Apple vs. Zonbu, the Death of Image Management, Product of the Week

This last week, I was introduced to a Linux-based PC that has the potential to out Apple by using a combination of open source software, Linux and Web 2.0 concepts.

I revisited another product that I think could free us from image management and enable us to use whatever PC we want at work or home — safely — with most of the benefits of virtualization and almost none of the penalties.

As I write this, Microsoft has just turned in impressive financial results, suggesting its demise — often forecast by open source advocates — has been, shall we say, premature. Google fell off its pace, apparently starting to suffer from its attempt to offset flagging revenues through acquisition.

I’ll close with this week’s product of the week: a little iPod nano competitor that does video.

Apple vs. Zonbu: Linux Kicks Apple Buttusky

As you probably know, I’m not a huge fan of desktop Linux. I consider the whole idea of targeting Windows with a Unix variant to be incredibly stupid and sure to fail.

I believe that the best way to displace a dominant product is not to go where it is, but where it is not, and that the easiest first target is either Apple or those currently using thin client products.

Linux has made advancements in the thin client space, but so has embedded Windows, and in most cases, Linux is winning as much because the buyer is pissed at Microsoft as anything else.

I’m a Believer

However, last week I saw a product that surprised me because it is on the Apple vector, and while not yet at an Apple execution level, is vastly closer and arguably a better value for lots of potential buyers than anything Apple currently has.

Where Apple defines itself is in ease of use, and its premier product isn’t the Mac but the iPhone, which best exemplifies this leadership. Currently, the Mac platform is lagging the iPhone platform significantly, and products like Microsoft Surface and HP’s Touchsmart probably come closer to the iPhone in a PC than the Mac currently does — and Leopard, at least from what we have seen, doesn’t seem to close that gap.

The Zonbu doesn’t go as far as the iPhone either, but it does give you an impressive number of features and unique benefits at a low entry price of US$99, and then wraps the product with an inexpensive monthly fee attached to Web 2.0-like services that appear to be worth the fee. The software package is impressively complete as well.

Hell Freezes Over

Now, let’s be clear: My getting excited about a Linux desktop product is an event similar to hell freezing over, so it is at least worth going to the vendor site and checking it out.

The hardware is based on Via Technologies’ C7 chip, is fanless, pulls about 10 watts, and comes bundled with a complete set of applications. The Web 2.0 part refers to the fact it doesn’t have a hard drive but works off 4 GB of flash.

This means if you don’t have a fast broadband connection, it would be best if you didn’t actually buy this.

With a fast connection, performance is actually rather good. Movies generally play well, and the device is something that is both very inexpensive to buy and inexpensive to use. It could save you up to $10 a month in power bills if you leave your computer on all the time, according to the vendor.

Danger to Apple

Why is this a problem for Apple? Many of us who otherwise use Windows buy Macs for our kids and aging parents because they are easier for them to use, and we likely believe they are safer as well. This product has similar benefits. If it gets messed up, it is vastly easier to fix. It is built like a tank — you probably could prop your car up with it — making it very difficult for Grandma or little Johnny to destroy (though if they throw it at you, duck).

Even if they do, the replacement cost is low, and all of their stuff is saved up on the Web, so it comes right back.

Think how beneficial this would have been to folks hit by Katrina or a fire or other disaster. As a power user, this wouldn’t work for me or for any mainstream Apple user yet, but for those that need a second PC, or one they don’t actually want to support while getting some relative off snail mail, this could be a godsend.

Take a Look

While this is a first-generation product — and you know how I feel about first-generation products — it is based on hardware and software that have both been around for a while, and the Web 2.0 model does allow for rapid and easy upgrades.

While I won’t be the first, I also don’t feel the need to wait until version 2 either.

In any case, it is worth checking out, if only to see what it would take to get me excited about a desktop Linux offering.

The Death of Image Management: Your Desktop in Your Pocket

OK, you may think I’m warped to get excited about the idea of putting your desktop in your pocket. But what if you could get all of the benefits of a full virtualized desktop with only a 0.5 percent performance penalty? Mojopac seems to do all of this.

If you are an IT guy, you may be starting to drool — well you can often tell IT guys because they drool a lot, it evidently goes with the job and happens when they get near girls, but I think you get what I’m trying to say. (Kidding, guys. You can turn my e-mail and power back on now).

IT has had a serious problem with PC image management, and hardware vendors have had to retain hardware configurations, called “stable image platforms,” for up to 24 months — often 18 months longer than they otherwise would — just to keep the management costs of these PCs manageable.

Only One Image

Even so, they have to manage hundreds of software images, because if you screw up your machine, they have to be able to give you your initial software load back.

What if they only had to manage one image for everyone? What if you could take this image, put it on a portable drive or NAS (network access server), and apply it on the fly to any machine — and when the user was done, the image would leave the machine just as clean as before the image was applied?

What if you had one of these for each of your kids? They could use them on a common PC but not screw up each other’s environment or your home or company financial data. I still remember the story of the kid who was playing on his CEO dad’s PC and renamed all of the financial reports — which didn’t have copies — that his father had prepared for his stockholders meeting the next day.

Much Improved Already

This is all without the penalties typically associated with virtualization — like having to pay for more than one Windows license or a 20 percent to 40 percent performance penalty.

This is one of the products that could actually redefine the corporate PC market when used for hardware or software migrations. It could eliminate most of the costs associated with the services, and allow for both much higher rates of hardware adoption and the option of employee-owned machines (and really, wouldn’t you rather have something cool?).

It’s young yet, but just keep watching. In the few weeks since I first saw this offering, it has improved a lot, and I think it could turn into something amazing.

Product of the Week: iRiver Gen2 Clix

During my recent travels, a bunch of my buddies rubbed my face in the fact that they had iPhones and I didn’t. I was in good company, as apparently anyone who badmouthed the Apple TV wasn’t sent an iPhone by Apple, and most of us didn’t like the Apple TV.

However, to fight back, I sported the new iRiver Gen2 Clix. This little product, which has a capacity ranging from 2 to 8 GB, is an impressive technology marvel.

About the size of an iPod nano but with an impressive OLED (organic light-emitting diode) screen that takes up most of its face — kind of like the iPhone, except more power efficient. This thing is great for listening to music and watching videos.

Goes All Day

It puts out good sound volume — actually better than my Acer Ferrari — and it provides about five hours of continuous video playback time. Evidently, it will do 24 hours if you just want to listen to music.

The device doesn’t copy Apple with the controls, which are a little more complex and it is also likely more fragile than the current generation of iPod nano — probably closer to the black iPod video. While it doesn’t have the same crowd appeal as the iPhone, it also costs under $200 for the 4 GB version, and you don’t have to sign up with AT&T.

If you want something cool while waiting for the iPhone to mature, this is actually a really nice little offering.

Rob Enderle is a TechNewsWorld columnist and the principal analyst for the Enderle Group, a consultancy that focuses on personal technology products and trends.

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