Cathy Malmrose of ZaReason: Linux Entrepreneur

2010 April 13

I recently was looking for an ethically sourced Linux laptop and came across ZaReason. CEO Cathy Malmrose‘s candid answers to my questions were the deciding factor in my decision to buy ZaReason. I saw her name in my inbox and recognized it from the Un-Scary Screwdriver piece she wrote a few months back:

Since I had been staring down a pile of excess, but still quite usable hardware, I asked my dad, “Hey, can you wait a few weeks and your granddaughter will build you a desktop that will be ideal for video editing?”

Since we GeekFeminism folk are foursquare for awesome women, FLOSS, cool hardware, and empowering girls and women of all ages with science and technology, Cathy Malmrose deserves a link roundup of her very own.

“How would you describe your customer base?” “Intelligent people.” I love being pandered to! :-)

Malmrose is also CEO of Partimus, “a nonprofit organization that provides repurposed computers running free software to students and schools who need them,” and a former schoolteacher.

On my side, I have seen inventory go unused, depreciating every day that it sits on our shelves. Laptops that are used for shows, demo models and other lightly used systems can be donated to people who could put them to good use.

Several economic and societal factors are coming together to make this an excellent time to launch the Partimus branch that can be the go-to donation center for hardware vendors who want to keep their inventory tight like we do…. The end result will be to not only donate systems to good new “adoptive” homes, but to encourage others to do the same unofficially in their own social circles.

In an interview with the Southern California Linux Expo, Malmrose talks at length about how her kids got her into FLOSS, the welcome and respect she feels in the open source community (more than in the business world), and women in STEM. A tiny excerpt:

Question: What methods do you use to encourage other women to get involved in technology?

Cathy: Talking about it in an open, friendly way, the same way I tell a friend about a great restaurant, a cool museum, a competent babysitter, or a fun science camp. My friends don’t have to try Linux, but they sure would enjoy it if they did. There is a certain fear factor involved in computing, possibly because it seems so magical, but there are two ways to approach something you don’t understand — with fear or with awe. When I talk about Open Source, I focus on easing the fear and projecting the awe.

In a profile feature at, Malmrose explains how one specific welcoming community helped her go from novice to leader:

She also discovered another important aspect: community. It began with her first trip to the Alameda County Computer Resource Center, an organization that refurbishes older computer systems to give away to those less fortunate.

“I brought my own laptop and stayed in the background, too shy to do any good. I had 20+ years being shown the ‘no girls allowed’ sign on this particular tree fort. The owner, James Burgett, was explicitly approachable, and I liked him on sight. I knew he would cut me all the leeway I needed to integrate into his corner of the tech market.”

Burgett helped Malmrose break out of her shell. Whether it was observing in amazement the way the group could create order out of chaos from all the donations, to popping off the Windows super key to replace with a custom Tux key, Malmrose came into her own. “I found that every time I visited ACCRC, the people on duty were accepting and kind. They were always busy, always moving, and the rhythm surprised me.”

ACCRC played a vital role in the formation of ZaReason. “We saw James addressing the low end, shipping now more than 17,000 FOSS systems. We like the newest, fastest hardware, and we saw few reasonably priced options for the high end.”

She also writes about women in FLOSS in her article “An International Look at Women in Open Source” from the Women in Open Source issue of the Open Source Business Resource.

Malmrose has video interviews up explaining how her family moved to Linux and “how her small company came to be number 3 in the sales of computers running GNU-Linux”.

I’m writing this on my new ZaReason Hoverboard, which arrived running Ubuntu Linux. (It arrived with some bad memory, I did a memtest at their advice and then shipped it back, and I got it back fixed under warranty.) Thanks for your entrepreneurship and your activism, Cathy Malmrose!

Who are your favorite female executives in tech? Tell us in the comments.

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This post was written by brainwane.

Sumana Harihareswara is a twentysomething geeky gal living in New York City. She grew up in various US cities and states, the daughter of Indian immigrants, loving books and Star Trek. Most recently she managed programmers at an open source consulting firm. With her partner (a programmer she met via his blog), she edited Thoughtcrime Experiments, an online scifi/fantasy anthology.

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4 Responses
  1. Maevele permalink
    April 13, 2010

    ohmigod. their netbook dropped. it looks amazing. keep us updated as to if that machine kicks as much ass as it appears to, if you can? because if their stuff is as good as it seems, I gotta start saving my pennies now that teo is out.

  2. Mackenzie permalink
    April 13, 2010

    ZaReason is now the go-to hardware vendor for my family’s Linux users (my brother and I). Mom’s next computer will certainly be a ZaReason.

  3. Carla Schroder permalink
    April 13, 2010

    Oh me me! More ZaReason articles:

    ZaReason: An Amazing Attack of Linux Cluefulness

    How Compiz Fusion and Chaos Built a Linux Hardware Company

  4. Terri permalink*
    April 14, 2010

    Cathy is indeed pretty darned awesome. I find a lot of entrepreneurial types rub me the wrong way, but Cathy always seems friendly and filled with good ideas about how to do neat stuff, rather than just how to advertise and make money.

    And now that you’ve got me browsing their shop… I REALLY want a necklace that comes pre-installed with Ubuntu:

    How awesome is that?

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