There’s a new player in the preinstalled Linux world offering computers with Ubuntu preinstalled for $89, and although this price might suggest bottom of the line specs, the machines are more than powerful enough for most users. They’re also green — very green. They weigh in at 50% less than the average desktop, meaning they use less fossil fuel to ship, and are built in a case made of 100 percent recycled ABS plastic. They’re also shipped in packages completely made from non-virgin fiber.
Everything inside the box is also green — or as green as possible, considering that modern electronics is nothing if not a toxic stew.
They come from a company out of Phoenix called Symple PC, founded by Jason Spisak, who also was the co-founder and marketing director of the once popular Linux distro Lycoris, which made news back in 2003 when Walmart offered the distro preinstalled on $199 PCs. He’s now reinventing how we recycle still usable electronics by going far beyond the mere refurbishing of old boxes.
“I conceived the idea for Symple PC Web Workstations while visiting an e-waste recycling center,” he recently explained to FOSS Force. “The Snowden revelations were fresh in my mind, and I had also just watched a documentary about the scope of our global e-waste problem the day before. Walking through the place it hit me: I could bring together a need to actively mitigate e-waste and protect privacy with my passion to get Linux pre-installed on affordable computers for schools, non-profits and businesses in a single project.”
Getting businesses interested in preinstalled Linux was not new to Spisak. Although he had marginal success with the short lived Lycoris/Walmart project; other attempts had been less fruitful. “I actually visited HP on their invitation,” he said. “They wanted to see if Linux on the desktop was viable as far back as 2001. It was surreal. A couple of Linux geeks sitting in a board room discussing the lack of modem drivers inside a multi-billion dollar company.
“This has been a goal of mine for fourteen years,” he added.
The new idea is so simple (no pun intended) it’s surprising that no one’s already implemented it commercially. Symple PC has partnered with recycling centers in and around the Phoenix area, which supply it with discarded systems and parts. These then go through a multi-tier testing process before being reassembled in new cases. As much as possible is recycled, including the screws used to mount parts to the chassis.
“Testing is one of the most crucial aspects of the Symple PC,” Spisak said. “We want to make sure our customers get a solid experience, as many will judge Linux in general from their first encounter. Using Ubuntu 14.04 LTS also gives our users a supported solution for five years, something they can count on when they roll out larger numbers of units. We want people to feel safe and supported.”
Symple’s hardware comes with a one year replacement guarantee, not unlike the guarantees offered on new computers. In a nutshell, if a computer breaks down, Symple will replace it free. Also, after the warranty has expired, the company offers a $10 “Environmental Credit” for any Symple PC that’s returned after the purchase of a new unit.
“These machines are not speed demons,” Spisak admitted, “but a Symple PC gets students and workers on the web and productive. Symple takes the typically grass-roots effort lovingly performed by many school volunteers and non-profit admins and codifies it into a predictable, warrantied reality that shows up in their office or on their campus in five days.”
They may not be “speed demons,” but they’re also not lacking in resources for most purposes. Because they’re built using a variety of repurposed components, they don’t all have the same specs. However, each computer meets a minimum requirement of at least 2 GB RAM, 80 GB SATA hard drive or larger and a 2.8 GHz P4 processor or faster. Also, each Symple system will have at least one Ethernet and three USB ports and an audio out jack. The machines also have a small form factor, measuring 12.5″×12.5″×6.25″.
“The Symple PC Web Workstation represents my hope that we can change the course of our technology future towards one of privacy, freedom and respect for the planet that our fellow humans will call home long after we are gone,” Spisak said.