Zonbu: The Mac of the Future

I think itis time for an evolutionary step forward in the way we deal with computers. Iim not talking about fancy multi-touch tables or 3-D displays that also generate a feeling of well being and a mountain fresh scent; my thoughts are a bit more mundane than that.

It seems obvious to me that the personal?computing scenario where we sit in front of a dedicated box is quickly becoming friends with the Dodo. More often now our data and applications are virtual, we can get to them no matter where we are. This would imply that we should also have devices that let us access that data and use those apps conveniently and easily.

I recently wrote a bit about where I thought Apple was heading eventually with the iPhone and it seems I wasnit far off. Applications are being developed and can be downloaded today that will let you access your files on your Mac at home, run apps, and more from your iPhone while you are out in the wild. This is goodness, to be sure, but I believe it is only the tip of the proverbial iceberg.

A company named Zonbu is now offering an interesting setup: For US$99 up front and $14 a month (for a 2 year contract) Zonbu will give you a Linux-running, flash drive-based computer and access to 25GB of networked and backed-up storage. Itis a consumeris turn-key computing system -- You plug the Zonbu hardware into a broadband service and Zonbu does the rest.

The flash drive allows the unit to come on almost the instant you hit the power switch. You have the basic applications: Web browser (FireFox), office apps (OpenOffice), media apps (iPod compatible music library, media player for movies, photo organizer), games and other apps people normally use. All of your data gets encrypted and constantly backed up to some huge computer in the ether, which means that your data is accessible even when you arenit sitting in front of your Zonbu. All you need is a web browser.

>The Zonbu Computer (Photo courtesy of Zonbu)

(Wait, hold the iPhone! Youive got the Real Internet and a Real web browser in your pocket (or are you just happy to see me?), so you should be able to access your Zonbu from Appleis new smart phone. Excellent!)

Software updates and new applications are added automagically,?users never worry about malware infections or being hacked. Thatis what they pay Zonbu to worry about.

This box wonit replace game machines or multimedia workstations, but for the non-techie Joe or Jill, Zonbu is right on target. At least it appears that way on paper, but Iill need to play with it for a while to see if folks will find it useful or dreadful.

Zonbu Desktop

Still, the concept is one that is only starting to take hold, and Iive got to believe Apple is planning something similar, except in Appleis case the tie that binds is .Mac, a service which does most of what Zonbu does in the back-end already. All Apple needs is a device like the Zonbu computer -- basically an anemic iMac with a flash drive -- and suddenly Macs are attractive to millions of people who are already fed up with the Big Redmond merry-go-round, but may not feel comfortable with an untested company like Zonbu.

Appleis virtual computer would offer iTunes connectivity, access to Apple or Google apps like iPhoto or Picasa, and an end-to-end user experience that only Apple can provide. Appleis device would have to be competitive, costing no more than $130 with a 2 year contract, and the monthly charge must be only a minor increase over what .Mac customers pay today; perhaps $10 a month.

Currently Apple offers only 4GB of online storage for $99, which is silly in todayis market. You can buy a 100GB USB hard drive for that much and carry your data around with you, and you can easily backup 4GB to a DVD ROM. That price would have to drop and the allocated amount of storage would have to increase dramatically in order to compete with services like Zonbu.

Once Apple makes this service available, however, people will be able to see how much more Apple offers over similar services, like Zonbu, and Apple could dominate this market because of its strong ties to iTunes and the iPhone.

Whether Apple jumps in the game or not (theyid be stupid not to, IMHO) Zonbu is interesting and it could very well be the future of personal computing. Watch them, and watch Apple.