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Wave of low cost laptops

December 1st, 2007 . by Matt


Although hype about low cost laptops did not meet expectations on price there is good reason to believe that in 2008 there will be a handful of choices.

The latest is the Everex built Zonbu laptop. Here is some of what Computerworld says about Zonbu

Unfazed by the failure of earlier subscription-based PCs from vendors like PeoplePC, Zonbu Wednesday launched an inexpensive subscription notebook that the company claims will free users from the hassle of computer maintenance.

In addition to US$279 for the Zonbu Notebook, users will pay a US$14.95 monthly subscription fee that includes software upgrades, online storage, data backup, online tech support and hardware replacement in case of damage. Users can also buy the PC without paying subscription fees.

The notebook runs on a Via Technologies C7-M processor operating at 1.5GHz and weighs 5.3 pounds (2.4 kilograms). It has a 15.4-inch screen, 512M bytes of RAM, a 60G-byte hard drive, a DVD-RW/CD-RW drive, an integrated graphics controller and wired and wireless 802.11 b/g networking.

The notebook, which runs a customized version of the open-source Linux OS, comes preloaded with 20 software applications, including free applications already available on the Internet, like the Firefox Web browser and OpenOffice.org office suite.

It’s targeted as a second computer for those tired of updating PCs, Zonbu said. The notebook is currently in “beta,” according to Zonbu. The final version of the notebook with updated software will ship globally early next year.

Users can buy a month-to-month, one or two-year subscription plan with the notebook, all for US$14.95 per month. Maintenance fees will also take care of PC configuration, set up, data loss and security issues, Zonbu said. In case a notebook goes bad, a replacement notebook is shipped overnight, Zonbu said.

Although the laptop price is compelling, will the subscription model attract buyers?

Zonbu is reaching out to a market segment not addressed yet, a client bundled with applications and services installed and maintained by a vendor, said David Milman, CEO of computer maintenance firm Rescuecom. This subscription model differs from earlier models where users bought a cheap PC and were locked up in monthly Internet charges.

“You’re going after a market that’s wide open and hasn’t been addressed yet,” Milman said. Components prices are cheap, so it is possible for a vendor to build such a PC, he said.

I would add that the Zonbu laptop is more an internet and productivity (meaning word processing etc) device than a real computer since the fine print on the Zonbu site reveals that you are not even able to install new programs.

Zonbu is designed to prevent you from installing applications, primarily for security reasons: it’s the best way prevent your Zonbu from contracting viruses or getting malicious software installed on it without your knowledge.

Please read our rationale for a comprehensive explanation as to why Zonbu works this way.

Zonbu certainly needs to be more forthcoming with this limitation than burying this key information in the FAQ. Apparently there is a method by which one can install programs, but it involves knowledge of Linux and is probably beyond the capabilities of normal users. I would recommend then that Zonbu start compiling a list of ‘approved applications’ and expedite installation of those apps for those people that want them.

Again, Zonbu is not a real computer even if it looks like one. It is a device that does most of what a normal user wants to do on a computer, like web surfing, word processing, Skype, Instant Messaging, email, photo editing, website maintenance, listen to music and sync with ipod, view video files, and share files via p2p applications with torrents and ED2K. As long as you are satisfied with those features, you will be fine. If you enjoy endlessly tinkering with your OS like me, perhaps not. Then again, I could see myself taking a laptop like this with me on a trip.

This is pretty exciting. With the mainstreaming of sub-$200 dollar desktops (sub-$300 including a monitor) and inexpensive laptops we can expect to see a whole lot of people coming online from developing countries, along with the last unconnected people in developed countries. Sure it will mean more 419 type scams but it will also mean a more connected world.

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