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Open Source Linux-Based SaaS Takes Another Twist with Zonbu

Start-up Dangles Open Source SaaS in Front of Consumers

A start-up called Zonbu started peddling a small router-size Gentoo Linux-based consumer PC pre-loaded with a swat of free or open source applications and games, stuff like the OpenOffice suite, the Firefox web browser, Skype's VoIP and the Acrobat Reader.

Users can't install any applications on the thing - well, there's no drive - but besides what Zobu provides - which pretty much covers all the bases - they can use other people's web-based applications.

What we're talking about here is Evolution e-mail and calendaring; Pidgin instant messaging; a couple of P2P clients that support BitTorrent, eDonkey and eMule protocols; the Banshee music library; Mplayer media player; F-Spit photo organizer; Scribus desktop publishing; GimpShop image workshop; Nvu web page editor as well as a dictionary, encyclopedia, thesaurus, notepad, Gnu personal finance manager and Zip extractor.

Software patches and upgrades are free and Zonbu is promising John Q. Public a virus-free, hacker-free environment.

Zonbu is basically telling consumers that it'll take any hardware repairs, software installations, updates and upgrades, configurations, data backups, disk defragmentation, virus and spyware checks, data migration and system corruption recovery off their hands, proposition that's got to appeal to the average Joe considering it's also cheap.

The service goes for $99 down and $12.95 a month on Zonbu's advertised two-year plan - sorta like a cell phone - and comes with a basic 25GB of storage on the company's servers. For $19.95 a month a user can have 100GB, enough room for 15,000 photos, 10,000 songs, 200 videos, 40 movies and probably all of any user's e-mail and documents.

See, user data is cached locally on the widget's Compact Flash Card, transparently encrypted with 128-bit encryption then whisked off to Zonbu's servers where it is accessible from any Internet-connected device.

It's sorta like a lifetime membership 'cause without a subscription you have no remote access to your data and only 3GB of local storage - heck, you have only three months worth of read-only access. Of course Zonbu says it will let you move the files elsewhere.

The Zonbu architecture is a combination of a so-called transparent overlay filesystem and online continuous backup, which is how it comes to call itself "self-healing," a description that puts it in the same league as IBM's more rarified machines.

However, the Zonbu desktop is something of a bring-your-own affair. Users have to supply the keyboard, mouse, screen and other peripherals or buy them separately from Zonbu, which is targeting the widgetry at the second home PC market.

It will be available for a flat $250 to developers so they can write programs for it.

The networkable device, which is being marketed through the start-up's TRUSTe-certified web site, is based on an ultra-low power 1.2GHz VIA C7 chip and includes 512MB of RAM, 4GB of Flash storage, six USB ports and 10/100 Mbps Ethernet.

One of Zonbu's come-ons is the widget's low-energy use. It's silent because it has no fan or other moving parts and runs on 20W, a tenth of what it takes to run a conventional PC. The company says it will reduce carbon dioxide emissions by one ton a year over a PC and one's electricity bill in the process.

Besides 30-days free live support and automatic backup, Zonbu is promising a free replacement if the widget craps out in the next three years and a pro-rated refund if the user cancels.

Not a bad deal.

Zonbu was started by CEO Gregoire Gentil and chairman Alain Rossman. It is Gentil's fourth start-up in 12 years. Cisco bought Twingo from him in 2004. Rossman has been at Apple, C-Cube Microsystems and EO, which he sold to AT&T. He is supposed to be the father of the wireless Internet thanks to his work converging the Internet and mobile phone services.

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SaaS News Desk trawls information and news sources worldwide for the very latest developments concerning SaaS as a software application delivery model and brings you topical material relevant to the new paradigm in which customers pay not for owning software but rather for using it.

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