUSB sticks over the populace will automagically erase land rights issues, low education levels, discrimination, pollution, and sanitation problems.
Please repeat yet again, “technology is not a silver bullet,” and remember it’s a supporting actor to human intention and capacity for change.
Let’s use existing personal computing infrastructure
If we are to solve the issues of those who are digitally disadvantaged, we need to use the personal computer people are buying in droves: mobile phones. Even $35 feature phones have similar capacity to 1997 computers, and those were good enough to do audio/video eLearning, check out webpages, and communicate. That they are suggesting users should pay them for a USB stick (and shipping, and customs, taxes, etc) instead of downloading it does not indicate a well thought out approach.
Keeping your own personal desktop settings across shared computers and using industrial strength encryption to protect the first files people are making, like their CV, is not a priority. Even if it were, it is already possible with existing technology. This project is, as far as I can see, misleading people into donating based on a false premise.
Rather, we need to look to economic development so people can afford computers, we need to look to infrastructure so they can use them, and we need to look at training and capacity to maintain computers regardless of OS or USB. Best of all, we should leverage existing computing power that will always outnumber Keepods: mobile phones
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