Is Zonbu the next revolution?

Is Zonbu the next revolution?

Summary: Zonbu combines a host of trends -- Internet computing, open source, cellular business models, laptop design, SaaS -- in one box. It will be fun to see if this takes off.


ZonbuZonbu (right), a start-up from French entrepreneurs Gregoire Gentil (Twingo) and Alain Rossmann (EO, OpenWave), combines a cellphone business model with open source software to deliver a complete Linux-based PC for as little as $99 and $12.95/month.

The box is pre-loaded with a host of open source freeware -- Linux, Firefox, OpenOffice, Skype, etc. -- all supported online. That includes online backup.

There's no floppy disk, no external drives of any kind. Just plug in your current keyboard, mouse, Ethernet, up to six USB devices, and you're good to go.

By dumping the input and output, you have a two-pound box you can toss in a carry-on for a business trip, although what the TSA guys will think the first time they see it is anyone's guess.

Since it's designed like a laptop, it has a laptop's energy requirements. And if you want colors, you can get colors.

Zonbu combines a host of trends -- Internet computing, open source, cellular business models, laptop design, SaaS -- in one box. It will be fun to see if this takes off.

Just remember the risk. If this company goes belly-up in six months, you've got a hunk of useless metal.

Do you think it will?[poll id=47]

Topics: Laptops, Hardware, Linux, Open Source, Operating Systems, Software, Start-Ups, PCs

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  • Business Model

    Does the cellphone business model analogy extend to the extent that you own the hardware/software after a period of time and then are able to do whatever you wish with it?

    Do you get free new hardware at contract renewal?
  • Interesting, but...

    I like that they make use of Linux and then they make the claim of $2,000 of installed software and applications. Strange, thought I could download a flavor of Linux for free. Given the specs, I could go out and buy a used Dell with better hardware for the same amount of money, install Linux, such as Ubuntu or SUSE for free and have the basically same experience without the monthly cost.

    Also, I would like to see their privacy statement and how they will control access to your documents. What will be the SLA?
    • Dell makes handhelds?

      Where can you get a used Dell you can hold in your hand--for $100?
      • eBay :)

        They'll even run Linux!
      • i see alot of these on craiglist here in seattle

        lots of p3's and celerons with 10 gig hard drives / xp

        100 to 150 bucks all day long.

        i cant imagine someone who lives in a small town would have access to these deals.
  • So wrinkles need to be ironed out first

    I think this is a push in the right direction. I am hoping other companies will catch on and use the same model, but maybe take it to the next level. That way there can be gaming and better multimedia on it. I'd like to see this thing in stores as well. Only if it hits the mass market, will it do any good.
  • So will you have a early release penalty?

    Are you obligated to a two-year contract with a penalty if you leave early? What about data transmission. Maybe I missed it, but do you get Internet access for that $12.95? Can you upgrade the box if you want?

    Perhaps this will be a success, but I don't think it will have a lasting effect. How much of the money made will be a kickback to support the software? Also as for the "$2000 in software", I think there needs to be some other kind of measurement. For example, you can give points for document editing (basic - +1, enhancd - +2, advanced - +3), same for spreadsheet, presentation, collaboration, development, etc.
  • Useless metal?

    "Just remember the risk. If this company goes belly-up in six months, you?ve got a hunk of useless metal."

    If all the hardware is driven by FLOSS drivers, it seems to me that it is largely future-proof even if the company does go belly-up. But that is the key question: is it a junky locked-down device like a TiVO that a third party can't upgrade software on, or is it useful hardware that is owner-enhanceable?
  • Actual cost

    Say $13.00 mo subscription, and probably more with taxes, fees, eyc.(think there won't be hidden fees?) X 12= $146.00 yr plus the original $99.00 = $245.00 for the first year alone = $146.00 yr in perpetuity. When you can get a used P4 laptop and download Linux, say PCLinuxos which is always current or Ubuntu or any of the other fine Linux distros with an online repository and daily normal, bugfix, and security updates, where is the advantage? Exactly where is the benefit to me? Or you, for that matter?
  • Good start but....

    I think the concept is great. I do not however think the subscription service model is priced fairly. Earmarking 25G for $13 per month seems very high compared to other hosting services out there. I think it would serve them better to price the monthly fee based upon actual G used rather than holding a spot for 25G for anyone who signs up. There are plenty of free places on the Internet to park your stuff as well. If you forgo the monthly expenses and buy the Zonbu box the bare metal isn't worth what they are asking for it.
  • Zonbu Winning concept? Probably, but

    Nice small portable device, but what good is portable without a display? Nice that data is accessible from any internet connection but what about apps? Do I have to learn two sets of apps? one for my Zonbu and one for the internet cafe computer I use while waiting in the airport? Now if they come up with a plan to make these boxes wide spread in internet cafe/kiosk spots for travelers and if they market them with packages from cable or DSL suppliers so that for a "mere $x per month added to your cable/phone bill you can have" a fully functional,<b> no mess no hassle, no noise</b> computer system in every room of your house. Then they have a winner for sure.
  • hmmmmm....

    you need a monitor, keyboard, mouse, and power source to use this device, so it isn't portable, and you can't use it on the go. not like a cell phone at all.

    i find myself asking, what is the point of this device?
    why would anybody want one?

    The mac mini is the same size, has a dvd burner, and while it costs a few hundred more new it doesn't have the monthly subscription cost nor the risked obsolescences.

    for that matter, wouldn't an inexpensive laptop serve one better?
  • Very interesting

    I emailed the website for this device and they replied that you can opt to use an external USB Hard Drive as the storage and backup medium, rather than thier subscription service. So if the company went belly up, you aren't screwed. They also have a version of the OS you can download and create a script so that you can set the device up to store online to a server of your choice. So, like myself who has my own linux webserver, you can back up online from anywhere, without worries.
  • Laptop instead

    it has no external drives, can be carried and had USB ports for expansion.

    preload with any of the FREE linux distros add the other FREE software mentioned and then I don't know why I'd go with Zonbo.... Now if they offered a SUPERIOR laptop hardware configuration and some sort of hardware maintenance built in and an upgrade path - now we're talking. Oh wait - isn't that what the various laptop lease programs already offer?

    Guess I'm not convinced....
  • DOA no screen

    No screen makes it useless. Grab a pair of monitor goggles, and you might have something...

    Why wouldn't it work if they belly up? If you MUST subscribe to use it, then it isn't Linux OpenSource. They've strangled it with a dongle of some sort.

    For customer comfort, why not build in a "dead man switch" that if it can't reach the service, it automatically unlocks and you can do whatever you can do with any Linux rig? Then maybe.

    But ALL Linux distros have online updates and stuff now. This is basically a strangled $99 down with 24 easy monthly payments of $12... that's a $400 computer any way you slice it. Just buy a MacMini on credit, and load Ubuntu... VIOLA!!! But you still need a screen.
  • Zonbu

    The product itself seems to be a thin client device - essentially the same as Neoware or Wyse products for example - with more application software stored in the device combined with data storage services provided by the company rather than by a dedicated server. Hardly revolutionary in that case, but a good idea nonetheless.
    Wendell Murray
  • Not meant to be a laptop replacement...

    There are still some questions whether the Zonbu business model will let them make money..

    But other than that, computer geeks should be recommending this to all their 'can you help me fix my computer' friends.

    Think about it. It's a Linux box, so a lot less potential for virus, adware, gunk, etc. The data is backed up off site without the user having to do anything or remember do run it or put it in a safe place. If the hardware fails.. "Call Zonbu and have them ship you a new box".

    It's really not designed to be a portable device... even though it's small and relatively light. But the form factor does make it easier to put it in places you might not want to a full sized desktop with this fan and hard drive noise.. Think kitchen, nursery, living room, etc..

    If they do go belly up, I would be concerned about getting the data off and putting it on a USB drive.
  • BAD Blast from the past!

    Can anyone say -i-Opener?
  • Silly stuff

    This is one of those great tech scams that make the founders rich while the concept is DOA. This isn't innovation, just a different way of charging for the same old stuff everybody already has.