Zonbu: PeoplePC Reincarnated

Back when PeoplePC was first created it provided a “free” PC (replaced every three years), dial-up Internet service and in-home warranty service for a monthly subscription of around $25. Despite ads promoting it as a free PC with an Internet subscription it had all the earmarks of a financing plan. These days PeoplePC is just a dial-up ISP brand that’s part of Earthlink. Zonbu has taken the PeoplePC model and updated it for Web 2.0. And then dropped the Internet connection.

Zonbu is getting ready to offer a service that looks remarkably like the early PeoplePC. There’s a couple of things about Zonbu that caught my attention…

  • The Zonbu hardware runs Linux. They don’t specify a distro and it appears to be their customized Linux distro.
  • The hardware is small and promoted as “green” and quiet. There’s no fans or hard drives so it should be completely quiet. Their website says you’ll save up to $10 month on your electric bill.
  • Most storage is on the Internet. There’s a 4GB flash drive in the device. You pay a monthly fee for online storage ranging from $12.95/mth for 25GB to $19.95/mth for 100GB. USB hard drives can be connected and there’s 6 USB ports.
  • They’re promoting it as a plug it in and just use it solution. It’ll just work. They claim iPod support and support for other peripherals. The demo video shows iPod software. They’re website actually lists supported devices by model which is more than many other companies do so they must have a high degree of confidence. They support over 800 cameras and 1500 printers.
  • There’s a pretty good selection of Open Source apps included. They avoid the urge to include multiple apps to give the end user choices. While choice is good in many cases, for a device promoted for ease of use it’s necessary to stay focused. While some may argue over the individual choices they’ve picked apps that have a large following and are generally considered the best in the class.

The devil is in the pricing.

  • You’ll need to pay for an Internet connection and with all your data online you’ll need a pretty good broadband connection.
  • It’s $249 for the device with a month to month subscription. It’s $99 with a 2/yr subscription. The website doesn’t mention any discounts on the subscription price. So for the 3 year warranty life of the device you’ll pay $565 for the 25GB subscription. As it turns out, that’s the same as you’ll pay for the device and two years of the month-to-month subscription. You can cancel anytime and get a prorated refund (prorated for $249 and month-to-month).
  • The website doesn’t mention anything about a monitor and none is shown in any of the pictures. They say “Nothing to buy” which is why I assume it’s included. The website seems pretty good at disclosures (but don’t mention an ISP connection is needed) so I’m going to assume one is included. But ask before buying.

It’s an interesting concept. It’s a hassle free computer (at least in theory) that’s small, quiet and easy to use. I’m also intrigued that this is really the first consumer oriented service I’ve seen that puts all data on the Internet. They even turn it into a feature as in “easy hardware replacements – with all data intact.” I like that it’s Linux based and not Microsoft. But will it sell more as a device for modding? It’s less than Apple TV and people buy those to hack.

Would you consider the Zonbu service? Would you buy the computer just to mod? Is Zonbu doomed to follow PeoplePC’s lead?