Zonbu Notebook review

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So you’re ready to try Linux but you don’t have a DVD burner or the ability to download large files. What’s a body to do? Well, you can try the Zonbu notebook, a fairly inexpensive Everex laptop with 1.5GHz VIA C7-M and 512MB and 60GB of hard drive space and running Zonbu OS, a Gentoo Linux variant with a full set of open source productivity and gaming apps.

Who is the Zonbu for? It’s not for you. It’s for other people. The notebook isn’t slim — it’s 1.5 inches thick and weighs 5 pounds. It’s not powerful — the VIA chip is sufficient and very low power but you’re not going to be rendering Toy Story IV on here. It lasts about 1 hour and 30 minutes in a DVD playback test — AKA not so good. The version of Linux it runs is fairly speedy and has Vista-eqsue eye candy and, like all entry-level Linux installs all the hard stuff is hidden deep within the OS, ensuring that no one will ever type “rm -rf /” accidentally or, more importantly, install a virus or adware.

The Zonbu notebook costs $279 with a 2-year $14.95/month subscription to Zonbu’s update and storage service. This, clearly, is Zonbu’s real MO. They offer unlimited support and upgrades along with 50GB of Amazon S3-based storage. If you opt out of all of the support, you pay $479 for a fairly basic laptop.

Here’s the rub, kids. With the service pack you’re paying $637.80 for a Linux laptop. Unfortunately, I’ve spotted Linux laptops online for and 2GHz Vista machines for about $500. But there’s no support and no online disk space.

Now for the bad news. Zonbu has hidden quite a few of the imporant aspects of the OS deep within an Advanced menu system. For example, when connecting to Wi-Fi there is no way to tell if the Wi-Fi radio is on or off without looking at a light on the lower part of the case. Opening the Network control panel shows you access points that you’ve already associated to whether wireless is on or off. There is no on-screen indication that the wireless is off. There is also no easy backup system nor is there a clear way to contact Zonbu right from the desktop (you can email support@zonbu.com, but I had to go online to figure that out.)
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I’m supportive of anything that gets Linux to the masses. While I see an audience for this laptop, it’s clear that anyone with a modicum of computer savvy to could recreate this laptop for considerably less. Luckily, there are plenty of people without a modicum of computer savvy, ensuring that someone, somewhere will want a Zonbu.
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If you want something to set down on Mom’s lap this week, ensuring that you’ll never really have to maintain it ever again, you’re in luck. The Zonbu is very capable in that respect. If you want a Linux laptop, go ahead and pick up a cheap laptop on eBay or Craigslist and download Ubuntu.

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