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ZaReason: An Amazing Attack of Linux Cluefulness

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  • February 25, 2009
  • By Carla Schroder
Genuine cluefulness in any business is a rare pleasure, and that is why I like ZaReason so much. ZaReason sells Linux boxes: desktop, server, netbook, and pretty much whatever you want, just ask. I first "met" Cathy Malmrose, the CEO of ZaReason, on the Linuxchix mailing lists, but her business didn't really grab my attention until I heard about their Ubuntu keyboard.

This is one of those little bits of clue that set a business apart from the mediocre herd-- I don't want the Windows logo on my computers, nor do a lot of Linux users. ZaReason contracted with a keyboard manufacturer for an Ubuntu logo key instead of a Windows key. They also sell a Tux logo keyboard. One of those little things that is really a big thing.

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Another priceless bit of cluefulness is the Valerie Aurora Webcam mod option. Val is a kernel hacker of great brains and renown. She does not trust built-in Webcams to be safe from remote exploits and knows several ways they can be turned into remote spycams. So she created a custom security patch, and generously allows ZaReason to include it as a no-cost option.

ZaReason's prices are very competitive, and they don't play silly confusion games to foil easy cost comparisons. Of course, they don't need to because they don't sell Windows computers. Cathy explained that there aren't many customer requests for Windows, and the overhead would be too much because they would need to hire a staffer just to manage licensing. They will install VirtualBox for customers that want both Linux and Windows on a machine, and then it is up to the customer to install Windows.

Go Ahead. Play With Your Toys

ZaReason has a good tech staff led by Earl Malmrose, Cathy's husband and CTO of ZaReason. The absence of licensing barriers combined with Linux' flexibility means they can customize, clone, and get systems out the door quickly. What a concept-- giving customers what they want.

Even weirder, they encourage you to do whatever you want with your own stuff, like blow away the stock Linux and replace with it something else, or open the case and poke at the innards. They even include a screwdriver.

My favorite part is there is no "Windows tax." You are not forced to purchase a Windows license when you buy a system.

Boxes That Work

Cathy likes the ASUS EeePC a lot, and says ASUS makes the best netbooks. They are rugged and reliable, and Linux works great on them. ASUS pushed the envelope hard designing a tough, reasonably powerful, power-frugal machine for a low price.

All of the hardware is supported: networking, video, sound, the works. ZaReason ships the EeePC with stock Ubuntu, Kubuntu, or Edubuntu, so you get the standard look and feel and repositories. Nothing is messed up or crippled in the name of "simplicity." Everything works; you don't have to perform a raft of post-purchase fixits like you do with so many other Linux netbooks. Despite customer demand, ZaReason did not start selling netbooks until Ubuntu had caught up to the hardware, because they did not want to sell boxes that did not work.

One weakness of the EeePC is it does not include a dialup modem, and it does not have a PCMCIA slot. You can get USB modems that work well in Linux, but that's not as sleek as built-in. Hint to hardware vendors: A lot of the world still depends on dialup.

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