Many companies have tried, unsuccessfully, to introduce thin client/internet terminal appliances in the past.
I’m not going to run through the litany of names, but they include huge companies and small start-ups.
They all failed.
I believe the world has changed and that Zonbu is launching at an ideal time…
The top three things
Maybe it’s because I am the pointy haired boss and therefore tend to over simplify, or maybe its actually the voice of experience. Either way I think success in any business or any part thereof can always be distilled down to three key things.
Every business, every situation, every context demands different things. What works in one place will not work in another.
But I guarantee you, if you take a step back, there are always three things that are more important than all others. They change with time and with market conditions but the principle always stands.
The reason I believe the Zonbu has a shot at staying power when others who have come before it over the last decade have failed, is because we are at a fascinating time in the history of computing and communications.
1) We ARE the Network
Scott McNealy was right, if a bit early, when he declared “The nework IS the computer”. I’ll say it differently.
The network has finally become transparent. We ARE the network.
The Zonbu isn’t about computing. It’s not about the environment. It’s not about Linux or software or this interweb thing.
The Zonbu is about communicating. A basic human need.
It used to be we bought computers to do productivity tasks. Now we buy computers specifically to get on to the network. The network IS the computer and we ARE the network.
It’s about chatting, emailing, you tubing, googling, sending family photos, reading the news, looking up movie listings, listening to music, tracking flights, ordering stuff, checking stocks. You name it. It’s about consuming information and interacting with the world around us.
Young or old, tech savvy or tech fearful, we all need to communicate.
2) Broaband ubiquity is rapidly approaching for ~$1/day.
Now everyone reading this on a remote farm, or in Africa or the Caribbean, or anywhere else that Internet access is still not as fast and affordable as it should be may disagree. But the reality is that its hard to find too many populated places in North America and Western Europe where you can’t get amazingly good broadband access for a bit more than $1/day.
I’ve backpacked around the world, and I was never more than a short distance from Internet access. Even in small towns in Northern Thailand I could swing a cat and hit an Internet cafe… and that was back in 2003 and the cats are scrawny up there.
Now that computers cost less than a year of broadband access, and you can’t afford not to be online in western (or any) society, the time is right.
Broadband penetration is creeping above 60% in North America. That means better than every 1 in 2 homes has broadband… Many of these homes have multiple devices connected to their broadband connection.
The pipes are in place and Zonbu actually has a shot at making this work.
My 2 year old son will grow up never knowing a world that doesn’t have the Internet. Think about that.
3) Microsoft is a victim of their own sucess.
XP was a great operating system. Vista… not so much.
The reality is, Microsoft pulled a Volvo when they released XP. Volvo owners, on average, replace their cars every 10 years. They can do this because the Volvo product lasts a long time and works well for the task it was purchased for. A lot of Volvo owners go on to buy another one, they just don’t do it often enough. And Volvo changes their products so slowly and so minutely from year to year, that there is never a strong reason to switch up to a new model “early”.
This is the problem Microsoft faces with XP. XP works really well. Yes you need spyware fighting tools (and we install them on customer PCs every time we do an install), and yes you need anti-virus tools (we supply those too, if the customer doesn’t already have any), but overall XP works. Photo management is decent, music management is decent, there is a world of software out there, my peripherals all work, it rarely crashes etc etc. It’s a Volvo.
In fact, they actually made the operating system somewhat transparent, which reduced its importance and left the door open for the emergence of desktop Linux to meet the needs outlined in item (1) above. But if I waxed poetic on desktop Linux here, I’d be up to four items, so back to the Microsoft problem.
To make matters worse, computers have gotten so good and so fast that you don’t need to replace them every three years any more. PCs you bought three years ago still comfortably run XP. You might want to add some more RAM, or you might need a bit more hard drive space, but otherwise they work great. And with external USB hard drives being cheap and plentiful, even adding a hard disk isn’t difficult for non-techy users. In fact low-end PCs have gotten so good it is usually what I recommend for most people when they ask. No need to spend a lot anymore.
So you’ve got an OS that does everything you need, that you’re familiar with and comfortable with – and – you have hardware that is still performing well. Why do you need to upgrade to Vista? You don’t.
Vista is hardware hungry, and even then doesn’t work well. My new HP laptop has twice the processing power of my last one (dual 2GHz AMD cores), 2 Gigs of memory and all the other goodies they offered. Hey, I’m in the business, I get to buy the good stuff.
You know what? It feels slower with Vista Premium than my previous machine did with XP. And I can’t find some of the basic functions I used to use, and the visual interface is slowing me down, and some of my hardware doesn’t work, and some critical office accounting software doesn’t work, and I can’t find any reason I need Vista (except for the fancy tablet functions that I don’t even use right now). In fact I feel like I made a big mistake.
It felt good to get that out.
So if your hardware works and your software and operating system work, you don’t need to upgrade. Microsoft wants to convince you otherwise, but they have shareholders to keep happy. I can guarantee you won’t be the one who is happy if you throw out all your current equipment and software and move to Vista. I know I’m not.
What it means for Zonbu
Zonbu looks to be moving in to the market at a critical inflection point.
The network has never been more important, and broadband access has never been more widely available in homes.
People have never been more open to a simple, secure, easy-to-use interface to their networked world.
Most importantly, people have never been less interested in Microsofts operating system upgrade of the moment.
Zonbu, it’s your game to lose.
What Zonbu has to worry about is if google comes out with something similar….and as sexy looking as this Thinlinx Hot-E device.
Everyone always needs to worry about Google, but you make an interesting point. Google is definitely at the center of the network these days and they stand to benefit from anything that drives me advertising eyeballs their way. However, the “sexiness” of the box itself, I think is a minor factor for most people.