Niche computer maker Purism turns lack of trust into a selling proposition

12 June 2016 by Steve Blum
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Simple security comes at a cost.

If you want to know what every bit on your computer is doing, I mean really know, then you’re the kind of customer that Purism has in mind. The South San Francisco company makes a range of Linux-based laptops and tablets with 100% open source software not-quite-preinstalled. That includes applications of course, but also device drivers, the boot system and everything else.

Not-quite-preinstalled means that the device comes with all the software and a totally naked hard drive. The customer then encrypts the disk with the included open source utility and loads everything up. In theory, that means no back doors or master keys that can be handed over to an interested agency – like maybe the Mounties? – purely for your own protection, of course.

The chips that power the Librem laptops and tablets – Purism uses Intel processors – contain opaque code, but there’s no getting around that. The code in the included software, though, is all open to inspection. “The trust us model doesn’t work in the security market”, explained founder Todd Weaver at Pepcom’s Mobile Focus event last month.

It’s not necessary to load the Linux OS and other software that comes with the devices – you can install whatever you want. Purism is shipping 13-inch and 15-inch laptops now and plans to have 10-inch and 11-inch tablets on the market by September. The components are made in relatively small batches and assembled at Purism’s South City headquarters, which means the Librem devices are relatively expensive, ranging from $599 for the smaller tablet to $1,899 for the bigger laptop. That’s the premium you pay if you want to really know.