$169 desktop computer hopes for Endless global impact – USA TODAY

SAN FRANCISCO — Matt Dalio wasn’t quite sure about his idea of bringing a low-cost computer to emerging nations. He had questions.

Didn’t people in Africa and Asia mainly use cellphones?

How deep was their desire for Web connectivity?

And if they could access it, would they really want a desktop?

But those nagging issues were dismissed a few years ago while on a fact-finding mission in Asia by a soft-spoken Bangladeshi man sitting opposite him sipping tea.

“Now this is a country with 2% Internet penetration, so I’m thinking my questions are absurd,” says Dalio, 31. “But this man looked at me and said, ‘Do this for my country. Do this for my people. Do this for my children.’ How could I not?”

The result of that challenge is the Endless computer, whose Kickstarter campaign launches Tuesday. The elegant $169 dome – think Apple’s original colorful iMac – features a 1.7-gigahertz processor and 2 gigabytes of RAM, and requires the addition of a keyboard and monitor.

“A keyboard isn’t expensive and the monitor, well the one thing I did see in travels around India, Brazil, Thailand other places was, without fail, HD-quality televisions in most homes,” says Dalio. His Kickstarter goal of $100,000 – “ideally from 100,000 donations of $1″ – will be used to raise awareness of the product in its first marketplaces, Mexico and Guatemala. An Asian rollout will follow.

Endless has the same altruistic bent as other projects aimed at bringing tech to the rest of the world.

There’s One Laptop Per Child, a U.S.-based non-profit aimed at educating some of the poorest children in the world via a rudimentary $80 laptop, as well as Google’s Project Loon, whose mission is to seed Web-beaming balloons in the stratosphere and use algorithms to plot their course around the globe. Of course, a persistent hurdle of any Third World tech projects is poor infrastructure that often results in spotty if non-existent electricity, the life-blood of any electronic device.

Dalio is keen to point out that “we’re not a non-profit, rather our goal is to build a sustainable business model that can make desktop ownership a reality for billions” who do have at least sporadic electricity.

SIMPLICITY WAS THE GOAL

Using Linux, Dalio and his engineers have created an operating system that essentially streamlines the desktop computer experience to render it less intimidating for first-time users. The team had a mantra of sorts: Two clicks is often too much, and double-clicking is to be avoided.

That means simplified tasks (when you click on a tab, often only the three most logical action requests pop up) and apps (which range from recipes to Khan Academy lessons), and a broad degree of functionality regardless of Internet access. Games and photo-management was a must, as was a suite of office applications.

“It had to have it all, just simplified,” says Dalio.

The desktop is waning in our tablet-obsessed world; Gartner recently reported that global desktop sales slipped 5% in the first quarter. But rudimentary and affordable options – such as the $149 do-it-yourself computer, Kano – have caught the attention of many.

Dalio is convinced affordable desktop computers are poised to change the lives “of the 4.4 billion of the 7 billion people in the world who do not have access to computers today, from people running small businesses to children who are just desperate to learn any way they can. For these people, it’s clear that what they often want to do can’t be done on a small screen, if their cellphone even has a screen.”

The entrepreneur’s travels to emerging markets also taught him that the poor don’t want to be treated shabbily by consumer product companies. They universally told Dalio that they wanted an affordable product but also one that felt like it was on a par with best-in-class products costing far more.

“I think we’ve done it,” Dalio says. “We’ve taken the best of the mobile paradigm’s ease of use, added the desktop’s virtues and realized it all with Silicon Valley standards. It’s time for the next billion people in the world have computer access.”