Zonbu network PC “bait-and-switch”

I really wanted to like the Zonbu, a small, Mac Mini-style network PC that runs a modified version of Gentoo Linux and uses Amazon’s S3 (and a small built-in Flash drive) for storage — and best of all, costs just $99. It seemed like such a great idea, as Nick Carr describes here and Daniel “Fake Steve Jobs” Lyons gushes here. Okay, it has a really stupid name, but then who doesn’t in these Web 2.0 times.

zonbu.jpgIn fact, the Zonbu might even be a great idea — except for the fact that it doesn’t cost anywhere close to $99. Or rather, it costs $99 in the same sense that a computer from Bill’s PC Warehouse costs $200 because it doesn’t include a monitor, keyboard, mouse or any software (which I’ve always thought was a little like taking the wheels and the engine out of a car and then advertising it for sale at $50). As Zoli Erdos points out in his post on Zonbu, the box actually costs about $250 when you go to buy one. In order to get the $99 deal, you have to sign up for two years worth of online data storage, which brings your total cost to about $400.

Okay, $400 isn’t a bad price for a networked PC with automated backup and a small form factor — except that you still need a monitor and a keyboard and mouse. I can buy a fully-configured Acer or HP desktop with all kinds of bells and whistles for $400. It might not fit under the counter or look good tucked onto a bookshelf, but it comes with a 160-gig hard drive, and I don’t have to call it a stupid name.

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About mathewi

I'm the chief digital writer at the Columbia Journalism Review in New York, and a former writer for Fortune magazine and the Globe and Mail newspaper.

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