As mentioned previously, Zonbu has three additional editions that are interesting to users seeking more control and configurability: the Free, Developer and Kiosk Editions. Though not promoted heavily, you can find a wealth of information about them in Zonbu's Developer Corner on its Web site.
If you want to forego Zonbu's subscription and storage offerings, simply buy the $249 machine and follow the instructions to set yourself free. With the Free Edition, you still can take advantage of free system and application upgrades, but as with the Standard Edition, you cannot change anything. Later, you can reactivate the Standard Edition and choose a subscription plan if so desired.
For full control and root access, go with the Zonbu Developer Edition, which can be activated quite easily. In this edition, you can install additional system files and applications while still taking advantage of the subscription service. Luckily, Zonbu still offers support for Gentoo if you go this route, but other distributions are not supported. Regardless, Zonbu does provide tips and pitfalls about using other distros. In addition, you can find information on installing the Zonbu OS on a VMware virtual machine, as well as putting the Zonbu OS onto a CompactFlash card.
Finally, Zonbu gives you the option of activating the Kiosk Edition, which functions the same as the Standard Edition. Unfortunately, unless you're using the Developer Edition, very little customization is possible besides determination of the home page.
Although a number of computer companies are greening their operations and products, Zonbu appears to be one of the first to use its “environmental cred” as a core selling point. Furthermore, Zonbu is trying to cover all of the bases, which is summed up in its EPEAT Gold rating for strong overall environmental performance. Only 12 desktop machines have reached this mark to date. Specifically, Zonbu delivers, as illustrated above, significant gains in energy efficiency, achieving the US EPA Energy Star 4.0 rating. Second, Zonbu purchases carbon offsets from the firm Carbon Trust, which invests in projects that reduce net carbon emissions society-wide, such as wind energy or methane capture in landfills. Third, Zonbu builds its hardware with recycling in mind and follows the European RoHS Directive, such that no more than 25% of the hazardous substances (such as lead and mercury) that go into typical desktops are used. Fourth, when you're ready to upgrade, Zonbu will take back your old device and foot the bill for its recycling.
To answer our question from above, the Zonbu mini-PC indeed adds up if you're leaning toward convenience over penny-pinching on your next PC purchase. You'll save a great deal of time on backups, updates and other maintenance, and you'll get excellent functionality out of the box. Furthermore, if your situation calls for a plug-and-play Linux solution with basic functionality and without a lot of esoteric Windows-only applications, Zonbu is an excellent choice. Also, remember that you can activate the Developer Edition and add applications and functionality to your heart's delight.
If greenness is part of your calculus, then Zonbu is nearly peerless. Its credentials regarding low power consumption, recycling and carbon footprint are all industry-leading.
So, should you commit to a two-year subscription with Zonbu? Two years is an eternity in our business. Given the plethora of positive press Zonbu has received, it seems that the firm should expect success. However, fame is fleeting and users fickle. My gut says start with a one-year plan and see how things go.
James Gray is Linux Journal Products Editor and a graduate student in environmental science and management at Michigan State University. A Linux enthusiast since the mid-1990s, he currently resides in Lansing, Michigan, with his wife and cats.
James Gray is Products Editor for Linux Journal
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