Check out this interview with Jacob Cook, the founder of arkOS, an awesome Linux project that allows users to own and control their own personal data. We talk about the project, his motivations, Raspberry Pi, the "cloud" and the importance of being in control of your own data. It's a long one, but well worth it.
[N-] For those who haven't heard of the project, can you explain what arkOS is?
[JC] arkOS is a system for hosting your own content from your own hardware, whether we're talking email, documents, photos, calendars, websites, anything really. It is an operating system (a variation of Arch Linux) coupled with a custom software stack to make managing your own home server dead simple. The goal is to allow users to reclaim their ownership of their data, move it out of the ubiquitous "cloud" and back under their own control. Imagine if you could put together your Dropbox account, your Gmail account, your Slack account, your Google Calendar account, your whatever account… all in the same place, secure and without selling it off to unaccountable corporations. That is what arkOS is broadly designed to accomplish, in redefining every single part of the "data chain".
[N-] How does it differ from alternatives out there?
[JC] The alternatives to arkOS are most often focused on doing just a subset of things that arkOS is designed to accomplish, and they often have a different target audience. Some solutions are targeted toward NAS applications, for example, and are not geared toward making your data available from anywhere, or allowing you to run websites and email boxes from the same system. Other alternatives will give you a little bit more convenience but not really tackle any of the hard problems of usability. arkOS works to bring "NAS" together with "general servers" for convenience and efficiency's sake, while aiming to create the best possible experience for real end users. It redefines the home server to make it understandable to those used to living in the age of app stores and user-centric design.
[N-] Seems like a perfect fit for small SBCs, is it compatible with the Raspberry Pi?
[JC] Yes, arkOS is originally intended for use on embedded single-board computers, like the Raspberry Pi. arkOS presently supports both ARMv6 (original Raspberry Pi) and ARMv7 (Cubietruck, ODROID, etc) applications. With the release of the newest Beta version 0.7 in a few weeks' time, we will also support the Raspberry Pi 2 and regular x86/64 computers as well.
[N-] What other kind of hardware requirements are needed to get good performance out of arkOS?
[JC] The release of the RPi2 sets a new good "minimum benchmark" for stable use of arkOS services, at a really unbeatable price point. In general you can run many types of services from an original-model RPi, and is good for trying things out, but once you get into heavier server-side applications then you want to think of something more. Even so, some heavier types of applications might not even be suitable for the RPi2, in which case I usually point people toward platforms like the Cubietruck. But the cool thing about these cheap computers is, you can always try one and if it doesn't meet your needs in a few months or years, you can update to a better one at little cost.
[N-] Ok, so what motivated you to start the project?
[JC] I was originally motivated to start the project while embarking on my own "journey" of trying to self-host as much of my data as possible. It took me quite awhile to get all of my sites and services up and working the way I wanted them; and this despite the fact that I have a background in dealing with Linux. I considered it strange that not everyone had access to this sort of thing, despite the so-called "personal computing revolution" that made so many other aspects of modern technology available and usable for non-technical users. If it took me so long to get it working, it must be far out of reach for most people; so I decided to do what I could to share my passion with others and break down the barriers of time, education and financial investment required for one to self-host their data.
[N-] What are the advantages you see for self-hosting your own data? Why do you think people (especially the less technical) would want to do this?
[JC] Self-hosting is critically important these days, and is only becoming more so. Part of the reason why I decided to work on arkOS, in addition to what was mentioned before, is the seemingly inexorable progression in the war on "general-purpose computing." The idea that your computer is yours in every sense and must do your bidding is an idea that is much more fiction than fact, contrary to what others might believe. The trend to storing information in the "cloud" only makes sense for those who have a financial incentive to doing whatever they want with your information. In the post-Snowden age this is an extremely dangerous "new normal" to be embracing, and everyday people should be aware of what is really going on. I started arkOS for these reasons, and to bring awareness of these problems to a wider audience.
These aren't simply things to consider only if you have "something to hide". It's crucially important for people to exercise their rights, or else they will be taken from them. We must show the tech industry, advertisers and governments alike that our rights to privacy and security also extend to the electronic space and must be respected there, just as they must be respected in the physical space. Going along with the cloud bandwagon without question is a surefire way to see that promise die.
[N-] How far along are you in the development? How many arkOS users do you think are out there?
[JC] arkOS is presently in Beta phase, meaning that it is ready for interested and moderately-skilled users to try out, but shouldn't yet be used by novices or for any mission-critical applications. I am in the final phases of a full rewrite for 0.7 which gets us very far to achieving our 1.0 goals and is the biggest step yet to making the project "ready for everyone." Once we pass 0.7 a great deal of arkOS components will be considered ready for prime time.
At any given time I'd estimate there are a few hundred people using arkOS for real hosting applications (not just dabbling or testing), which is pretty good considering how we are still in Beta.
[N-] Well this all sounds great! Where can people find your project online and how can they get involved?
[JC] arkOS can be found at [https://arkos.io]. Make sure to check out our friendly community forum at [https://bbs.arkos.io] and feel free to ask any questions you might have. If you're interested in helping out with the project, we can definitely use the help, no matter what your background (even if you aren't a software developer!). Just send me a PM on the forums or email [firstname.lastname@example.org] with a bit about your skills.
[N-] Cool, thanks for taking the time Jacob! This is definitely a project to keep an eye on in the future.