FlipSide: A few minutes with Gr'goire Gentil

Gr'goire Gentil is the chief executive officer of Zonbu, a company he founded in Menlo Park, Calif. Zonbu makes an inexpensive PC that Gentil said will appeal to people interested in making eco-friendly choices. He said a $99 basic Zonbu should also appeal to people who don't like to fix things.

Q: Where did the inspiration for the Zonbu come from?
A: We tried to design a hassle-free and a green computer. Let me explain hassle-free. My father, who lives in Paris, had constant problems with Microsoft Windows. For me, traveling to Paris for a weekend to visit my father and spending my Saturdays reinstalling Windows was unbearable.

About 50 percent of households in the United States have two or more PCs. Fixing all those computers has become a pain. Some people value time more than money. For $12 a month and $99 upfront, we offer a hassle-free computer.

And the green part. The Zonbu is the first consumer desktop PC to receive the highest certification based on the Electronic Product Environmental Assessment Tool, which means the computer has a low level of harmful substances, and the manufacturer recycles the product. Zonbu consumes only 10 watts, compared with a standard PC, which consumes 200 watts. You can avoid emitting 1 ton of [carbon dioxide] per year and save an average of $10 per month on your electricity bill.

Q: What uses does the Zonbu have in the government information technology community?
A:
It comes with 20 applications including Firefox, OpenOffice and Evolution, which is an e-mail solution developed by Novell. The Zonbu can browse the Web, open and save office documents, and receive e-mail messages, which are all the basic needs of employees.

The use of open-source systems is growing in government agencies across the world. There are numerous examples of public entities in the United Kingdom, Germany, France and Asia that have decided to drop proprietary operating systems and replace them with open-source software ' not only on their servers but also on employees' desktop PCs.

Q: You've founded four software companies now. What lessons have you learned?
A:
Our engineering team is spread all over the world. We use the latest communications tools to share and collaborate on this project. Our costs are lower than those of a standard business with big offices. All of our engineers work from home. Everything is digitized and is on my Zonbu account, accessible anywhere, anytime. In the open-source business model, everyone contributes without charging for their services. We don't have to pay for thousands of developers. Our goal is to compete with Dell, HP and  Microsoft.

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