On today's internet, most of us find ourselves locked into one service provider or the other. We find ourselves tied down to Apple, Facebook, Google, or Microsoft for our e-mail, social networking, calendering -- you name it. It doesn't have to be that way. The FreedomBox Foundation has just released its first commercially available FreedomBox: The Pioneer Edition FreedomBox Home Server Kit. With it, you -- not some company -- control over your internet-based services.
The Olimex Pioneer FreedomBox costs less than $100 and is powered by a single-board computer (SBC), the open source hardware-based Olimex A20-OLinuXino-LIME2 board. This SBC is powered by a 1GHz A20/T2 dual core Cortex-A7 processor and dual-core Mali 400 GPU. It also comes with a Gigabyte of RAM, a high-speed 32GB micro SD card for storage with the FreedomBox software pre-installed, two USB ports, SATA-drive support, a Gigabit Ethernet port, and a backup battery.
Doesn't sounds like much does it? But, here's the thing: You don't need much to run a personal server.
Sure, some of us have been running our own servers at home, the office, or at a hosting site for ages. I'm one of those people. But, it's hard to do. What the FreedomBox brings to the table is the power to let almost anyone run their own server without being a Linux expert.
The supplied FreedomBox software is based on Debian Linux. It's designed from the ground-up to make it as hard as possible for anyone to exploit your data. It does this by putting you in control of your own corner of the internet at home. Its simple user interface lets you host your own internet services with little expertise.
You can also just download the FreedomBox software and run it on your own SBC. The Foundation recommends using the Cubietruck, Cubieboard2, BeagleBone Black, A20 OLinuXino Lime2, A20 OLinuXino MICRO, and PC Engines APU. It will also run on most newer Raspberry Pi models.
Want an encrypted chat server to replace WhatsApp? It's got that. A VoIP server? Sure. A personal website? Of course! Web-based file sharing à la Dropbox? You bet. A Virtual Private Network (VPN) server of your own? Yes, that's essential for its mission.
The software stack isn't perfect. This is still a work in progress. So, for example, it still doesn't have a personal email server or federated social networking, such as GNU Social and Diaspora, to provide a privacy-respecting alternative to Facebook. That's not because they won't run on a FreedomBox; they will. What they haven't been able to do yet is to make it easy enough for anyone to do and not someone with Linux sysadmin chops. That will come in time.
As the Foundation stated, "The word 'Pioneer' was included in the name of these kits in order to emphasize the leadership required to run a FreedomBox in 2019. Users will be pioneers both because they have the initiative to define this new frontier and because their feedback will make FreedomBox better for its next generation of users."
To help you get up to speedm the FreedomBox community will be offering free technical support for owners of the Pioneer Edition FreedomBox servers on its support forum. The Foundation also welcomes new developers to help it perfect the FreedomBox platform.
Why do this? Eben Moglen, Professor of Law at Columbia Law School, saw the mess we were heading toward almost 10 years ago: "Mr. Zuckerberg has attained an unenviable record: he has done more harm to the human race than anybody else his age." That was before Facebook proved itself to be totally incompetent with security and sold off your data to Cambridge Analytica to scam 50 million US Facebook users with personalized anti-Clinton and pro-Trump propaganda in the 2016 election.
It didn't have to be that way. In an interview, Moglen told me this: "Concentration of technology is a surprising outcome of cheap hardware and free software. We could have had a world of peers. Instead, the net we built is the net we didn't want. We're in an age of surveillance with centralized control. We're in a world, which encourages swiping, clicking, and flame throwing."
With FreedomBox, "We can undo this. We can make it possible for ordinary people to provide internet services. You can have your own private messaging, services without a man in the middle watching your every move."
We can, in short, rebuild the internet so that we, and not multi-billion dollar companies, are in charge.
I like this plan.