Help us build a $200 web tablet

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I’m tired of waiting – I want a dead simple and dirt cheap touch screen web tablet to surf the web. Nothing fancy like the Dell latitude XT, which costs $2,500. Just a Macbook Air-thin touch screen machine that runs Firefox and possibly Skype on top of a Linux kernel. It doesn’t exist today, and as far as we can tell no one is creating one. So let’s design it, build a few and then open source the specs so anyone can create them.

Here’s the basic idea: The machine is as thin as possible, runs low end hardware and has a single button for powering it on and off, headphone jacks, a built in camera for video, low end speakers, and a microphone. It will have Wifi, maybe one USB port, a built in battery, half a Gigabyte of RAM, a 4-Gigabyte solid state hard drive. Data input is primarily through an iPhone-like touch screen keyboard. It runs on linux and Firefox. It would be great to have it be built entirely on open source hardware, but including Skype for VOIP and video calls may be a nice touch, too.

If all you are doing is running Firefox and Skype, you don’t need a lot of hardware horsepower, which will keep the cost way down.

The idea is to turn it on, bypass any desktop interface, and go directly to Firefox running in a modified Kiosk mode that effectively turns the browser into the operating system for the device. Add Gears for offline syncing of Google docs, email, etc., and Skype for communication and you have a machine that will be almost as useful as a desktop but cheaper and more portable than any laptop or tablet PC.

It will also include a custom default home page with large buttons for bookmarked services – news, Meebo/Ebuddy for IM, Google Docs/Zoho for Office, Email, social networks, photo sites, YouTube, etc. Everything that you use every day.

We’re working with a supply chain management company that says the basic machine we’re looking to build can be created for just a few hundred dollars. They need us to write the software modifications to Linux and Firefox (more on that below) and spec the hardware. Then they run with it and can have a few prototypes built within a month.

What will we call it? The best name I can think of is the Firefox Tablet, but that will take a round of discussions with Mozilla.

Here’s The Plan

We’ll organize a small team of people to spec this out. First is the marketing document that just outlines what the machine will do – we have a first draft of that already and will post it soon. Then we’ll spec out the hardware and get people to help write the customized Linux and Firefox code. Once we’ve completed the design we’ll start to work with the supply chain company to get an idea on the cost of the machine (the goal is $200), and hopefully build a few prototypes. Anyone who contributes significantly to the project would get one of those first prototypes. If everything works well, we’d then open source the design and software and let anyone build one that wants to.

The goal is to keep the machine very simple and very cheap. I think this will be a lot of fun, and it may just turn into an actual product that we can use to surf the web and talk to our friends.

We’ll be coordinating the project over at TechCrunchIT. Leave a comment there if you want to participate and we’ll be in touch soon.

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