Pay As You Go Linux PCs are here - and you Better Pay or it Locks Up
Endless OS peaked our interest due to it's use of OSTree+Flatpak package management instead of the typical .rpm or .deb repositories most distributions use. That's not what got our attention when we looked at this Linux distribution. Endless Solutions offers laptops and "mini" desktops pre-loaded with their Endless OS which will lock up if you don't pay your bill. There appears to be a modern word which describes software which behaves like that.
One word comes to mind
The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines ransomware as:
": malware that requires the victim to pay a ransom to access encrypted files"
Endless OS marketing says:
"PAYG was designed to de-risk loans through a PC locking mechanism, built into the Endless OS, that is tied to the payment status of a loan. If a customer is not able to make their loan payment the laptop locks until payment is made. While locked the users' data, files and settings are all perfectly preserved and protected."
Endless Solutions further brags that:
"A locked PC stays locked. Endless Solutions has developed proprietary technology to defend against hacks and workarounds. Security threats we address include but are not limited to:
- OS reflashing
- Internal Clock tampering
- Hard drive removal/wiping"
We are not linguistic professors - but we do believe marketing material describes something which fits the definition of "ransomware".
A anonymous supporter of the Free Software Foundation had this to say regarding these machines:
"Locking can only be done with proprietary software. If it were free software then people would just remove it. This is yet another example why people should not run proprietary software: It could literally lock you out of your own stuff."
The "Endless OS"
The Endless OS is available as a standard ISO image which can be installed on any computer. Our initial impression is that it's GNOME with something which looks like an Android launcher on top. Zoomers who spend more time using phones than computers will feel right at home.
Endless OS is built using Debian but it does not use Debian's apt tool for package management. Endless uses something called OSTree to manage the base system and Flatpak to manage applications. OSTree is kind of similar to using a git tree for the base system and it updates base system programs and libraries in a fashion similar to updating a git repository.
The installer is the absolute simplest we've ever seen or used on a GNU/Linux distribution. It asks you what drive you want to install to and there is a check-box below to confirm that you are fine with it deleting that drive. Click next and that's it, there are no more questions.
Endless does ask some more question the first time you boot your newly installed OS. It wants to know your language and your keyboard layout. Then it asks you to accept their terms.
The terms are shown in a tiny window using a really tiny font. The window can't be resized. The font can't be made larger. There are some odd things in it like a statement about how the OS will update itself whenever it wants without user knowledge or interaction. The terms also has a section which explains that this distribution is total spyware which collects all kinds of information - including your location. The collected information is periodically sent back to "Endless Mobile, Inc". There is also a whole section about how you are not allowed to use the OS to violate imaginary property rights or other rights of third parties.
Section six of the Endless OS terms raised our eyebrows.
"Termination of Use; Discontinuation and Modification of the Service. If you violate any provisions of these Terms, your permission to use the Service will terminate automatically. Additionally, Endless, in its sole discretion may suspend or terminate your access to the Service at any time, with or without notice. We also reserve the right to modify or discontinue the Service at any time (including, without limitation, by limiting or discontinuing certain features of the Service) without notice to you."
Accepting the nightmarish "terms" reveals a default desktop which looks like what you find on most tablets and phones:
There is no terminal available on the default desktop - but one can easily be added. Running
top reveals that
gnome-shell is constantly burning CPU cycles. This is indeed GNOME 3 with a custom Android-style skin on top. There is no AppArmor or SELinux running. The kernel used is verison 5.0.17.
The installed OS does not use any kind of encryption. It installs to a perfectly normal ext4 filesystem. There's no encryption of user folders either. This means that there is a chance you could recover your personal files if the "Endless Mobile, Inc" decides to terminate your "license" for any or no reason.
Some last thoughts
Renting a computer on a "Pay As You Go" is generally a bad idea. Renting one which will immediately lock up and prevent you from accessing your personal files if you miss a payment sounds like a horrible idea.
The Endless OS itself is trying something different from other Linux distributions. It is in some ways very user-friendly and that appears to be one of their goals. Their user interface decisions are somewhat interesting and noteworthy. However, the "terms" for using this distribution are, to us, totally unacceptable and we do not recommend that anyone install Endless OS. It is available at https://endlessos.com/ if you really want to give some for-profit corporation the right to lock you out of your computer for any or no reason. Remember; they are saying they reserve the right to update the OS without your knowledge or consent and they also reserve the right to lock you out at any time for any or no reason.