Cathy and Earl Malmrose founded ZaReason several years ago. ZaReason is a Linux OEM that has long intrigued me for a number of reasons: they encourage customers to open their boxes and tinker, they specialize in OEM Linux boxes, and they demonstrate that there is still room for independent shops in the rough-and-tumble world of computer retailing. In many ways the independents out-perform the big businesses as they understand Linux and Linux users, and a Linux-only shop doesn’t have to contend with the pressures and restrictions that Microsoft puts on its partners.
Netbooks have been a bright spot in a rather dismal retail landscape, despite most of the bigtime vendors not “getting it” and releasing oddly-botched strangely-customized Linux installations on their netbooks. ZaReason just released their new netbook, the Terra A20. The Terra A20 packs a lot of goodies into a small box. Cathy Malmrose kindly answered my questions about netbooks and the Linux retail business, and shares some valuable insights into surviving in a tough business.
Q: The idea that a netbook should be little more than a limited-purpose
terminal to connect to Web apps is still floating around. What’s your take
this, is there a market for something like this? Or do your customers want
inexpensive, small notebook that does everything an ordinary notebook does,
A: From what I can tell, the crowd is splitting — some want the strongest
little powerhouse they can get; some want an elegant cloud notebook. There
is a lot of work being done for both the muscle machines and the cloud
machines and we are paying attention to both, hoping to supply both. We
already have an Ubuntu netbook with quite a bit of muscle. When someone
orders a 500 gig drive, you know it’s not just a cloud machine. For the
cloud, I’m headed off to Paris tomorrow morning to talk with the JoliCloud
developers. JoliCloud appears to have the most promise at this point.
Q: Is there a lot of demand for netbooks? How does demand for a netbook
compare to your other products?
A: Our little Terra netbook is currently our bestseller. I think it’s the
style, the breadth of options, and the increased computing power that is
turning people’s heads. Not being limited by Windows licensing demands, we
can offer a variety of options you don’t see on other netbooks. The
Ubuntu-colored case has been far more popular than we predicted. And that’s
A: Do people appreciate the nice Ubuntu or Tux logo in place of the Windows
logo? (I think it’s cool!)
A: Yes, the Ubuntu and Tux logos are those final touches that make the
difference. A lot of netbooks are running non-Ubuntu Linux, so we’ve added
the option to the Terra for Choose-Your-Own super-key logo (Ubuntu or Tux).
Q: The barriers to entry in Free software are low— mainly time and effort,
and collaboration and distribution are cheap and easy. But hardware is a
difficult and expensive problem. As users we’re always dealing with the
problem of closed hardware and favoritism to Microsoft. Obviously it’s
the reach of most folks to set up their own manufacturing. What are some
ways to deal with this? Is it practical for a small-timer to deal with
manufacturers directly and to set up shop like ZaReason?
Does the budding Free software/Free hardware mogul have to go to Taiwan?
A: The barriers are still there unfortunately. Anybody can still build their
own machines using NewEgg or other component suppliers, but to get the edge
on the market, you need to work with the Tier 1 suppliers. It’s standard
business — bulk matters. That said, bulk can also weigh a company down in a
market where components are improving faster than they can be shipped to
their end destination. It is excruciatingly important to have a limber
company. We chose to structure ours as a set of smaller shops (more offices
coming soon to a university town near you) rather than the typical large
spreading campus (and large overhead). We may be wrong; we may be right,
we’ll see. For now, we know that we love hearing back from customers that
they love their new laptop / desktop /server. The “love letters” make it so
Article courtesy of Linux Planet.