$100 Linux PC wins PopMech's 2007 Breakthrough Award

The award-winning Zonbu

Yes, you read the headline right, and no, One Laptop Per Child hasn't suddenly achieved it's "$100 laptop" initial price target.

The Zonbu is the $99 PC (box only, BYO-keyboard, mouse, monitor, speaker, etc.), and requires a $12.95 a month service fee for updates and a 25GB online backup.

It has 512MB of RAM and 4GB of flash-based local storage, and can punch out resolutions (provided you have a compatible monitor) of up to 2048 x 1536. Without a 2 year prepaid contract, the device shoots up to $249.

This is the machine that Popular Mechanics awarded one of its 10 Breakthrough Awards "Big Ideas for a Better World" to this year (along with Microsoft's Surface, which I'll believe isn't iPhone-hype-deflating vaporware when I see it in stores).

PopMech defends its award for the service-oriented strategy of the little computer:

It isn’t the technology that makes the Zonbox revolutionary, it’s the idea. Borrowing a page from the cellphone industry, Zonbu offers its compact Zonbox PC for $99 with a two-year, $15 per month plan, which includes 50GB of online storage and the best tech support policy we’ve seen in years: If the box fails, the Silicon Valley startup will overnight a new one.

Since the operating system is Linux-based, with a slew of genuinely useful preloaded applications (open-source clones of popular programs), it’s less vulnerable than Windows to viruses, spyware and unexplained crashes.

Of course, OLPC is well aware of the cell phone market and distribution methods, but is focusing on making the device actually cost what they're charging, instead of relying on a service contract. Astute readers will note that the $12+/month charge is really getting you replacement insurance (one wonders if it covers user-caused problems) and online storage/backup. The box, being Linux-based, would be able to happily and freely update itself.

The innovative catch of the Zonbu is that it focuses on being "green." Not only does it buy carbon credits to offset manufacturing costs, it has a free recycling program, and also

The Zonbu manufacturing process complies with the high standards of the European RoHS Directive. This restricts hazardous substances in electronic equipment, including cadmium, mercury, lead, hexavalent chromium and certain brominated flame retardants.
It also runs on 10-15W, which is pretty impressive, until you remember that that doesn't include a monitor of any sort.


Still, it seems odd that this souped-up AMD PIC gets an innovation award, yet the OLPC gets not even a mention on the site.

As PopMech says, "It isn’t the technology" ; but even the model is reminiscent of the free PCs with ad-banners around the screen from the dot-com era.

A side-by-side tech comparison of these two devices would just cause the Zonbu to regret passing on brominated flame retardants; and even on the strategy side of it, I'd rather have a portable laptop with a screen, keyboard, touchpad, wireless, camera, and speakers built in for the 1-for-2 G1G1 price of $400 than the just-a-box Jonbu at the sans-service price of $249.

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Why does everyone make it sound as though RoHS is a special feature? Even many motherboard manufacturers include a reference to RoHS in their press-releases... RoHS is a legal requirement when it comes to electronics gear and you can't sell non-RoHS stuff in the EU! So if you intend to make business here then you have to comply with it whether you like it or not. And since having both a RoHS and non-RoHS product series would be too expensive to produce in most cases the default is of course to go with RoHS.

Anyway, having said that I think that it's great to see the Zonbu getting so much coverage. When I first saw a unit and spoke to the company's founder at Computex in June it was less than certain that this thing would take off. I actually have a sample sitting here and hope to post my impression of the setup over on EPIACENTER.com or my blog tomorrow! :-)


This is not revolutionary. France has that stuff for years, and their's has a monitor and keyboard:

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