What is Zonbu?


The Zonbu computer is a Linux-powered small form factor PC marketed by a company of the same name. The Zonbu is based upon a modified eBox with 512 MB RAM, an unspecified Intel-compatible CPU, and a 4 GB flash drive in lieu of a traditional hard drive. Additionally, the VIA Mini-ITX motherboard has two PS/2 ports, six USB ports, one Ethernet port, a CF card port, VGA output, and audio input and output ports. As the 4 GB of local storage is insufficient for even simple web browsing and email usage, the Zonbu is subsidized by Amazon's S3 online storage web service. Customers who wish to lower the Zonbu's $250 price tag can commit to 12 or 24 months of S3 service. The 12 month plan brings the Zonbu's price down to $150, and the 24 month plan brings the price to only $99 for the computer. The Zonbu runs a heavily modified Gentoo Linux operating system, and comes with many free open source programs, and well as some proprietary applications. The KDE desktop provides a comfortable workspace, and popular applications such as Firefox, Open Office, and Pidgin provide a familiar environment to PC users. The inclusion of proprietary software such as Skype and Adobe Acrobat Reader has prompted accusations of GPL violations, an issue which Zonbu has yet to address publicly.

The Zonbu advertises many advantages over a standard PC. The small form factor will fit into almost any available place in one's workstation, even screwed to the bottom of a desk. As the machine draws between 8 and 12 watts of power, heat buildup should not be a problem even in confined environments. With such low power requirements, there is no need for a fan. Thus, the Zonbu runs silently and will not disturb a quite work environment or bedroom. Other touted benefits include the idiot-proof no-experience-necessary operating system, software management, and file storage. The Zunbu's Gentoo Linux OS is managed online by Zonbu, as are the applications and programs running on the machine. Thus, users do not need to worry about malware and associated management such as anti-virus software. As the user's files are stored online, even catastrophic hardware failure would not result in data loss.

However, there are many perceived drawbacks to using a Zonbu system in lieu of a traditional personal computer. Obviously, the prospect of storing one's files online may alarm the security-conscious, as anyone with access to the file server can access the files. Additionally, while failure of the home user's Zonbu machine would not result in data loss, failure or even unavailability of the file server would mean that one could not access their data. Even a simple Internet connection problem would result in data isolation. As of summer 2007, no information is provided on Zonbu's website regarding their policy of data retention and access should a user default on their monthly payments, or unsubscribe from the service altogether. This has caused concerns regarding data hijacking and subsequent ransom. Such incidents are not unheard of in the technology industry, with companies such as GoDaddy holding domain names ransom. Additionally, the lack of an onboard optical drive makes local data backup almost impossible, thus tying users to the S3 service.

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