I talk about NextBook as having all the good things about Chromebooks without Google, but isn't that just trading one untrustworthy cloud company for another?
The NextBook uses Nextcloud in place of Google. Unlike Google's services, Nextcloud is open-source , so you can run it on your own servers, giving you complete control over your data. This is the default explanation as to why open-source software is more privacy- conscious than closed or proprietary software. But it glosses-over some important details, and in this case it's the fact that procuring, configuring and maintaining a complex piece of server software limits accessibility to these protections. This is doubly true for a device like the NextBook, whose audience is, almost by definition, people who want to spend less time configuring and maintaining computers.
So how to reconcile this conflict? I've thought about this a lot as part of this project and I've come up with a solution that I think meets the need and at the same time provides a way to make the project financially sustainable.
NextBook users will be given three options when setting-up or signing-on to a new NextBook:
- Use the project's Nextcloud instance
- Automatically deploy a new private Nextcloud instance
- Use an existing Nextcloud instance
The first option is the easiest and as such will be the default. As part of the project, a Nextcloud instance will be maintained for NextBook users providing a basic level of service for free, and the ability to purchase additional service (more storage space, etc.) for a fee. This makes it easy to get started with NextBook quickly without any commitment and still provides significantly more privacy than a Chromebook.
For more privacy-conscious users the second option makes it as easy as possible to use a Nextcloud instance that the user has complete control over. To do this we automate the process of provisioning a server, installing the software and configuring automatic maintenance. The user can choose from a number of hosting companies and plans that have been tested to work with the automatic deployment process, and the project will work with these companies to offer financial support to the project in return for these new customers. While the first option will initially be more popular, I think, over time, that this second option may become more common, especially for groups of users who collect naturally and have an existing trust relationship (not unlike how the cost of federated social network instances are shared by trusted, like-minded individuals).
The third option simply allows the user to select and log-on to an existing Nextcloud server of their choice. For existing Nextcloud users this make using a NextBook seamless and avoids the need for creating an additional account. Since some NextBook features are exposed through additional Nextcloud apps that are installed by default when selecting the first two options, we'll need to provide a convenient way for existing Nextcloud users to install these applications when they log-on to an existing account using a NextBook for the first time. This option could also be used by new users attaching to Nextcloud instances provisioned by users who select option number two.
While the third option provides no "path to sustainability", the first two do. Given the target audience for the NextBook, I believe that the first two options will be more popular, and while free accounts on the project-provided instance will likely be the most common, a combination of reoccurring revenue from users purchasing additional capacity along with referral or other revenue from hosting partnerships could be cultivated to provide project-sustaining income. Of course it goes without saying that these financial aspects need to be carried-out in a way that is compatible with the privacy-focused nature of the project, so there may be details to sort-out to make these viable, if suitable at all.
In addition to providing users with these options there will be a need to make migration from one choice to the other painless, and provide a user interface to these options that is easy for users with no familiarity with hosting, etc. to make a choice they are comfortable with.
There is also a forth option that I'm not sure about at this point: provisioning a local Nextcloud instance. The use-case for this option is to provide an off-grid option, so that a NextBook could be used with no Internet connection, and no data shared outside of the NextBook itself. I'm not certain that this is something that would be of use to users who would find the NextBook attractive, and I haven't thought it through enough to know for sure if it could even work correctly. That said, I'll be keeping this mode in mind during the development process to avoid making it impossible, and even if it's not presented as a default/automatic option, it's something I might provide some support for if only for developers, etc.