I’ve been thinking more today about the Zonbu business model.
I’m not sure that I can tell you what business they are in. The hardware is OEM’ed, the data storage is outsourced to Amazon S3 and the software is based on Gentoo Linux with broad community support. Sure its customized and optimized, but the core software suite is from Linux-land, not Zonbu.
So they don’t make hardware, they don’t make software and they don’t run a data center that provides storage. Either it’s the ultimate web 2.0 business model, or they lack what the VC’s like to call “barriers to entry”.
While I haven’t been in the start-up fund raising game for a few years, I have raised some millions for a start-up over multiple rounds and I’ve faced a lot of questions about business models. Before you meet the handsome Prince you have to kiss a lot of toads, and before you close your financing you have to get really good at telling your story. I had some practice learning what professional tech investors look for. Not the kind of practice you must get when you sell your company to Cisco, but I logged a few air miles…
I’m just not sure I understand what the Zonbu business model is.
Which got me thinking, lets assume my earlier assumption about it being all about the “locked down” eco-system; about delivering a consistent, easy to use, virus and spyware free Internet desktop is accurate. That, plus online storage is worth a modest subscription fee to light and moderate Internet users; or at least it appears that it could be, if you’re a gambler, as all of us entrepreneurs are.
Allow me to digress for a moment…
Over the last few years I’ve tried a lot of Linux “live” CDs.
Live CDs are versions of various linux distrubutions that can be booted and run entirely from CD. The operating system exists in memory while you’re using it, and once you shut down your PC you loose any files or settings you added (unless, of course, you save them to removable storage before hand).
Of particular interest to me are “light” versions, such as Damn Small Linux and PuppyLinux. Versions that have a tiny memory footprint, don’t require very much processing power and are compatible with a wide variety of hardware (especially older stuff).
Why am I so interested in these?
As a broadband professional that deals with home and business users, every single day involves multiple interactions that end in our company having to inform a user that they have a “PC problem” and need to visit their preferred computer repair shop. These problems are almost always the result of either misconfiguration of their operating system, a failed hard drive, virus infections (usually lots, not just one) and almost always spyware infestations.
LiveCD to the resuce
A well thought out Live CD, optimized for modest hardware and a small memory footprint (so it can be copied to and run entirely from RAM) would give us a second option when an end user has a “PC problem”. We could leave the CD with them and they would be able to boot the CD and get on the web to check e-mail, instant message and do some other rudimentary tasks (open office anyone?). In fact, a cash strapped home broadband user or small business with no IT support, could potentially keep working and using the web until they get a chance to have their PC properly serviced.
If you’re a reltaively tech-savvy person reading this, you’re going to think that can’t be THAT common an occurence. Surely everyone has someone they can call who can fix their PC if they muck it up, right?
Actually no. In fact, if you think that, you’re probably a person who does get called… often.
A lot of people have no one to call and get sent in to a real tail spin, or more concerningly continue to use a virus and spyware addled PC, even though they *KNOW* it isn’t functioning properly.
At the best of times this leads only to a slow experience, at the worst of times it leads to the prorogation of viruses, spyware, spam, identity theft and lots of other frustrating and potentially harmful issues. You might even be surprised how many people expect their broadband provider to make a house call and fix it for them.
Where does Zonbu fit in all this?
If the true value that Zonbu is providing is a nice, tight, well packaged and well documented Internet terminal feature set, along with on-line backup and regular updates, then I’m not sure they couldn’t achieve a lot of their business goals and potentially reach a much larger audience by also offering a Live CD version.
Now, hardware compatibility adds a level of complexity, as you don’t know what a random user will have at home, but the entire PC & broadband industries (and the Linux community) deal with that every day.
I could actually see getting my mother on to the Zonbu service, at least to try it, via a LiveCD on her existing hardware. If she wanted the power savings and other benefits the dedicated hardware bring, then great.
If not, she may be happy to just keep booting from CD.
If you’ve never had a chance to see a tiny Linux distribution run from RAM, then give either of the two I mentioned a try. You probably didn’t realize your PC could run so fast. Even the web is noticeably quicker when the entire OS is resident in memory. Damn Small Linux is easier to get your head around (the Puppy website is just bad, but the software is surprisingly good), just download the ISO CD image and burn it, reboot your PC and as long as you’re set to boot from CD first away you’ll go.