Is gOS VS. Zonbu just like Betamax Vs. VHS? gOS selling out at Walmart..

Walmart LogoOver at The Inquirer they are reporting that the sub-$200 gOS Linux PC from Everex is selling out at Walmart stores nation wide (that is, if your nation is the USA).

They point to its reasonable specification, Ubuntu (nee Debian) base and its attractive Enlightenment based desktop as the reasons. And of course, that amazing price.

How did this happen? How did Everex/gOS get the slip on Zonbu, when gOS is an inferior (albeit promising) desktop experience for new users? Is this Betamax versus VHS all over again? I’m afraid that it may be.

I have a hunch how it happened and I’ll share it with you here…

A friend of a friend is a friend

Via is well aware of the opportunity in the low end of the PC space, especially in the low power/green end of the PC space. That is where their strengths lie and they have been playing around with various systems in that market for the past few years. The turning point was when Dell started shipping Linux desktops and notebooks. Now it was viable to push a system in to the mainstream with Linux, saving the famous “Windows Tax” that drives up the system price by $50 or more.

A smooth talking Everex salesman along with product management folks at Via may have read some articles about how Walmart wants to go green (You can read an article on Walmart and the environment that I highlighted here). They looked at what the basic requirements were to run Ubuntu and then asked how they could lighten that up. Along the way they tripped over the Enlightenment project and their very pretty and lightweight desktop. A marriage was born.

Or maybe the Enlightenment team contacted Everex/Via. Either way, they came together… either way it doesn’t matter. The baby was born.

Meanwhile, back on the farm…

Cut to a boardroom at Walmart HQ in Bentonville, AK. Walmart buyers are oohing and ahhing over the demo unit the Everex team has on display.

“How much?” they ask.

“Cheap, really cheap. You’ll be able to retail it for less than $200 and still make a reasonable return.”

“Ok. Well what about Microsoft? It looks pretty and all but what operating system is it?”

“It’s Ubuntu-based.”

“It’s Eww-what?”

“It’s Linux. Ubuntu is the same Linux Dell launched with a year ago. Dell is doing really well with it.”

“Really? Dell sells Linux PCs?”

“Yes, here, let me show you their site. See, right here, Dell Ubuntu Linux desktops and notebooks. And their units start at $499.”

“Let me cut to the chase. We’re just simple folksy people here at Walmart. So, what you’re offering us is a reasonable home PC for the American family, that runs the same Linux operating system Dell sells, for 40% of their cost at retail?”

“Yes, and it looks nicer. See, it has this nice dock along the bottom. Almost looks and feels like a Mac, only they cost even more. All the style, for a low Walmart price.”

“You’re right. This is a good deal. And since Dell has already endorsed Ubuntu, we’ll take a serious look at it. What about a keyboard, mouse and speakers?”

“All of those are included. The user just needs to buy a monitor, in the same way you pick your PC then your monitor with Dell or HP.”

“Sounds great. We’re in.”

Off to the races

Things evolved. The machines hit the shelves and then flew off in to customer hands. There is no question its a viable starting point for the entry level buyer, and the wide spread exposure Walmart has brought to the table is critical. The gOS base is, however, not up to the level of refinement that Zonbu has brought to their OS stack. That may not matter, and gOS will improve.

It all goes back to momentum. Building on an Ubuntu base brings immediate credibility to a project, whether it deserves it or not. It also brings a plethora of tools that both developers and end users can adopt and use.

I talked in detail about the risk of ignoring Ubuntu and going with Gentoo in an earlier post, which you can read here:

Momentum Matters, Does Zonbu’s Linux Choice?

Just to be clear, I think the Zonbu product is superior but I also think it would be better received if they took their end user experience and rebuilt it on a Debian/Ubuntu base, so they could ride the wave of popularity and public relations success generated by Ubuntu.

Everex & Zonbu = Zonbu Laptop

Two days ago Zonbu announced their own Everex product, a Zonbu based laptop using the Via C7-M processor. My test unit has arrived and I’ll be benchmarking it against the popular Asus 3e PC which, like the gOS platform is Debian based and has been receiving a very positive response from the press and general public.

Embrace and extend – Judo the competitors

If I was Zonbu, I would put OS base religion aside and take a hard look at a Debian base. All of the front end polish and the things the users love can be replicated on other Linuxes, and Zonbu knows just how to do it. Don’t squander the marketing dollars and momentum Ubuntu/Debian have generated.

I would also look at co-opting all the hardware out there and get spins of the Zonbu OS out for the gOS PC (make an ISO download available), as well as a spin for the Asus 3e PC. These are fixed config boxes and it will only involve some driver customizations.

We still don’t know exactly what the Zonbu business model is, but we can only surmise its to sell online storage, backup and management. That can still be done if the platform is extended to the Asus 3e PC and the gOS box, as well as other machines that will come along. Don’t lean back, lean in to the opportunities and stick that flag in the ground, it’s not to late.

-Mr. Zonbu

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6 Responses to Is gOS VS. Zonbu just like Betamax Vs. VHS? gOS selling out at Walmart..

  1. Chad W Smith says:

    I am pretty sure that Zonbu will not be doing anything like that any time soon. Changing what the core of your distro is based on isn’t as easy as you make it sound. Gentoo and Ubuntu are different. I think the reason they choose Gentoo us the same reason they choose XFCE, it’s vey lightweight, or, better said, it can be made to be very light weight. If you want a XFCE version of Ubuntu, just get the official version here – http://www.xubuntu.org/ . Right now, if they wanted to, Zonbu could release an ISO of their OS. But that’s not what they want to do. (Actually, they tell you to download Gentoo and then run a command that will customize Gentoo into the Zonbu interface.) There’s no motivation (aka profit) in releasing the OS to the public.

    The benefits of Zonbu have very little to do with the way it looks and feels. There are plenty of Linux distros out there that have a start button and a task bar. The benefits are unbreakability, automatic updates, automatic backups, remote access to your data, and almost-insane degrees of customer service. No one else would dare say that they will replace your computer for any reason over the next 3 years. Nobody. That’s why you buy a Zonbu. Not because the task bar looks shinny.

    Also, you are forgetting Zonbu’s business model. The fact that they can, and do, basically give-away the box means that having a #249 Zonbu Mini sitting on Walmart store shelves next to the big-and-ugly gPC isn’t going to help Zonbu that much. They don’t make money from the sales of the box – it, (just like the cell phone companies) is the service plans that makes these profitable. To get the laptop at a price that is attractive (when compared to the EEE PC and the upcoming gPC Laptop and the Nokia N810) you have to be willing to buy into the storage and support for 2 years. That adds about $150 to the deal (that’s on top of the intital $479 offering, something like $637.80. Now for that $637.80 you get a pretty decent laptop (a built-in webcam would have been nice, especially with SKype pre-installed. If the EEE can do it, and pretty much every cell phone can do it, surely Zonbu could do it) and 2 years of online storage, built-in back-up, automatic background updates, what-should-be-award-winning support, free replacements, and access to your data anywhere in the world.

    Show me Apple doing that. Show me Asus doing that. Show me gOS doing that. Show me Dell doing that. They may offer plans (AppleCare) but that Apple Care is about $200 or $300 on top of the cost of the $1000 + laptop. You could also get a .Mac account – it’s not nearly as good as Zonbu’s online service, and it’s another $100 a year. And you don’t get the atuomatic updates. You get software updates within the version you bought (Tiger Updates are free, but to switch to Leopard cost money. Same for iLife ’06 vs iLife ’08.) So, since Apple has said they are going back to the a new OS ever 12 – 18 months, you can throw in at least another $129 for the new OS within the next two years – and another $79 for at least one upgrade of iLife during that time. So to just get the service – the online storage, the customer support, the software upgrades, etc. – You’d have to pay Apple *more* than buying a Zonbu Laptop and paying for the support for 2 years. And you still have to pay the $1100 plus for the laptop!

    (To be fair, I that’s actually 3 years for Apple stuff. So, for a Zonbu account for 3 years with the $279 cost of the laptop – it’s $816.20. For AppleCare (which adds 2 years to your 1 year of free support) it’s $249 for their low end laptop. $69.95 for the first year of .Mac – if you buy it with you MacBook, then $99.95 each one after that – so for that it’s $269.85. Together that’s $518.85, then $129 for the new OS and $79 for iLife and you get $726.85. Well, it’s close either way. And my point is – even with all of that, you’re still not getting everything Zonbu offers just in service, and you *STILL* have to buy the Laptop.

    What I’m trying to say is – Zonbu isn’t selling an OS. It’s just Linux with XFCE. Anyone can get that for free. I’m not cutting down Linux, I’m just saying that’s not what Zonbu is selling. They aren’t even selling the box, really. I could get a more powerful box with a real hard drive – same form factor and everything, for less than Zonbu is selling it (the real price $249, not the discounted with service price – unless you want to add the service cost back in, then I have more room to work with). Fit-PC.com offers one for $285 and it comes with Gentoo. (I really think that Gentoo is built for this form factor.) And I’m sure I could kind cheaper if I looked hard enough. It’s not about the box. It’s not about the OS. It’s the service. And that’s where they can’t be beat. It would be a little hard to explain that on a store shelf in Walmart. And there’s no way in the world the minimum wage employees are going to bother to explain it either.

  2. Gregg says:

    “I could get a more powerful box with a real hard drive – same form factor and everything, for less than Zonbu is selling it (the real price $249, not the discounted with service price – unless you want to add the service cost back in, then I have more room to work with). Fit-PC.com offers one for $285 and it comes with Gentoo.”

    I don’t think so. Actually Zonbu is no longer selling the device alone for $249. They recently raised the price to $299. The Fit-PC has poorer specs with a Geode 500 MHZ cpu and only 256 MB RAM. I bought the Zonbu when it was still $249 mostly because it was cheaper than trying to piece together a fanless nano-itx box with a 4 GB CF card myself. The cases and power supplies for form factors this small are not cheap.

  3. whootowl says:

    I believe both Gentoo and Zonbu are babies of Gregoire Gentil. I’m thinking any suggestion to jettison Gentoo may hit a nerve. Take care with such suggestions lest you not be receiving any further evaluation units.

  4. laika says:

    “The benefits of Zonbu have very little to do with the way it looks and feels. There are plenty of Linux distros out there that have a start button and a task bar. The benefits are unbreakability, automatic updates, automatic backups, remote access to your data, and almost-insane degrees of customer service. No one else would dare say that they will replace your computer for any reason over the next 3 years. Nobody. That’s why you buy a Zonbu. Not because the task bar looks shinny.”

    well, that and the green and silent aspect of the Zonbu box are what appeal to me. but yeah, for the most part, some gurus regularly maintaining and updating a nice Linux experience is what really gets my attention 🙂

    the gOS does sound like a good, inexpensive option for a computer that will do most of what people need a computer to do, but the Zonbu model is that and more.

  5. solacetech says:

    Gentoo Rocks!!!! But it’s not for the meek. Ubuntu is a good START. That’s all

  6. ringo says:

    Ubuntu is a good START and a good FINISH. Why waste time tinkering with the system when you could be using that time productively? Ubuntu vs Gentoo hardware support is a prime example.

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