Ok, since you liked it, I decided I'll think on this some more and give some more feedback. So:
Something I've learned is that marketing and complexity don't mix, so I agree our communication strategy is not optimal. We are trying to talk to too many audiences and doing a bad job with all of them. We'll try harder.
You need a good reason for why I would want this right off the start. And right now it's not there. Look at FON, who did part of what you are, much more successfully. The immediate question for something like this is "Why would I want to share my connection?", and FON answered "You'll earn money!". There, that's nice and sensible.
They also gave out their hardware at a ridiculously cheap price. They were selling those at a Linux convention and though the pretty much unanimous opinion was that the idea was silly, a lot of people still got one, because it was so cheap.
It's a server/router hybrid. We need to be clearer about that. The specs are competitive with what you'd find in the market for regular computers, but we thought it would be distracting to break them down because some of them are subject to change.
Does every single person need a server? I don't think most people do. There's also questions like how does this work, exactly? If I bought this thing and hooked it up, who is it serving to? Myself and perhaps whoever finds an open AP and connects to it? Seems like a waste of money. I don't really have anything to serve to random passers-by.
Why have a powerful router? Why not something with the power of a Raspberry Pi, that you stick a SD card or flash drive into, if you want? The few people needing a serious server capable of more than serving cat photos can buy it separately.
Because at scale, the idea turns your internet acquisition cost into a one time cost.
Only if there are tens of millions of these things around. Otherwise you pay for this and you pay your usual ISP.
Sharing your connection: For better performance and your privacy.
Many ISPs have rules against this. How does sharing your connection and allowing random people to torrent things improve performance? It maybe improves privacy in the sense of confusing what you're accessing and what other people do, but these days that means that one day the police will break in, grab all your hardware and try to figure out whether it was you or not who downloaded child porn. There's a good reason why few people run tor exit nodes.
Oh yeah, this thing apparently runs tor. If it runs an exit node, you're not going to have better performance at all, as well as making it risky for the owner. If it doesn't, and this is successful, you're going to overload the tor network.
I admit there are critical mass issues, and this is a very legitimate criticism of the project. Our strategy to bootstrap this network is to run our network over the regular internet until such time that it spreads to someone near you in physical proximity.
Is it really going to work in a city? I live in one. My wifi signal is junk at the most distant room and I finally had to give up and just run some cable. Pretty much every single house with internet access in a city has a wifi router, because that's what an ISP gives you. Which means every possible channel is already clogged. I don't see this reaching any useful distance.
It's also a very niche, geeky, and expensive thing. I'm sure that in my building I'm the only person who has the slightest chance of being interested in such a thing, and given the wifi quality around here it can't possibly reach any nearby ones.
I don't think it's nonsense. We are trying to turn internet acquisition into a one time cost. It's a high price, why we were asking people to get in touch with internet.org for us and ask them to talk to us. We've now made contact with them, and hope something comes of it.
Ok, but who can afford $400 one time things? Not poor people, and not the developing world, certainly. The people who can afford something like this are rich nerds living in Silicon Valley, which is not a place where people need help getting an internet connection.
If aiming to give "internet to the people", you have to be absolutely dirt cheap. And maybe rugged and solar powered, too, depending on where it's going to be used.
For an example, look at the OLPC project, which does mesh networking.
If everybody does get one, how does this work once people stop paying their ISP? Does it magically route through tens of thousands of hops to the other side of the world? I have serious doubts that's going to work. What about communication across seas and oceans? Does it result in overwhelming the connection of the people who keep paying their ISP? That one seems very likely.
If you are serious about solving this problem you have to look at it from a lot of different angles.
The problem is that you're trying to solve everything you want at once, and most people don't need that.
Also most WIFI hardware sold out there has closed source drivers, even on Linux.
Most, but are you sure it's all? For a small fraction of what you're asking you could hire a good programmer to make you a driver. It seems awfully ambitious to do both hardware and complicated software. Even FON didn't do that, they made their own firmware for the WRT54G.
- This needs to be much, much cheaper. Look more into existing hardware. There's likely something you can take advantage of, like existing access points or Raspberry Pi-like devices.
- You need to give people a good reason to want to participate. There has to be an immediate benefit, that doesn't require all my neighbours to get one to happen
- For a mesh network, you need mass deployment. Can't you take advantage of existing phones and laptops?
- For the geeks you need clear information: how does this work, does this try to create a parallel internet, what does it serve and to who, is there central control, how do you host a website on this, etc
- For the privacy advocates you have to explain how does this improve your privacy
- It seems to me that the "one time internet payment" is the very, very last benefit this is going to have. It's not going to materialize until a huge amount of adoption happens, if it's actually technically possible at all. You have to give people other things first, and forget about this for the time being