< Sweatshop-Free Linux Laptop Search, Part II
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(6) : ZaReason Response: As I mentioned earlier, I wrote to ZaReason to ask them about their manufacturing practices and their CEO, Cathy Malmrose, wrote back. I asked her if she wouldn't mind me posting her response here, and she said "Go for it!"


Thanks for contacting us.

* Come without Windows pre-installed (I'm sick of paying the Windows tax)

Not only is Windows not installed, our hardware has *never* had it. Unfortunately, some vendors will make a "Linux-only" laptop by using older prepackaged Windows hardware, wiping it then doing an Ubuntu install. We get our components from the individual OEMs who manufacture the individual components (wifi, HD, motherboard, case, etc.) Since we don't have to build it to be compatible with both Windows & Other we have the freedom to select whichever parts are absolute best for a Linux-only system. No compromises needed.

* Most or all components ethically sourced

From what we can tell, yes, but I'm sure we could dig deeper. Generally we use MSI, ASUS, Shuttle, etc. They are the current standard suppliers. More below.

* Manufactured/assembled someplace with real labor standards.

In Berkeley!

We're governed by State Labor Law, Federal Law (EDD), and all sorts of other agencies. We even pay an Electronic Waste Recycling Fee. The money is funneled through the State of CA Board of Equalization to the recyclers like ACCRC who then follow best practices in recycling the hardware. (Although these regulations could stand a lot of improvement.)

Labor standards: Our pay is good but not great since we are still small. It's the going rate for a university town / Bay area. We try to compensate by giving our employees benefits that are meaningful to them personally -- home office work for research, flexible (very flexible) hours, etc. One of our dearest employees brings her infant with her and it adds a sweet element to the office. We are a small shop on Hopkins Street in Berkeley. We have 14 employees. We hire people who are good, kind, and highly motivated to build hardware specifically for free and open purposes.

We are growing quickly and hope to open a second shop soon.

* General laptop desiderata (sturdiness, battery life, thinner is better)
All of our components are the same as those used by Dell, HP, System 76 and other builders. The difference is:

1. We do not have to navigate around license agreements. Not only do we not use Windows, we also do not do deals with distros. Some distros approach hardware builders with a "Please pay us $x for every system you sell." When that happens the focus shifts from cool hardware to dollar and numbers sold. Not good. We do not have any strings attached other than to our office staff and our customers.

2. We are privately owned, no investors and the board members actually work in the shop. We put our laptops through a child-test, where we let a 7 yo (here he is: http://www.flickr.com/photos/9609130@N03/2929692722/ ) and a 17 yo use the laptop for a week. They are generally able to find any weaknesses in the case.

3. We have battery life equivalent to those of other builders. The ARM is coming out soon which could and should shoot netbook battery length up to 12-14 hrs, but it is a low power processor.

4. Thinner is better? We agree! Our Hoverboard is about as thin as the MacAir. The Hoverboard is approx 1/3 the price.

An acquaintance pointed me to you. I'm glad you sell laptops preinstalled with Linux and tested here in the States! But where do you manufacture/assemble the laptops?
We do our assembly / partial manufacturing in the US, but the base components are made in China. There are a few component "manfacturers" that have shops in the US but nearly all actual manufacturing is done in China. We have seen the factories in Shenzhen where they are made and we agree that there are many, many bad labor practices, but the OEMs we have chosen are fully compliant when we view them. (That's not to say they are compliant when we leave!)
Can I get assurances that the people who made the laptop were paid fairly, and that the assembly process is reasonably environmentally friendly?

Your message became a topic of conversation with a few of the builders when it came in. Several said, "I'll reply to that one!" saying that they would gladly reassure anyone that they have a lot of fun and are not only treated fairly, but fully respected.

I used to live in Berkeley myself so it would please me to get to purchase a computer from you. Please let me know -- I looked on your site but couldn't quite find any mention of the location where ZaReason computers are assembled.

Wow, that is an oversight. Thank you for mentioning it! We recently did a website redesign, went live approx 12 days ago. The part listing our actual location did not make it into the redesign... I'll chalk this up as yet another helpful comments from the community. We also need to have a section on the site, possibly in Our Story / About that addresses the questions you asked.

We are in a sweet little shop at 1647 Hopkins St, Berkeley, up the street from Monterey Market and across the street from Goioa Pizza and Hopkins Bakery.

Thanks for asking,

--Cathy Malmrose, CEO ZaReason, Inc.

I really appreciate her candidness; it's refreshing to hear a CEO talk openly about what needs improving. And of course this kind of personal response is something I was never going to get from Lenovo, Dell, or HP.


Posted by Yatima at 03 Mar 2010, 11:39PM

She's awesome and so is the seven-year-old. I should make my seven-year-old available for all kinds of stress testing! SHE WILL FIND YOUR WEAKNESS.

Posted by Eitan at 04 Mar 2010, 01:55AM


Great job. When you started researching I didn't think you would get that far. Let me know if you get the hoverboard, I would consider it myself one day.

Posted by maevele at 04 Mar 2010, 04:10AM

wow, if they made a netbook, they'd be top of my list when I am looking to upgrade.

Posted by Mackenzie at 05 Mar 2010, 09:26PM

My ZaReason (a model they no longer sell) has had case issues in two spots:
1. a hinge cover cracked & snapped off and then leveraged the hinge apart (ZaReason fixed the hinge under warranty, but I didn't figure out the super glue magic to put the cover back on)
2. The part of the laptop where your right wrist rests? The corner of that (like 3-4mm of it) cracked off. This doesn't surprise me. My Gateway did the exact same thing a few years ago. Apparently I'm really tough on the front right corner of my laptops *shrug*

Posted by Mackenzie at 05 Mar 2010, 09:32PM

They normally do have a very nice little netbook. Possibly they've just sold out temporarily. It's called the Terra A20 and comes in both black and brown.

Posted by Zed at 09 Mar 2010, 03:17PM

Their new website looks so much like the typical domain squatter page that I assumed I'd gone to the wrong tld.

I once bought Ubuntu case badges from Zareason. And never used them. Doh!


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