The Open Pandora is not a mainstream, popular, trendy, fashionable machine. Let’s face it. Don’t expect it to sell thousands of units every week, nor to make the headlines. Worse, when people talk about it in public places, such as le repaire des cons (pardon my French) also known as Reddit, it becomes a subject of ridicule outside of the Pandora community. So, why even spend time on a blog dedicated to the Pandora ? Is it a losing battle ?
Honestly this is a fair, and important question. As a former Amiga user in the 90s, I was also confronted to the same doubts, the same uncertainties regarding the future of a machine/standard I supported, so I am not new to this kind of thinking. And to better assess the situation, one has to understand WHO buys and uses the Pandora in the first place, and understand what is currently happening on the market and what is driving it. More precisely, let’s take a look at the profiles of the typical Pandora users and their behaviors, and see what we can learn from that.
First, there is a fringe of Pandora users who probably have a decent amount of money on their own and have a genuine interest in all sorts of gadgets. It is fairly obvious once you check the Pandora forums, especially the Off-Topic discussions: a number of them are following whatever new stuff come on the market, and if it sounds good enough they are likely to purchase it, just for fun & curiosity, and because they can. This is what marketers usually call the early adopters. For them, the Pandora may just be one device among others. A device they probably like well enough, since they grew attached to its community up until now.
For some others, supporting the Pandora is a matter of sponsoring the existence of alternatives on the market. We see that more and more devices come out as closed, with so-called walled gardens made famous since the recent popularity of Apple products among mainstream users. The idea that the manufacturer knows better is repulsive for many of them who support Free, responsible computing. This is further substantiated by the clear openness of the Pandora Operating System and the mindset of most of its users and developers. It is no surprise to see some defenders of the FOSS ideals or Stallman‘s positions among us, or more generally people in favor of Linux (or should I say GNU/Linux??) / Free Software / Open Source movements. For these kind of Pandora supporters, there are not so many open devices out there to support in the first place. Well there is the Raspberry Pi, but that is not really a system made to be carried around by design.
Another segment of Pandora followers may be what we can qualify as the tinkerers, where you find most developers or hardware hackers. They are responsible for many ports, for new software, for improvements to the existing system and ecosystem… and their main driver is probably two folds: one, they are curious to see if they can manage to compile, adapt or develop something challenging, and two, they are interested to do so because they would either have a personal use for it, or believe there would be a community use for it. They populate the developer boards discussions, help each other, provide tips to newcomers and so on. What’s quite remarkable is that there are, comparatively to the total number of users, a LOT of them. Count about 20-30 active to very active developers/porters on Pandora, for a user base estimated to 4000… that’s like 0.5 %, much more in proportion than on any system out there where consumers dwarf the numbers of developers. The Pandora remains a quite powerful system, and it is very easy to develop for it thanks to all the tools and resources available. There are not many alternatives on the portables devices market that are so easy to tackle.
Then, there are a number of Pandora users who are more or less device agnostic, who have no problem with Windows and non-open source solutions, but who like the Pandora because it excels at what it does, be it emulation, ported games or a very compact computing solution that answers their needs. Some are Linux noobs, who have trouble setting up the Pandora right when they receive it but who get on the wagon pretty quickly once they pass a few hurdles and discover the wiki and the forum resources. They constitute probably the most volatile users. We see them sometimes in the Trading section of the forums, realizing that the Pandora may not be really for them, and parting with it. On the other hand, the opposite trend can be observed, with Playstation Vita players selling their shiny Sony console to get a Pandora and enjoy a larger pool of games through emulation and ports, if they are so inclined. As the word about the Pandora spreads around, the base of these folks is bound to grow a little over time.
So where do I stand in the user pool, and why this blog ?
I am probably at the intersection of all these segments: a Linux enthusiast without considering myself an expert, a casual developer and packager/porter with not-so-ambitious projects, an early adopter for certain kind of things while not actively watching everything that is coming out, and more or less system agnostic when it comes to gaming as I do not reject Windows nor Steam despite their non-Free, DRM-ridden games.
Somehow, being in the middle makes it relatively easy to understand everyone else. I can relate to these different kinds of users and supporters, and understand where they come from while I can never completely be like any of them.
So this is where this blog comes from: to cater to the needs of these Pandora users I can relate to in one way or another, to provide exposure to developers, to support new-comers, to offer rich reviews on new software offerings, and otherwise share my perspective on why free software is important and why the Pandora has a role to play in people’s lives.
Writing a blog is all about creating awareness, learning and exchanging with others. But do not get me wrong – I would not start a blog on the Titanic. I have no interest in wasting time on a dying standard.
So we are back where we started. Does it make sense to support the Pandora?
From the kind of users currently in the Pandora community, it is fairly safe to say that the user base is stable and even probably growing since the different types of users have a genuine reason to stay with the Pandora. Because its proposition remains unique on the market, because its community members are impassioned, the Pandora is very much alive. Pandoralive, even. And the most convincing proof of it is that the software support and offering is ever growing.
Just a week before I started this blog, I was looking at the evolution of the software offering for the Pandora over time. I was wondering if somehow, the releases were slowing down and reaching a kind of plateau – that would be a sign of people moving on to other interests. I was surprised to see the exact opposite happening. After checking the data available in the repo, I could confirm that there is still a strong (and stronger than previously) support from developers/porters. The pace of software releases/ports/updates is going up.
In other words, the Pandora value proposition in terms of software keeps growing day after day, at a faster pace, despite the limited resources and people working on it, despite the lack of monetary reward and the lack of mainstream recognition. On top of that, there is actually a lot of innovation happening on Pandora first and foremost, such as what I featured recently with the revolutionary DS Emulator DraStic, or Compo4All to make M.A.M.E. games a social experience again, just to mention a few.
Well obviously this blog will never be mainstream, but consider this blog my little contribution to the Pandora family in terms of exposure.
I certainly hope you enjoy reading this and that new-comers will discover the Pandora with, let’s say, a certain appetite for things to come.