Earlier today my Google Reader fed me some news about Zonbu, the new “$99 Linux PC”. The first thing I should point out about Zonbu is that in order to buy one for $99 you must sign a 2-year contract ($249 without). But what would a contract be without monthly payments? Well, Zonbu has 3 different plans (25GB, 50GB and 100GB models for $12.95, $14.95 and $19.95 respectively). Assuming the middle-of-the-road 50GB plan this amounts to $457.80 (US dollars without taxes) over the 2-year period. What exactly does the subscription get you? According to their website subscription costs provide:
Zonbu offers three different storage plans, all of them with automatic backup, applications and OS maintenance, free upgrade to the latest version of all the applications, three-year free box replacement guarantee, and unlimited Internet support.
- Intel-like ultra-low power CPU
- 256 MB RAM + 2GB flash-based local storage
- Graphics up to 1400 x 1050 (16 million colors).
Hardware graphics and MPEG2 acceleration
- PC-compatible ports for keyboard and mouse
- 6 USB ports to plug-and-play all standard USB accessories
- Broadband ready: 10/100MB Ethernet built-in.
While many of components appear lower-end we must realize that this is not a gaming PC or media-editing powerhouse. It is built to be quiet and functional for the average user. Also, the operating system is a custom version of Gentoo that has been tweaked for the specific hardware in Zonbu.
The different capacities mentioned with the three subscriptions revolve around allocated storage space on Amazons S3 servers. This means that all user data is stored on remote servers and uses the flash storage in Zonbu as a cache for the data. I think that this is a brilliant idea, particularly for ensuring protection against data loss. Problems with this concept may include speed of uploading/downloading but I feel that most Zonbu users should not have a problem with these factors. Lets take a look at Amazons S3 pricing. Assuming 50GB of storage and 25GB of uploading/downloading of data throughout the month the total is $12.50 per month. This makes Zonbu’s monthly pricing look even better as it includes all of the other services mentioned previously.
When reading the Zonbu “hands-on” article on Gizmodo I was initially skeptical about the inability to install software, but further reading provided me with a better feeling. First, the subscription services includes OS updates such as new software (and apparently the people behind Zonbu are committed to high-quality open-source software. Also, while I require control over the software on my computer, I do not feel that the target market for Zonbu needs this control. The software list includes most of the open-source software I use right down to using Nvu as a development environment for websites. My readings on both news sites and the Zonbu site I have the feeling that if increased function is required (via software) it will be implemented.
In the hopes of avoiding a comments flame-war I want to say that I do not believe Zonbu will change the way computing is done overnight, but instead, provide an option to the average home user that wants to create documents, browse the internet and interact with media. I think that the use of Amazons S3 servers is a fantastic idea. As network speeds increase I believe that computing in the Zonbu way will take off, but until then slow speeds (even 10Mbit connections) will hinder this adoption.
For a much more complete article (with images and a video) about Zonbu please check out the Gizmodo article here.