July 16, 2007
A PC That Uses Less Energy, but Charges a Monthly Fee
By JOHN MARKOFF
SAN FRANCISCO, July 15 — Subscription-based personal computers are not a new idea — and never popular — but Grégoire Gentil and Alain Rossmann have devised a green twist.
This summer the pair will begin selling a simplified Linux-based PC for $99 and a $12.95 monthly subscription charge. They say that the deal is better than it looks because the 15-watt PC can save up to $10 a month in electricity compared with a standard 200-watt PC.
Their company is Zonbu, and the Zonbu computer will be sold through its Web site, zonbu.com. The founders said that the PC had received the highest certification possible from the Green Electronics Council, a nonprofit group that has created a product classification standard known as Epeat (for Electronic Product Environmental Assessment Tool).
The designation is meant to help consumers make educated choices when buying computer-related equipment and encourage electronics makers to build products that are more energy efficient and have a lower impact on the environment.
Zonbu said that it would be the first desktop computer for consumers to receive the gold rating.
The computer is the size of a cigar box and uses a low-power Intel-compatible microprocessor from VIA Technologies of Taiwan. It comes with four gigabytes of flash memory instead of a disk drive, a spinning mechanical part that uses much of a PC’s power. It also lacks a fan, another big energy user.
The Zonbu PC also uses a Gentoo version of the Linux operating system and will come with a range of software applications like the Mozilla Firefox browser, Skype voice-over-Internet service, OpenOffice software suite and many games. An additional 25 gigabytes of free online storage is available, with more offered for purchase.
Mr. Gentil, the chief executive and a Stanford-educated computer engineer, said that the idea for Zonbu came to him in his frustration over providing extensive computer support to his family in Paris and their various PCs.
“My father was crashing his Windows machine all the time,” Mr. Gentil said. That led him and Mr. Rossmann, a former Apple executive who has started many Silicon Valley companies, to pursue the possibility of creating an appliancelike computer tailored to consumers who have no computer expertise.
The two men think they can sell the PC the same way that cellphones are sold, subsidizing the cost of the hardware with the revenue from the monthly service charge.
“The market we want to target is the second PC in the home,” Mr. Gentil said. “If you want to give a PC to your kids or put it in the kitchen, this is a good candidate.”
Zonbu is based in Menlo Park, Calif. The system will lack a keyboard, mouse and monitor, which the company will sell as options. It plans to sell a version without a service fee to Linux software developers for $250, so that they will create more applications for the Zonbu PC.
The Linux operating system, once the province of computer enthusiasts, has now matured to the point where it could be a commercial rival to Windows and Macintosh, Mr. Gentil said.