Not only does the mini Zonbu PC run Linux, maintain itself and store your files on-line, it's also one of the greenest machines out there.
Versions of Zonbu

If you set out to buy a Zonbu, you'll find the Standard Edition preloaded in a configuration as elaborated above, either with or without subscription plan. However, dig deeper and you'll also find three other Zonbus—Developer, Free Edition and Kiosk editions.

Because the standard Zonbu PC has a fixed OS configuration and application set, this version is ideal for Linux evangelism—that is, introducing Linux to people or organizations with limited computing requirements.

However, we insatiable tinkerers might pop an artery with the fixed configuration and lack of control found in the Zonbu Standard Edition. Therefore, the LJ crowd will likely find more joy in the alternative Zonbu editions.

Let's have a look at each of these editions.

Zonbu and Newbies

If only I had a nickel for each time I've heard one of you tell me “All my [insert non-geek relatives/friends] need is Web access, an office suite and MP3s. There's no reason they shouldn't be using Linux.” For situations like these, consider Zonbu your “Linux Conversion Appliance”.

Though your grandmother likely won't care, Zonbu Standard runs Gentoo Linux and uses Xfce as its desktop environment. Our review machine ran Version 6.999 of its software, with Linux kernel, which Zonbu still considers betaware. Meanwhile, the hardware is not in beta.

Figure 4. Zonbu runs Gentoo Linux and the Xfce desktop environment. In the Standard Edition, Zonbu maintains the OS and all applications. If you want to change anything, set up the Developer Edition instead.

For better or worse, neither you nor your grandmother can change a Zonbu build in the Standard Edition, not even install additional applications. On the flip side, Zonbu contains a wide range of standard Linux apps and presents them to the user in a very functional, logical manner. See the Included Applications sidebar for a sample of Zonbu's applications.

Support for printers, Flash drives and digital cameras is as good as any Linux machine, and other music players and iPods (though not fully) are supported as well. Buyers beware that neither Bluetooth, scanners nor Webcams are currently supported, and the Belkin F5D7050 is the only supported Wi-Fi device.

Although media codecs are always an issue with Linux, Zonbu has much of that pretty well solved. One can play back the following: MP3s, WMA, WMV, AVI, QuickTime, MPEG/MP4, RealMedia and DVDs from around the globe (given you've got the optional CD/DVD drive).

Another issue to consider is Internet connection. Luckily, you're not completely up a creek if your Internet access is down, because most recent files will be stored in the onboard cache. You simply won't have access to your older files in on-line storage. In addition, Zonbu needs only 64KB/s to work, but a minimum of 256KB/s is recommended. I tested Zonbu with a slower connection, around 100KB/s, and found it to work fine under everyday working conditions with small files. However, logic tells you that pumping gigantic files though small pipes is no fun, so keep this in mind if you'll be transferring large files frequently.

Those computing in the wacky world of Windows who wish to take their existing files along into the Zonbu universe can utilize the Windows Importer Tool. This tool, which runs on Windows, allows you to select the files to transfer, including e-mail, and will upload them to the storage space. Zonbu will synchronize the e-mail files from Outlook, Outlook Express, Netscape Composer 4.0 and Eudora to work with Evolution. We were able to get a bunch of Outlook-based e-mail synchronized without a hitch.

Beyond the annoyance of the inability to change either the OS or your applications, a few other minor issues arose. In addition to making annoyingly loud beeps while starting up, Zonbu's boot time is a bit slow even for Linux—close to two minutes (20–30 seconds longer than our SUSE Linux and Ubuntu systems).

Another annoyance in my book is Zonbu's avoidance of Linux to the general public, saying that “The Zonbu OS looks and works like the latest PC operating systems” and offering advantages like superior security. Clearly when reading the Web pages for developers, Zonbu is zealous about Linux, and yes, we do want to present Linux's modern, user-friendly face to new recruits. Nevertheless, why not use this as a teaching opportunity to plug Linux to the world not just by functional advantage but by name too?


James Gray is Products Editor for Linux Journal.