Plugable Thin Client: The $50 Computer
With your help, we can cut the cost of computing in half for schools, homes, and organizations. All Open Source. Commodity HW.
^ Watch the video above for an introduction ^
Imagine if you could easily share one computer with a whole class, your whole family, the whole office.
Everybody is using that one computer at the same time, yet each person has their own display, keyboard, and mouse. They can’t see what each other is doing. They can’t affect each other. It’s like each person has her own machine, even though they’re actually sharing one.
They’re only paying for one machine. Powering one. Maintaining one. Only having to upgrade one.
The $50 thin client
With your help, we can make this possible. We can get the cost for each additional user down to a $50 thin client, to which each additional display, keyboard, and mouse is connected.
Just plug in several of these to the USB ports of a computer running special software (Fedora 17 Linux is the focus of this KickStarter project), and turn your one PC into a plug-and-play multiseat platform. Every person sharing the computer has access to lots of free software, including familiar Firefox or Chrome browsers -- unless you're a power user, you don't need to care that Linux is underneath.
This is all 100% open source software, so there are no license costs whatsoever. $50 per user is it.
The cost and maintenance savings is obviously a big win for schools and organizations.
But it can also be useful in the home. Have 3 of these in the house, and want to add a 4th for Aunt Velma who’s visiting next month? Plug in one of these $50 multiseat thin clients and a spare display, and up pops a fresh login screen, ready for Velma to use. No new computer to buy, configure, or maintain.
But we need your backing to reach these economies of scale for a $50 thin client.
How it works
Modern PCs have power to spare. Your CPU is idling most of the time, between bursts of activity. And your PC has enormous untapped expandability. Via USB, you can add up to 127 additional devices to your PC, including USB hubs, graphics adapters, keyboards, and mice. Your PC is more capable than a dozen decade-old PCs.
It’s possible to detect that a particular USB display, keyboard, and mouse are all connected through a common hub. This is what’s inside each Plugable Multiseat Thin Client. And with special operating system software, it’s possible to pop up a fresh login screen when it detects a new client has arrived via USB. Because modern operating systems are multi-user, it can look and act like a completely separate machine with complete separation between all the simultaneous users. It turns one PC into many.
It’s not just cost savings
Each Plugable Multiseat Thin Client consumes as little as 2.5 Watts (500mA @ 5V). That’s about 1/20th the power consumption of a typical laptop. Or about 1/50th the power consumption of a typical desktop.
Each thin client has no fan, no moving parts, nothing to replace. To upgrade performance, you upgrade the one central PC, and keep the same clients. No landfill.
So while you’re saving money, you’re saving the environment.
And keeping computers running is a pain. We collectively spend a lot of time dealing with software installs, data backups, automatic upgrades, etc. In a classroom environment, keeping machines running cleanly requires constant vigilance. If a PC goes down, lots of work goes down with it.
With a multiseat setup, you can divide that work by 5 or 10. And if a thin client goes down, just swap it out – any user can log in at any one.
Why your Kickstarter backing is critical
But we need your help to make this happen.
- To hit the $50 price point, we need to produce lots of units to get the price down
- The open source software is close, but we need your support to push it over the finish line
- To get computers in the hands of the next billion people on this planet, we need to make this work
The rewards - Two choices
Our main focus is on pushing the "small" platform to reach the $50 price point. But for a little more, we also have the option of a powered thin client that can handle more than just USB keyboard and mouse. Here's a little more detail on the two options covered in the rewards.
These thin clients are in production and sold today (although the DC-125 is updated for this Kickstarter project). But the cost to Kickstarters, even for one unit, will be lower than our available price elsewhere.
Don’t want Linux?
We understand, and so does Microsoft :). While the focus of this Kickstarter project is on the work to get a 100% open source Linux project up and running based on Fedora 17, Windows has lots of big benefits.
Every Plugable Multiseat Thin Client purchased as part of this Kickstarter project also works on Windows Multipoint Server 2011, Microsoft’s multiseat OS. Your investment in this hardware isn’t tied to Linux.
Delivering the Goods
Plugable Technologies is a small startup (there's just 4 of us here!), but we already ship thousands of USB devices worldwide each month. See http://plugable.com/shop and http://plugable.com/shop/eu to get a picture of what we do, and what customers think about our devices, service, and reliability.
On the hardware side, both the DC-125 and UD-160 platforms have been shipping for some time. Complete re-engeineering isn't needed for this KickStarter project, fortunately.
On the software side, we develop the main low-level Linux open source driver (udlfb, the USB graphics driver), but there is lots of work above this level. That said, we are already running thin client setups running with Fedora 17 Beta, and we believe we can recover from problems with an installable package to deliver any missing pieces or fix any blocking issues.
In terms of shipping, the biggest difficulty is reaching our backers outside the USA. To make sure we can deliver, we're focusing on the shipping sweet spot of 5 unit bundles -- these fit perfectly in a USPS Large Flat rate box, and this is the single reward we can offer with confidence to buyers around the world.
Let us know with an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. We'll keep a FAQ so your questions can also help others. Thank you!
The ability to plug in a compound USB device with ASICs for hub, graphics, audio, and more, have all of its sub-devices supported with open source drivers in Linux, and have it be recognized and automatically used as a plug-and-play muliseat thin client .... phew! ... there's a huge amount going on to make something like this as easy as plug and play. And it's taken more than a decade of work by many, many people. Just to call out two:
Dr. Quentin Stafford Fraser was one of the first to articulate and act on this vision for low-cost computing. Along with Martin King (who passed away last year), he founded both DisplayLink and Ndiyo.org to progress this vision.
Lennart Poettering, through his systemd work at RedHat on Fedora, has made USB multiseat possible again, and this time with a clean, supportable architecture that is the basis of this Kickstarter project, and hopefully the basis of this support spreading to all the other Linux distros.
Our work has focused on the udlfb kernel driver and on prototyping earlier multiseat implementations on Linux (that are now superceeded by Lennart's work). You can read more at http://plugable.com/category/project/udlfb/ and see our source contributions to date at http://git.plugable.com/
You can get even more background on the history and technology of USB multiseat in my 2009 Linux Plumbers Conference talk, below.
This Kickstarter project is the culmination of a lot of work by many people, now including you too. We hope it is successful.
Thank you for your backing!
- (50 days)