Tech & Work

Zonbu: Upping the ante

You might remember me covering Zonbu's Zonbox recently. That article generated a lot of opinions (on both sides of the coin.) The Zonbox was a nice piece of hardware that had its limitations. Zonbu understands that and has come out with another product to raise the bar. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you the Zonbu Notebook.

I received word of this product just before the beta release and shortly after that received a package in the mail. The package included the Zonbu Notebook and not much more. I pulled the item out of the box, plugged it in, and was delighted that the machine worked flawlessly out of the box. This was pretty amazing considering I was told the software on the machine was still in beta.*

*Of course we all know that my opinion of beta open source software is generally better than beta proprietary software.

Now naturally I want to put this piece of hardware through the wringer to see if it is worth the $279.00** dollar price tag.

**The machine is actually $479.00, but if you agree to a 2 year contract for the $14.95 per month you get $200.00 off the machine. Now this brings the final price (after the two-year contract) to $637.80. Is the machine worth this? Not the machine alone. But what you gain over those two years is worth the extra cash. More on this later.

The specs of the machine are pretty typical of a modern machine. I don't really want to address that here. But I will say the laptop is incredibly silent and has little issue with heat. What I want to chat up is the software and what you get for $14.95 per month.

The software is pretty much the standard fare for open source. You have everything the average user needs to go about the day productively: Firefox for browsing, Evolution for e-mail, OpenOffice for office suite needs, Scribus for desktop publishing, The Gimp for graphics, etc....

The biggest surprise comes in the wireless. The wireless connection sets up as effortlessly as a Mac would. This is certainly a boon for the Linux world in desperate need to leap into the ever-increasing mobile needs of the computing world.

Now what I want to address is the $14.95 per month service. At first I was really taken back by this. I thought who would want to pay for that extra service? And at first consideration, I thought certainly no one would  pay for this. But let's examine this prospect further before we draw a conclusion. Here's what $14.95 per month gives you:

  • Automatic upgrades with zero user intervention. This is NOT just for the OS but also all other packages.
  • Transparent, automatic backups of all data.
  • Remote access to all data.
  • Unlimited 12/5 phone support.

All that PLUS the $200.00 discount on the price of the machine.

So let's compare this to having to pay for such services. Now remember, we're looking at this from the average user perspective. Any of us reading this could probably set up similar systems for free.

  • File access: The cheapest remote file access I have found is BeInSync for $59.99 per year.
  • Automatic updates: About the only equivalent to this is Windows update but it will not update every piece of software on your machine.
  • Unlimited phone support: For Windows Vista after your one year of phone support is exhausted you must pay $59.00 per phone incident.
  • Automatic data backup: Data Protection Services charge $89.99 per month for a single Linux computer backup.

So just looking at the cost to cover what Zonbu offers the average user is looking at $1198.87 dollars and that is only if you have one support incident (after your first year). With the Zonbu Notebook (and the $14.95 monthly contract) the average user would be paying $179.40 per year for all of the above.

Is it worth it? To me and you...maybe not so much. For the average user who:

  • Doesn't know how to (or even that he/she should) back up data.
  • Could possibly need a lot of support.
  • Doesn't know how (or even that he/she should) update.
  • Wants access to files from mobile locations.

It is certainly worth it. In fact, I would be more than happy to point all those relatives and friends to Zonbu for this nifty little laptop, so I wouldn't have to serve as their support so often (I hearken back to my XP to Fedora 7 article).

Now as to the experience with the laptop itself? Well so far it's been pretty smooth. I am keeping in mind the software is in beta so the laptop's inability to connect to my Samba shares isn't bothering me just yet (the Zonbox I have connects to it flawlessly). There have been other small issues attributed to beta software (F-Spot having trouble importing pics properly) and a sluggish KDE.

The real test is yet to come though. I am going to hand the laptop over to my wife and see how she fares with the machine. We'll get an idea how the average computer user fares with this open source-based offering from Zonbu.

But so far - I really think Zonbu has upped the ante on their already impressive offerings.


Jack Wallen is an award-winning writer for TechRepublic and He’s an avid promoter of open source and the voice of The Android Expert. For more news about Jack Wallen, visit his website


Something is that is vastly overlooked here is that if such systems were widely adopted, spam and viruses would become nearly extinct. Also, how many of us have had friends and acquaintances that have lost their machines to hardware failure or viruses. This eliminates those problems. What sort of dollar value do you put on that? For the vast number of users (excluding readers of this column of course) this is all they need. If they want to play games, I'd suggest a good game console.


Forcing the support for a good deal is the smart way to go if companies want to get newbies into Linux. Almost 100% of them want to start with a notebook, so WaLA!! For us Windows diehards; might as well go with Classmate PC; although a hardware comparison may give my argument a run for the money. Okay, maybe a eee would be a better deal? Arguments?


this machine is underpowered for me. However, I already have higher powered systems. But I also do my own backups and would not use their backup service. For most people, this is a good deal, wifi, apps, games, etc.. Plus not having to think much about backups, etc.. All in all, I would rate this pretty good for the price. Has the HW been tested out well?


I made an error. I spoke with one of the Zonbu engineers. The desktop IS in fact xfce. The sluggishness I am experiencing is in the video driver which will be optimized when the laptops are released. I have full confidence that the performance will step up to that of the desktops.


Sweet. I bought a dev edition of the thinclient about a month ago and have found it a great put together package. Interesting that they switched from xfce to KDE per your review... I'm a little sad that they didn't stay with the compactflash hard drive.

Dr Dij
Dr Dij

get one of these as pretty much foolproof, very little worry about viruses, trojans with Linux. My wife will need a PC or laptop for job search next year. My only wonder if I can get same browser plugins for training websites she may run to update PC skills (skillsoft courses via ACM site - they are heavy on Java so might work); Mindleaders uses authorware and flash plugins, won't run under firefox; I don't remember what plugins the IEEE courses use (element K). I'd probably use yahoo paid mail services with it.


The latest Linux/hardware OEM distro was the Wally World offer with Lindows intalled. My customers jumped ship when the support faltered and went back to XP Home. Of course they were in a war with Redmond over silly trademark wars; so maybe they can be forgiven. This time around? Hey, there is a lot of new Linux upstarts out there: XO, eee, Classmate PC, and now this! Have we got Ballmer shaking in his boots yet?!


Yeah, I know I got brain damage and everyone knows it. :) I've never used Firefox's Thunderbird or Gmail but my customer's like Google.


but flash seems to be working fine. i was talking to my wife that this laptop would be ideal for children or young teens because they couldn't really install much on it so it would be limited to certain usages and you wouldn't have to worry about malware and such.

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