On The Doorstep
The flash disks have been ordered from the manufacturer 2 weeks ago, and we are expecting to receive them really soon.
First, we discussed internally with KolibriOS Project Team members, should the backers receive KolibriOS-branded flash disks (i.e. having KolibriOS logo printed on them) or just regular USB flash disks you can buy in any store (from one of known brands, like SanDisk, Kingston, Corsair etc.). The decision was made almost unanimously: you expressed your support to us by pledging money to our project, so you should be rewarded with something unique – that means you are going to receive KolibriOS-branded flash disks.
Printing KolibriOS logo on a flash disk meant that it had to be no-name (i.e. not having any brand printed on it). So we have checked different places to purchase non-branded USB flash, starting from famous global internet websites and ending up with local stores.
On eBay, Alibaba, DealExtreme and the likes, the supply was abundant and the variety was big. The price was good even for small order quantities. The problem is that it’s totally impossible to check the quality of the goods before ordering, when buying from the internet. By nature of our project (Operating System development) we have encountered various pieces of hardware, including lots of different USB flash disks. Many of the non-branded ones looked nice externally, but were complete crap internally:
1) Not bootable. Some USB flash controllers somehow aren't recognized by computer BIOS. If the BIOS doesn't see the disk, then it can’t boot from this disk of course. It can be fine when you just need this flash disk at work to store your PowerPoint presentation, so you could continue working on it at home. Windows (or, for the matter of the fact, any other Operating System that can work with flash disks) would open the disk without any problem, since it has already loaded all the drivers from the hard drive, and those drivers can handle (almost) all types of USB flash controllers. If you have ever been to convention or course and got presented a course/convention-branded USB flash disk as a gift, there is a good chance you got such a non-bootable flash disk. Since you probably don’t intend to boot from it, you might even never notice the problem, but this doesn't mean that the problem doesn't exist. The idea of our USB flash disk reward was to give you a bootable disk preloaded with KolibriOS that you just need to plug into your computer, turn it on, and it would boot directly to KolibriOS without you having to do anything else to set it up. Getting a non-bootable disk as a reward defeats the whole point of instant use.
2) Fake size. If a flash controller is not recognized by BIOS, it is a problem but you still get what you have paid for. Fake size is plain-out scam, where the seller “tricks” the flash controller into thinking that the flash disk has much more memory than it actually has. Then the disk is equipped with a small memory chip (say, 256MB only), but it pretends having much more (like 4GB). When you write files to this disk at space that resides above the actual memory chip, the files either get lost or overwrite the beginning of the memory chip. So you've both paid for 4GB flash disk while getting only 256MB of space, and lost or corrupted your important files. We had to avoid this at any cost.
3) Poor quality components. No cheating here, but this disk can stop working after 100 write cycles, while you expect from the average disk to handle 10,000 write cycles.
Considering all of the above, we just couldn't afford ourselves to save some pennies and order from the internet – the risk of receiving bad quality / non-bootable / fake disks (without the possibility to return them) was too high. When you order one disk for yourself from eBay and receive a fake, this is just a nuisance. When you order 40 disks for all your backers and get fakes, it becomes a disaster. So this has limited us to local suppliers only.
The local suppliers allowed us to buy (or even borrow) samples to test them at home for a few days, until we find a model that is satisfactory. However, it turned out as a waste of time, as we soon discovered that logo printing factories only use their stock to print logos on, and you can’t bring your own stock - effectively, you are buying the flash disk with your logo from them. They told us there are 2 reasons for that:
1) They ensure the stock they buy has “printable” surface. While it might seem trivial, in reality you can’t print logos on any surface you want – that is, you *CAN* print on anything you want, but if the surface is not appropriate, the logo will come off very soon. To make sure that the logo stays on the surface at least for the lifetime of the USB flash disk use, that surface has to possess certain physical and chemical properties. The factories got tired of customer complaints when the disks were brought by the customers and the logos came off, as naturally the customers blamed the factories and not themselves for this problem. So in order to stop the complaints, they decided it would be easier to disallow bringing own stock entirely.
2) They ensure that their stock fits into their machinery and doesn't damage it. Logo printing presses are not as cheap as home-made 3D printers yet, so having a few thousand dollars press damaged by a $100-profit job is not a good thing at all.
That said, the printing factories don’t check the disk quality for the problems we have outlined above, so a fine-looking flash disk with a logo that lasts forever can still contain poor quality flash memory, or be non-bootable. Hence, we have asked the printing factories to sell us a few samples we could test, before the actual order. Originally we approached 4 factories, but one of those refused to sell us a sample. Thankfully, the other 3 were kind enough and agreed to sell us some.
The next thing we have asked was delivery time. Since you have already waited too long for your rewards, we didn't want to cause you even more delay, so we had to make sure the logos are printed fast. It turned out that one of the 3 remaining factories prints their logos in China, after which the flash disks are shipped to the factory, and the factory just packs them. This meant a turn-around time of about 1.5 months, which was too long for us. The 2 remaining factories print their logos in-house, so we stick to them.
Then we have faced our biggest challenge with this reward: the quantity is just too small for any manufacturer to pick up the order. We are due to ship 33 USB disks as rewards, and decided to get a few spares in case the original reward gets lost in the mail, so we can send a replacement. So, in total, we planned to produce 40 disks, but the minimum order with most manufacturers was 100. We *could* order just 40 pieces of course, but the price would be virtually the same as when ordering 100 of them (because of the flat price of creating the printing press for the logo, which is the same regardless of ordered disk quantity). After discussion between KolibriOS Project members, eventually we have decided to order 100 disks, and pay for the leftover 60 disks with KSoC mentors “pocket money”. Those disks can be used to hand over at conventions, should KolibriOS decide to participate in such. A few of them can be also used as prizes if we run quizzes (like with the “Easter egg” we have done in this Kickstarter project).
Now it was time to purchase and test the samples from the 2 factories that have left. Samples from one factory turned out to be good enough for us: the flash controller was recognized by BIOS on 19 out of 20 computers we have tested (it is not 100% unfortunately, but pretty close to that); the fake memory size detection tools reported that the actual memory size is correct, and the burn-in test we have run for 24 hours didn't reveal any problem. The other factory’s samples had a 1 Kbyte (1024 bytes) sector size rather than standard 512 bytes, so KolibriOS couldn’t work from them as it only supports the standard 512 byte sector size.
This has left us with only 1 factory, and coincidentally, the disks supplied by that factory passed our tests, so we were good to go with an order. The disks should be ready any moment (maybe even tomorrow). While you are waiting, below is a photo of the sample disk we have tested (without the logo yet). We hope the rewards will be worth the wait.