[LA Times] Pumped up appliance or no-frills computer?

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From: Adam Rifkin -4K (adam@XeNT.ics.uci.edu)
Date: Thu Mar 09 2000 - 22:22:27 PST

How many years ago was AOL hyping the "AOL PC"? Two, maybe? Well, this
year may FINALLY be the year of the Internet Appliance -- and it's
running neither Microsoft software nor AOL crapware as its operating

I expect this to be the first of many. I also expect this particular
one to be a failure because they're charging people $22 a month for
Internet access. Did they learn nothing from WebTV? More importantly,
did they learn nothing from NetZero, FreeNet, AltaVista Free Internet,
and Excite @Home Free Internet?

I gotta admit, though, I liked the idea of having a "pizza button" on
the keyboard:
> The i-opener makes visiting the channels even easier with a set of
> buttons on the keyboard preset to jump to shopping, e-mail, weather,
> news, chat and other sites. Next to the space is a pizza button that
> sends you to the Papa John's Pizza Web site so you can order a pizza
> delivery.


> Pumped-Up Appliance or No-Frills Computer? i-opener a Shortcut to Net
> By ASHLEY DUNN, Times Staff Writer, March 9 2000
> In the world of consumer appliances, love means never having to
> open an owner's manual.
> Toasters are lovely, so are electric toothbrushes, blow-dryers,
> rice cookers and even automatic lawn sprinkler systems.
> Computers? Please. . . . The Bible is shorter than most Windows
> instruction manuals.
> So, I was a bit surprised when I received a computer a few weeks
> ago with a manual about the size of a Pokemon comic book. It was a
> promising sign.
> Inside the box was a compact little computer called the i-opener
> from Austin, Texas-based Netpliance, and there was a good reason its
> manual was so thin.
> The i-opener is the first of what probably will be a wave of
> stripped-down, plain-Jane, no-frills computers built for just one
> purpose--in this case, connecting to the Internet. It has no disk
> drives, no CD-ROM, no computer box, no Microsoft Office and no Microsoft
> Windows software.
> It's also cheap. The i-opener's introductory price is $99, at least
> until June. After that the device will cost $199. Actually, don't even
> think of this device as a watered-down computer, but rather, as a
> pumped-up appliance.
> The i-opener is one of the first computing devices I have used that
> actually comes close to plug-and-play.
> Wimpy Little Box Has Surprising Versatility
> Hard-core computer users will scoff at this machine as a wimpy,
> do-nothing box that is just a cut above a coffee maker. In a lot of
> ways, they are correct.
> But despite all the missing doodads, the i-opener packs a
> surprising punch.
> I have been using the i-opener for basic Web surfing and e-mail,
> but also for listening to the BBC radio broadcast each morning over the
> Internet, checking stock prices on Yahoo and even trading stocks on
> ESchwab.
> The fact is, you don't need much of a computer to do some of the
> most fun and useful activities in computing.
> The device is made up of a 10-inch liquid crystal display screen
> and slightly shrunken keyboard. That's it. Speakers are built into the
> LCD screen and a little pointing device, which can be used instead of a
> mouse, is fitted onto a corner of the keyboard. The actual computing
> guts are built into the 2-inch-thick monitor.
> My first thought was to put the computer in my office. But I
> realized that the i-opener is so small--a bit smaller than a notebook
> computer--I didn't have to set it up in any of the traditional spots.
> It could fit on a bedroom night stand or under a kitchen cabinet. I
> even had it sitting on the breakfast table for a while before I finally
> settled on putting the i-opener next to my bed so I could wake up to the
> Web.
> Installation in 7 Easy Steps
> My first step in installing the i-opener was to toss away the
> manual. I reached for the i-opener's quick-start poster, which covered
> installation in seven easy steps.
> Steps 1 through 4 were on how to unpack the computer, so those
> didn't count. Step 5 was on how to plug a telephone line into the
> computer. Step 6 was how to plug the computer into an electrical wall
> outlet. Step 7 was just there to inform you that the installation
> process was over.
> You get the idea. Even the cables connecting the keyboard and the
> optional mouse already were connected at the factory.
> Then, I turned on the i-opener. The device automatically dialed out
> to a preset local telephone number and connected itself to the
> Internet--all before I even realized that it was ready.
> Experienced computer users will faint when they see the i-opener's
> blue opening menu with just eight circular icons leading to general
> news, weather, shopping, sports, finance, e-mail, Web browsing and
> entertainment.
> The news items are short articles from Reuters that are
> automatically downloaded four times a day so the computer always has
> fairly fresh items waiting for you. There is an online shopping mall
> where you can buy the usual online products, like books from Amazon.com
> and clothes from Brooks Bros.
> The i-opener makes visiting the channels even easier with a set of
> buttons on the keyboard preset to jump to shopping, e-mail, weather,
> news, chat and other sites. Next to the space is a pizza button that
> sends you to the Papa John's Pizza Web site so you can order a pizza
> delivery.
> For first-time Web users, these preset channels are convenient, but
> eventually all users will want to spread their wings and surf the Web on
> their own terms.
> The i-opener's browser is stripped down, with only a few buttons,
> including stop, forward, backward, search and favorite sites. But
> really, those buttons are enough to do just about anything on the Web,
> even for the most fanatic users.
> E-mail is a bit more problematic. You can write and read e-mail,
> but you can't view Microsoft Word documents because there is no Word
> program loaded on the i-opener and you can't send digital pictures to
> friends since there is no way to get the picture into the computer.
> The lack of a hard drive and CD-ROM also means you can't play
> computer games. And for now, you can't view Internet video clips or use
> certain types of programs that are designed to be used on the Web.
> The inability to use these programs, written in the Java language,
> is a big omission that means the i-opener can't use all the small word
> processors, spreadsheets, games and stock portfolio trackers that were
> designed to run strictly off the Web.
> But with a little ingenuity, the device can accomplish a lot of
> tasks that normally would need a full-blown computer. For example, from
> my i-opener, I could use Yahoo to keep track of a portfolio of stocks,
> Deja.com to read Internet newsgroups, and Yahoo to read files that I
> save on the Internet so all my computers can share them.
> If I want to save any of this information on paper, I have to buy a
> Canon BubbleJet 2000 printer--because that's the only kind that works
> with an i-opener.
> The biggest problem with the device is that you are locked into
> using Netpliance as your Internet service provider forever. At $21.95,
> Netpliance, which is planning a initial public stock offering next
> Thursday, charges more than most Internet service providers, but not
> much more.
> These types of locked-in-access deals can feel like blackmail to
> experienced Web users, but for first-timers, it can be a blessing since
> everything is preconfigured and ready for connecting.
> Access Fee Subsidizes Low Price of Computer
> The i-opener is an easy product to recommend to Web newcomers,
> while advanced Web users will gag over this machine, which was not
> designed for them anyway.
> But the wonderful small size of the i-opener also liberates it from
> the temple of the home office, where we computer users must crawl each
> day to worship. Its low cost and simplicity make it a pleasure to use.
> If Netpliance ever gave users the freedom to use a different
> Internet access provider, this little box would become an even hipper
> accessory. Unfortunately, Netpliance won't unbundle its $21.95 a month
> access fee because that's how the company makes its money. The
> connection fee subsidizes the artificially low price of the computer.
> For an extra $5 a month, the company will provide Internet access
> for a user's other computers, although I imagine most people who already
> have an Internet provider would be hesitant to try this.
> But it is only a matter of time before other companies figure out
> that small, simple and cheap is beautiful not just for basic users, but
> advanced ones as well.
> It has taken computer makers 20 years to realize this seemingly
> obvious point. Let's hope it doesn't take them another 20 years to
> actually start selling such a device.
> * * *
> Internet Appliance
> i-opener is a low-cost, no-frills computer designed strictly for
> Web surfing. Its simplicity makes it an easy choice for Web beginners
> and basic surfers. Its small size makes it an intriguing possibility for
> Web users who would like to put an extra computer in unusual spots, such
> as on a shelf in the kitchen. But customers must also pay manufacturer
> Netpliance $21.95 per month for Internet access, which makes it a much
> tougher sell to the Web-savvy who already have their own Internet
> connections on conventional PCs.
> * Price: $99 until June, then $199
> * Monthly Internet access fee: $21.95
> * Processor: Intel Pentium compatible, 180/200 MHz
> * Display: 10-inch LCD color screen, 800-by-600 resolution
> * Weight: 5 pounds
> * Memory: 32 megabytes of RAM
> * Modem: 56 kilobits per second; built-in
> * Features: Printer port (can be used only with the Canon BubbleJet
> 2000 printer), built-in speakers, built-in microphone, built-in pointing
> device, almost full-size keyboard


I wanna be anarchy.

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