Could the Girl Scouts position themselves as a tech giant?

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Girl reaching out to the stars

Now that full-fledged computers are approaching the size of a USB Flash drive and are being sold for less than $75, my interest in designing a Linux computer of my own has been re-awakened.

As an educator, I would stock that computer full of free creativity and learning software, logic puzzle games, tutorial screencasts, engaging multimedia and artwork created with open source software. Naturally, I would use Linux as the operating system for that computer.

No matter how hard I worked designing such a computer, finding purchasers would not be easy. People are naturally wary of spending money on a computer designed by an unknown entity. So I started thinking, could I volunteer my time to support some well-known entity to sell a very affordable, very lightweight Linux computer that would benefit students worldwide? This entity or organization would need to composed of millions of smart and energetic youth and parents who already collaborate effectively to raise funds for their cause. I'm thinking the Girl Scouts of the USA.

Imagine if the Girl Scouts designed their own Linux computers. Right off the bat you would have 2.3 million minds working on the project. That's not including the 879,000 adults who are involved in supporting them. Can three million minds design an awesome computer? Most assuredly yes.

And if that computer were sold in large numbers, the profit margin for the computer need not be large. Maybe $5 or $7 per computer. That's a vast difference from the 100% profit margin that Apple charges for its computers.

Let's take this idea one step further. How about if the Girl Scouts offered multimedia advertising space on their Linux computer—in a way that does not intrude on the general usage of the computer. Such advertising might focus on educational and other community supportive products and services, with a discount to woman-owned businesses. The advertising revenue could push down the price of the computer even further.

In thinking about the prospect of a Girl Scouts' computer, I visualize a television advertisement with individual Girl Scouts appearing on screen saying: "Apple, meet your new competitor. We're the Girls Scouts. 3 million minds strong. Are you ready?" Substitute any other computer manufacturer's name for the next Girl Scout who appears on the screen.

Computer companies maximize many things when they design their computers. One thing they don't maximize: the educational benefits that can occur from the computers they sell. For too long they have omitted excellent educational software, tutorial screencasts, and other learning materials from their computers.

Thanks to open source software, the mainstream computer companies do not have a chokehold on computer design. Anyone can now jump into the game. Standing on the shoulders of giants—the programmers worldwide who have created Linux—the Girl Scouts could be poised to be the greatest tech giant of all.

The process of designing this computer would itself be a worthy use of Girl Scouts' time. Some scouts would create tutorials about programming in Python and Scratch. Some would create tutorials about Inkscape, Blender, Scribus, OpenShot, and all the other wonderful open source programs out there—not to mention the open source programs that have yet to be invented. The yet-to-be invented programs will find a fertile soil in which to grow.

I broached the idea of a Girl Scouts Linux computer to several people I know. One of the smartest among them lit up at the mention of this idea. In my imagination, I have been trying out this computer and I like what I see. And I believe this is an idea whose time has arrived.

Smiling librarian standing in front of bookcase
Phil Shapiro has been an educator, teaching students from pre-school to graduate school for the past 35 years. He currently works at a public library in the Washington, DC area, helping youth and adults use their public Linux stations.


I'm not sure about the aggressive advertising. Girl Scouts don't diss Oreo to sell their cookies. They rely on family to buy a couple and maybe a bunch at the office, or retail entrance. By the way, GS cookie margins are larger than the 10% you're suggesting.

In many ways what you are suggesting is One Laptop per Child in a commercial way. Or the Raspberry Pi project with a established marketing arm and a built in customer base. The majority of scout families will buy an inexpensive computer each year so kids don't feel bad. Since you don't want to deal with support and limit defective returns (including user inability to understand the OS), this will have to be an appliance with conservative specifications.

I'm not saying it can't be done. A Linux based computing appliance in the $50 to $100 range sold by Girl Scouts could easily move two million units. You take pre-orders (like the cookies) and manufacture to demand. I'd go even further by having the scouts charge for and provide support and education. What better way to get girls involved in tech by making it part of their responsibilities as scouts?

I like your idea, Phil Shapiro. Maybe sell for $10-12 a 4 Gigabyte USB Flash Drive pre-installed with an approved Girl Scout Linux distribution. Use Linux Live USB Windows program to install a linux of your choice to a blank USB Flash drive.
The beauty of PuppyLinux is that you keep your programs and your data portable with you on the flash disk drive or a CD-R drive.

I like Puppy Linux myself, because it is very small and has most of the features you have detailed out above. This is one of the 360+ Linux Distributions supported by
PuppyLinux Precise also supports installing programs from
Ubuntu Precise Pangolin 12.04.1 package repository.

Precise Puppy is built from Ubuntu Precise Pangolin 12.04.1+ binary DEB packages, hence has binary compatibility with Ubuntu and access to the vast Ubuntu package repository. Couple that with Puppy's tiny size, speed and ease-of-use, and this is one incredible pup!

So start with selling a USB flash drive with Linux preinstalled that Girl Scouts could sell for about the price of two boxes of cookies.

Check out for one of many ARM based touch screen tablet computers from China based on android Operating System for your $75 to a $100. PuppyLinux has been ported to support ARM cpu's like the Raspberry Pi.

With a tablet having a bluetooth interface, one can add a bluetooth keyboard and mouse for inputing information to the tablet computer. (versus being just a consumer of video and games )

These are my 2 cents to add to the discussion, Phil. I believe you could start with just a USB Flash drive loaded with Precise Puppy to boot from on regular x86 based PC computers. Then in future move to a full ARM tablet computer pre-loaded with Precise Puppy 5.4 for about $85

Anyone reading this note, can start today with a single USB Flash drive and the LInux Live USB WIndows Program to play with PuppyLinux.

Alternatively one can download Puppy Linux .ISO file and burn to a CD-ROM disk using the windows program ISORECORDER to burn an .ISO image file directly to a CD-R Disk. There are torrents for downloading Precise Puppy LInux and Retro-Precise Puppy LInux here.

After booting the PuppyLinux CD-ROM, one can use PuppyLinux install tools to install directly to a USB Flash Drive.

Happy Linux Computing Everyone!
Ps. I also recommend looking a too
for a wonderful linux experience, yet at 3 Gigabytes is much larger than PuppyLinux at 150 Megabytes.

Great idea. You might want to get in touch with Ken from the project previously known as Helios, now Reglue. I'm sure he'd be able to provide you with some advice and inspiration.

This is an awesome idea - definitely similar to One Laptop Per Child, so their lessons learned would be extremely valuable.

What if the Girl Scouts were setup to sell the computers? Perhaps the OS were tablet-friendly Android distribution, and they could sell tablets as well as laptops?

I am a lifetime Girl Scout and remember cookie selling as an exercise in goal-setting, but also marketing - I had to understand why people really wanted the cookies, what they were looking for and what value the cookies provided (they're tasty, but more importantly the donations helped us go camping and learn skills, so the money was the real focus in that case). A Girl Scout who learns the value of computer access and the educational opportunities they unlock, and who learns those value points well enough to sell, would have a level of ownership of computing that is really difficult to establish in young girls right now.

Maybe we'll fix the ridiculous gender gap in Computer Science after all!! :)

I do not approve of the further commercialization of the Girl Scouts. I think the idea of continuously selling computers is foolish. Unlike cookies, computers are not consumables. I think a custom Linux distro that actually benefits the Girl Scouts, like that teaches forestry and other skills, would be a great merit badge project. That would address a big failing of our education system, getting more girls interested in computer science.

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