Will Finland’s Solu lead a cloud-based revolution in computing?


Over the past few years, the trajectory of the tech world has been in a constant state of movement towards the cloud. Everything from email and social media profiles to photos and documents have more or less migrated to the innocuous amalgamation that the industry has aptly named the cloud. As most tech users’ data moves off the machines for more seamless access across devices and far more storage capacities, some developers are beginning to question the role of hardware in the future of tech. But is the next step to downgrade the importance of the hardware itself?

That’s the approach the makers of the new Solu personal computer are taking. The Helsinki startup just launched on Kickstarter and has already scored €181,252 of its stated €200,000 goal with 19 days left in the campaign.

It takes its name for the Finnish word for a biological cell, describing their integrated approach to programs and files. Solu introduces its own OS and promotes a more collaborative computing environment. The company claims that concept of using the cloud in theory will save wear and tear on the small 4″ x 4″ device since it puts less stress on the barely existent hard drive. However, it faces a stiff challenge in matching the utility of the OS that are showing up on smartphones  from corporate competitors like Apple and Google.

“The whole environment is based on connecting with other people to create social groups within the OS space itself,” the company’s co-founder and CEO Kristoffer Lawson told Geektime. “We’ve done away with separating apps from files. Whenever sharing something, you’re sharing a cell — both the content and the application for that content.”

Opening a file someone else has sent you automatically opens up the program as well, so there is no need to download compatible apps.

That’s a boon for making this a leaner and meaner machine.

Solu will provide legacy support for popular programs like MS Office and Skype for the first generation, which is good thinking for making this a relevant option for potential users.

The computer also works offline with 32 gigs of internal storage capacity, which syncs with the cloud once it reconnects, dumping cache automatically.

Their business model is also eye-catching: the device itself goes for only €349, so the real money will be in subscription services, which will run in the neighborhood of $23 a month – per user.

Rethinking the computer

Once your bring it home, you can hook it to a display and the small screen automatically transforms into a touchpad (courtesy)
Once your bring it home, you can hook it to a display and the small screen automatically transforms into a touchpad (courtesy)

This isn’t Lawson’s first rodeo. Before Solu, he co-founded the banking company Holvi – named Finland’s hottest startup in 2013 by Wired. But on this ride he is bringing a concept to market that initially can’t handle major, data-heavy projects. It’s also a curiosity that Solu wants you to look at it as a new generation of “pocket computer” when someone like me is carrying his Moto G 2nd Gen in his cargo shorts.

“It’s certainly being built so we can scale for all kinds of levels. If you’re a heavy video editor, then at the moment it’s probably not the tool for you. The cloud infrastructure is certainly being built to deal with those projects.” On phones, “eventually there will be no difference. What has been lacking [in phones] is the kind of OS that scales to different types of uses, like to connect it to a display to become a fully blown computer environment,” Lawson argues, adding smart phones are still jostling with how to use cloud storage.

Still, those programs need to be intuitive to pay off quickly. One BBC reporter was not enamored by the presenter’s struggle at Solu’s unveiling to figure out one of the computer’s finance apps, though Lawson says those bugs immediately got attention after the presentation.

There are a host of other attempts at a cloud OS. Chrome OS accompanied the much maligned Chromebook. Microsoft’s Azure come to mind immediately. Joli OS, Glide OS, and systems providing native apps like ZimDeskxOS and SilveOS have also taken a swing at the plate.

On security, Lawson’s confident the team’s got it down. The team’s buoyed by co-founder CTO Pekka Nikander, himself the founder of Nixu (NASDAQ: OMX), the largest cyber security company in all the Nordic realms. Lawson stresses they built the company’s system around Nikander’s security expertise.

Finland’s greatest export: collaboration?

Why do I care if my personal computer is meant to be used as a sharing device? Does that approach have much utility beyond an office environment?

Off the techie’s radar, Finland is known for a collaboration-heavy core school curriculum. It goes beyond just the office environment where teamwork is a given. In some way, you get the sense Solu is reflecting that trend. It’s part of Lawson’s explanation why even kids would need a collaborative work device.

Solu tries to break the mold with minimalist interface and physical wooden finish.
Solu tries to break the mould with minimalist interface and physical wooden finish.

Collaboration sounds great for people within the Solu ecosystem, but not for the majority of users who will remain outside of it for the foreseeable future. People still tied to PC and Mac won’t have access to the full breadth of the Solu cloud anytime soon. There will be limited functionality to work with Solu users, but to really adapt it to mesh with colleagues on another OS, it will take time.

“It’s a new kernel from the ground up and we basically need a full virtual environment for say a Mac; it’s doable but too far off focus for us right now,” Lawson says.

Another question revolves around the utility of its subscription. Certainly they can promise to back up your data, but are they prepared to service the hardware? Solu’s adverts make much ado about being able to use any of the company’s devices to access your files if you lose or break your computer, though Solu isn’t prepared to offer a replacement just yet if something does happen. But with this business model, the team is considering that type of service for the future.

“We’re definitely looking into upgrading the internals of the device over time or to indeed to have the subscription includes the hardware,” Lawson tells us. “I think the device will be usable for a fairly long period of time because data will be in the cloud and extend life of the device.”

Solu was founded by CEO Kristoffer Lawson, COO Javier Reyes and CTO Pekka Nikander and is located in Helsinki, Finland.

The company hopes to get its first line out by the spring, but it doesn’t have any initial projection of how many Solus will hit the market just yet.


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