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Time's Up For Virgin Connect Webplayer 62

R forwarded to us e-mail from Virgin Connect, outlining that company's discontinuation of service for all the Virgin Connect Webplayers, effective the 15th of this month. They're offering gift certificates to Virginmega.com as a sort of booby prize to participants in the "charter member program." If you have one of these devices, be advised:"Internet Appliance Network will terminate your charter membership and shut down the service as of midnight 11/15/00. Effective as of that date, you are no longer bound by the terms of the Member Agreement. We will send you a letter via U.S. mail within the next 7-10 business days that includes instructions for returning your Webplayer and a prepaid UPS shipping label, so you can return the device free of charge. Your Webplayer cannot be re-configured to work with another ISP." Actually, since all sorts of things can be reconfigured to work as stand-alone systems, I wonder about that. Anyone had any success converting a Webplayer ala i-opener?
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Time's Up For Virgin Connect Webplayer

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  • In the UK they tried to become one of the largest ISPs by relying on their brand-name and providing content - they then offered the service free when that was seen to be the thing to do. Not long after they've decided to pull out of the dial-up market and handed all of the dial up customers to NTL (Who were providing the network anyway) and now they concentrate on the portal and content market. IT looks like something similar has happened with their US venture.
  • by suss ( 158993 ) on Thursday November 09, 2000 @01:15AM (#636668)
    404 File Not Found
    The requested URL (www.virginmega.com1) is not found.

    Try Correct Link [virginmega.com] well, unless you have virginmega hooked up to your commport ofcourse...
  • by pb ( 1020 ) on Thursday November 09, 2000 @01:18AM (#636669)
    First, check your *link*. For a site that only has ten stories a day on its front page, quality control is horrible!

    Second, your choice of links didn't help me figure this one out anyhow, since I hadn't heard of the player [virginconnectme.com]. I found some info in the slashdot comments too--looks like a cheap-o Cyrix-based box...

    Third, I'm glad it's dead [zdnet.com], even though I like Virgin in general. I found Virgin Radio soon after I found RealAudio, and I thought their station was pretty cool. (We USians find those UKians so quaint sometimes! :)
    ---
    pb Reply or e-mail; don't vaguely moderate [ncsu.edu].
  • I don't know if anyone has succeeded in hacking it yet. But this page has some nice diagrams and discusses some possible ways of doing it.
  • by Jalal ( 190479 ) on Thursday November 09, 2000 @01:55AM (#636671)
    Sorry forgot to include the address! http://www.larwe.com/techref/webplayer.html [larwe.com]
  • by lucidvein ( 18628 ) on Thursday November 09, 2000 @02:08AM (#636672) Homepage
    There is more discussion over at www.kenseglerdesigns.com [kenseglerdesigns.com]. Down near the bottom is a Virgin Webplayer discussion I can't link to because of /. inserting spaces in long links. And of course lots more info on hacking other Net Appliances www.linux-hacker.net [linux-hacker.net].

    I don't see how these loss leaders are going to make it until they begin to at least clear the manufacturing cost of the machine. Netpliance learned the hard way but at least they're still in business, sort of. And since their unit is now sold close to cost the restrictive TOS is a thing of the past. But the WebSurfer people bit the dust, now Virgin is pulling their project...

    I think people really do want cheap internet terminals. But these companies are selling to the wrong crowd. Net Terminals should be going up at local businesses in little kiosks. Our public librarys running wasteful NT machines should go back to diskless stations. Our cities could be full of access that offered the same promotional capabilities. From there, you could sell home users a system that was at least used in their community rather than a dead product that's useless without the service.
  • by ejbst25 ( 130707 ) on Thursday November 09, 2000 @02:59AM (#636673) Homepage
    I know someone who has one of these..so I was looking into it for her. I found the following info:

    • CPU is mounted on the motherboard. You're not going to be upgrading this thing.
    • There is a single SODIMM socket on the bottom of the motherboard. It comes with a 64MB CAS2 SODIMM module.
    • There is an intact IDE header, marked CN12.
    • There's also a CN13, which is marked as the FDD connect, but isn't populated.
    • CN11 isn't populated either; it's marked as the CF Card Conn (Compact Flash).
    • CN5 is also unpopulated, marked as the IRDA connector.
    • The most interesting connector is CN16, marked as the MINI PCI connector. I wonder if there are any mini-ethernet device available. Maybe even a wireless product.
    • CN6 is a com port header, in addition to BC15, which is the modem connector. It has the same style modem as the I-O (size & location of the connectors).
    • CN19 is unpopulated, and marked as the VGA connector.
    • The BIOS chip is also an SST 39F020, the same as an I-O.
    • I've removed the DOC and the CMOS battery to try and get into the BIOS. No luck. It still keeps asking for the password.


    This was all from this internet appliance bboard [kenseglerdesigns.com] and a user "anonyman". I might get around to playing with this. I guess it depends on the term of the agreement and whether or not they *must* return it. Does anyone know the specifics of this deal?
  • Richard Branson never claimed to be the Messiah - in fact if pressed, I suspect he'd be the first to suggest that he's a very naughty boy :-)

    IMHO, it's a hell of a shame to see Virgin Connect die. Virgin have quite a reputation for being good, fun and revolutionary

    On past history though, when things go pear shaped for a Virgin business (and that doesn't happen often) then Virgin will be nice and play fair about it... read on...

    Virgin is a branding company. They have lots of different businesses: The well known Virgn Megastores (no longer owned by the Virgin group), Virgin Atlantic, the luxury airline showing the others how to fly, Virgin Express in the UK, the cheap and cheerful airline in the UK. Virgin Trains, Virgin Mobile phones, the list goes on.

    In the past few months, Mr Branson has come down under to set up Virgin Blue, the low-cost airline that is seriously putting the cat amongst the pigeons for the long standing duopoly that masqueraded as a scheduled air transport industry in Australia.

    One of the first Virgin businesses was Virgin Records. After some initial success, the board of directors decided to float the company on the stock market. A bad decision as it happened, things went ugly, and ultimately the company decided to buy-back the shares and de-list.

    At the time, the share price had dropped to some 30% of the original issue price. In legal terms, they could have paid the current price, and got out. Richard Branson took a different stance though. At the original float, he went to the street, and met with individual investors queueing to buy shares in the company. When they decided to de-list, he said "Those people put their faith in me, I won't let them down." He bought their shares back at the price they originally paid. A huge cost to the then ailing record company, but a huge boost to his personal reputation, and the Virgin brand.

    So, a significant point about the withdrawal of Virgin Connect - I don't expect it to be an ugly grab-the-money-and-run action that one expects from failed start-ups these days.

  • I'd love a chance to tinker with one of these. If anybody has one and is thinking of sending it back, I'll pay $25 in real cash, and pay for shipping.

    Not exactly big money, but it's the same ammount Virgin's offering, and it actual currency rather than a gift certificate. If you're going to send it off anyway, why not give it to a good cause (my entertainment). I even promise to post anything interesting I discover.

    eanderso at usa dot net
  • According to discussion on the Linux kernel developer's mailing list [slashdot.org], Virgin has been shipping via their Webplayer such GPL works as Linux kernel version 2.2.12. However, they decided to leave out the required material/notification to bring them in compliance with being legit redistributors of a GPL work.

    Keeping in mind they didn't properily follow the licensing terms in the GPL, they may have also been in violation of copyright/license terms of the RealPlayer or Sun Java Run-time Eviroment which was also included. Or, possibly, they had a falling out with Prodigy, the PPP dial-up account provider for the units. Anyone know the real reason why these guys end up having to withdraw their GPL violation units from market?

  • As I recall, Virgin had a stipulation in their Use Agreement whereby the customer, on failing to use the Virgin web service atleast 10 hours a month, would have to return the unit or pay some $500 if in the first year after "purchase" of the player. The customer never actually owned the player, so I suspect failure to return the unit will see a similar charge on one's credit card bill. The old www.virginconnectme.com [virginconnectme.com] site is no longer functioning, so I can't find the old info. Any users get the email from Virgin and can answer definitely?

    On the other hand, if anyone had a copy of the license/use agreement to post, I'd be interested to know what kind of financial recourse the user has, considering that Virgin breached it's end of the contract.
  • by Anonymous Coward
    Speaking as an anonymous coward ;-) (I can't be arsed to register) Have you tried shorting the BIOS pins after removing the battery? That ought to remove any charge, a bit of tin foil works best. Some of these chips hold their charge for up to 24hrs...
  • Just found THIS [kenseglerdesigns.com]

    Click on "Virgin Webplayer"

    And then on " It looks like Linux...invoke the GPL? "

    Could it be that it runs linux after all ??


    --
    Why pay for drugs when you can get Linux for free ?

  • The email doesnt say anything along the lines of "send it back or else", just that they're going to send mail in the next 7-10 days with instructions... Whups! Seemed to have moved since then, with no forwarding address...
  • You gotta say one thing about Branson, he at least thinks about his biz plans before he does them. The reason that few (if any) of these have been hacked (unlike the i-opener, etc) is that you don't own them for 3 years. After that, sure, you can hack it all you want, but before then its not yours yet. Unlike the somewhat dubious i-opener tos, this one was enforceable. Further after 3 years, you don't want to own it since you are now responsible for its disposal. With more and more folks having fits about the toxic stuff in the trash, a load of these would be a real liability.

    With the release from the tos, I suspect that you will see a few of these hacked, but since the supply has dried up, not many.

    Anyway, with Webpad gone under (they had all of 300 subscribers at one point), this off the board and i-opener painfully dying, it appears that the demand for the standalone device bundled in to a isp just isn't there. Some of it may be grandma can't deal with the technology, but I suspect that the level of service that these folks offered was just not up to snuff. Hardware was fine, content was awful.

  • by Anonymous Coward
    Not as retarded as thee, Poagshit.
  • http://www.virginconnect.com/help/faq_ian.html#3 The FAQ states you should return it, but you don't have to, and will NOT be charged if you keep it. OTOH the guys at the linux-hacker site don't seem to be having much luck getting past the bios password. They tried shorting the CMOS jumpers, but the password seems hardcoded, so now it's time for the REAL hackers/crackers to step forward and help out. Digger.
  • Now that people don't have to return them [virginconnect.com], it should be time for some nice hacks.
    Now I wish I had one to disassemble. ;-)

    --------
  • Anyone got one. I'll pay $125.00 for one of these, 100 bucks for the unit and 25 for shipping. message me
  • Would you mind posting the email and the Use Agreement you signed onto when you purchased the player?

    Whups! Seemed to have moved since then, with no forwarding address..

    A nice stunt, but they've still got your credit card #, and I bet they're confident that Visa can track you down.
  • Checking with Virgin's FAQ, there is no problem with keeping them; you will not incurr a charge. So the naysayers who say that you will be charged $500, that's a definate no. Good news!

  • I thought it says that the users are no longer bound by the terms of service?
  • I've got one. I can see why they went out of business; although I was excited to have a flat-panel websurfer to use while I watched TV, I found it perfectly useless. No Javascript, no PDF, no Quicktime--so I couldn't even save the materials to read later on my "real" macine. Also, it has a wireless keyboard--cool looking, but I repeatedly failed to hit the sensor on the unit so my keystrokes would intermittantly fail to register.

    Once I receive rock-solid confirmation that I won't be charged for failing to send this back (the FAQ above is a good start, but the Member Agreement stated pretty clearly that I would incur a $500 bill for failing to use or return the player), I will be accepting purchase offers--and you can hack it to your heart's content. Email me and put "virginplayer purchase" in the subject line.

    Also, I don't have the member agreement handy right now, but if you really want to know what it says, email me and I'll locate it and send you a copy. Please put "virginplayer agreement" in the subject line.
  • Virgin did what Netconnect didn't do -- they wrote a contract which you have to sign before you can get the unit and start using the service. The contract says that they own the hardware and you just lease it. There are financial penalties (that decrease with duration from the inception of the contract) written in if you don't return the hardware when the agreement terminates.

    I don't think that keeping and hacking the Virgin unit is much of an option unless someone is willing to pay the penalty which is on the order of a few hundred bucks.
  • In that case, I would be interested in one too. Anyone interested in making $25, just let me know and it will be done!
  • ...is that they're probably going to junk the units. They're probably totally unaware that there are people out there who would love to have one to hack. I'm sure some people would even pay a modest price for them, which would allow them to be less than a total loss for Virgin.

    I don't suppose anybody out there has one of these and has gotten the letter described in the post? It might provide enough contact information for interested parties to contact Virgin and try to get one before it hits the scrap heap.

  • the Member Agreement stated pretty clearly that I would incur a $500 bill for failing to use or return the player

    And the email notice that this entire article is about stated pretty clearly that, as of midnight 11/15/00, "you are no longer bound by the terms of the Member Agreement."

    --

  • If you read the article, you'd see that effective midnight 11/15/00, you're no longer bound by that agreement.

    --

  • We might be quaint, but at least we can read a ballot paper ;)
  • You don't need mini-PCI to connect to Ethernet. Use a USB Ethernet device.
  • Hey, the same goes for me. Hell, Ill drop 50$ or so and pay for the shipping to get it out to me. Maybe even a hardware trade. Lemme know!

    ----------------------------------
  • The article says that they are providing the means to return it in accordance with the contract. It does not say that you have the option of keeping it.

    "Internet Appliance Network will terminate your charter membership and shut down the service as of midnight 11/15/00. Effective as of that date, you are no longer bound by the terms of the Member Agreement. We will send you a letter via U.S. mail within the next 7-10 business days that includes instructions for returning your Webplayer and a prepaid UPS shipping label, so you can return the device free of charge. Your Webplayer cannot be re-configured to work with another ISP."

  • but has anyone actually written to Virgin Connect and asked them if they would be willing to part with them wholesale??? I wouldn't even know where to begin to ask, but it seems like an idea to try
  • -Shop smart, Shop S-MART!
  • Glad to see folks are interested in hacking the webplayer. It is/was a sleek, super-simple device. Great for grandmas, provided they lived a local call away from the free dialup number. I'm afraid I am committed to sending it back or face financial ramifications although, given the fairly wretched discombobulated service they've provided thus far I wouldn't be surprised if I don't end up having to send it. Fortunately the thing lacked Flash, which meant my 7 year old www.cartoonnetwork.com loving son hated the little beast.
  • I've noticed the same things, and have been scouring that board regularly for new information on hacking into it. It doesn't seem like there's been any *real* activity for awhile now.

    I've tried the same things as you have, but I also can't get past the BIOS password. Right now, I'm looking into the possibility of purchasing a new BIOS chip and seeing where that may lead. So far, from the information I've found out about that particular BIOS, it *does* give you a choice on whether it uses the Disk on Chip or the HDD header.

    Finally, as for returning the player: no, it's not necessary. The e-mail I received specifically said that we're released from the terms of the membership agreement. In fact, if you follow the link provided in the e-mail, it leads to a FAQ that asks your same question. The answer is that, since we're released from the terms of the agreement, we will *not* be charged if we wish to keep the WebPlayer. Instead, they're trying to coax us into returning it by repeatedly saying that it won't work with any other service providers. (I'm sorry, but I don't have the link to the FAQ handy right now...)

    I'll start posting on the board if I find anything else useful about purchasing a new BIOS outright.

  • Given the number of posters expressing interest in getting a WebPlayer for hacking up, a few of us have started the Virgin WebPlayer Co-Op [digital-penguin.com] to collect our bargaining power for bulk rates. If you're interested, please read the page for info and signup. I'm hoping we can get the price down between $25 to $50 per unit. And spread the word! Shouldn't be that difficult with enough people interested.
  • The bigger question becomes:

    1) the box was LEASED...so did the GPL apply?
    2) Given *I* have no GPLed code in the linux kernel/on the web player the only people who have any kind of legal right are the authors. I am just 'a possessor' of the box...my standing for asking for code is weak.
    3) An attempt to get the GPL invoked here has failed. (see the http://www.kenseglerdesigns.com elsewhere for the BBS system)

    Note how IAN (the people providing the content) weren't paying the weather content provider. (the weather link went down the 6th)
  • So what if you don't open the mail until the 16th? What happens then?

    Just because they're providing the means to return it doesn't mean you're obligated to. You're right, they don't say you can keep it. They don't say you can't, either. If the only thing that says you must return it is the MA, and the MA becomes invalid, you are no longer obligated to return it.

    --

  • 2 things wrong with this. 1) The CC that I signed up with is no longer active, and 2) this faq [virginconnect.com] says I can keep it. WOOHOO!
  • According to the email:
    Internet Appliance Network will terminate your charter membership and shut down the service as of midnight 11/15/00. Effective as of that date, you are no longer bound by the terms of the Member Agreement.
  • The FAQ on the Virgin site clearly states that you *WILL NOT BE CHARGED* if you do not return the unit. Keep it, and hack away.

    -Vercingetorix
  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday November 09, 2000 @09:47AM (#636709)
    The BIOS password is "schwasck". It's QNX, not Linux. You're welcome.
  • Virgin won't be charging people who don't return their Webplayers, so anyone who wants to keep theirs can. Sounds good to me.

    http://www.theregister.co.uk/content/1/14605.htm l
  • Hey, can you (or anyone else) suggest a source for learning what the above means. I guess what I'm asking for is a primer on chip/board design. I really appreciate it. OL
  • I have one of these things. And, it's really funny too because I already packed mine up and was planning on sending it back to them - then I got the email telling me that they were being discontinued. So, lucky for me now I don't have to pay shipping back to them! Actually I'm hoping they'll let us keep the damn thing and just forget about it. Is it really worth spending the time on? I took mine apart soon after I got it. It has an M-Systems [m-sys.com] Disk On Chip 2000 64Mb flash memory card with embedded Linux. I have found a site from an EE where he talks about hacking it - check it out here [larwe.com]. It's got an open IDE connector but the question was always the BIOS. Nobody has ever successfully removed the DiskOnChip and gotten the iBrow (aka "Webplayer") to boot. Apparently the BIOS has a password that noone has been able to hack yet. The message boards [kenseglerdesigns.com] over on the Linux-hacker site have a section dedicated to the Virgin Webplayer. But, as far as I know the project has advanced very far. When I took it apart, the only thing I reall wanted out of it was the Samsung flat panel LCD screen. Oh well.. we'll see what happens
  • Dear Internet Appliance Network employee,

    On behalf of the Virgin WebPlayer Co-Op, I would like to inquire about purchasing a quantity of your soon to be defunct and inanimate WebPlayer units. Unfortunately, neither I nor Virgin MegaStore can locate anyone employed by your company. My deepest sympathies regarding your recent failed venture, but perhaps some of the loss can be mitigated by selling returned units to the appliance hacking communitity. Please contact me at schlachAThotmailDOTcom if you can provide any information regarding your company's present contact information. Thanks, and best luck in future endeavors.

    moderator: if you could mod this up so that a crusing IAN employee might actually see it, it would be most appreciated.
  • I meant to say the project of hacking the Virgin Webplayer over on Linux-hacker message boards has NOT advanced very far.
  • Lies! All lies! =)

    We are really doing this. Check out the Virgin WebPlayer Co-Op Homepage [digital-penguin.com]. And it is impossible to contact anyone at IAN.

    Now, I'm not saying I wouldn't step over my own mother for karma, I'm just saying that's not why I asked for moderation in this case. =)
  • Send it to me. i would be glad to hack on it.!!!

    -b
  • Add me to the list. $50 + shipping . . . .

    -b
  • This list you guys keep referring to does exist. Check out the Virgin WebPlayer Co-Op homepage [digital-penguin.com]. A group of us getting together to make purchases from whatever company still exists, hopefully at the best price possible. There's more info on the webpage, including a listserv. The more people we get involved, the cheaper the price of units.

    Less than $50, though.
  • This [slashdot.org] was posted above. It links here. [digital-penguin.com]

  • Bah.

    It's always the same with Branson propaganda... "He's such a nice guy", "Did you hear about the time he...". I was at a restaraunt launch once where he had part ownership, and if you were to meet him in person, or read some of the unauthorised bios out there you'd have a different opinion of him. At the restaraunt, he arrived with what can only be described as a posse of friends, yes-men and assorted beauties. They sat down, and ate. Half way through the meal, literally, he stood up and announced to the entire restaraunt (like we cared) that he was leaving. He wasn't the main guest or anything. All of his friends also stood up, many of them halfway through their main courses, and left with him en masse. It was spooky.

    More recntly, with the lottery application, he was caught telling a whole lot of porkies to the press, the lottery commission, etc. Don't believe the hype. This man is a phenomenon, but he has more half-truths and propaganda written about him than anyone else in the country.

    Ben^3 (aka an unhappy Virgin Trains commuter)
  • I have 3 webplayers, anyone who makes a way to bypass both the setup and bios, and makes the unit into something that functions again. I have played around a little in the setup when i first got it, there were settings for ppp in there if one were to get access... Anyway, to claim your prize email: m_firmature@hotmail.com, good luck.
  • The BIOS password is "schwasck" (w/o quotes).
    ---
    Where can the word be found, where can the word resound? Not here, there is not enough silence.
  • BIOS password is schwasck
    :-P
    ---
    Where can the word be found, where can the word resound? Not here, there is not enough silence.
  • As an earlier poster said:

    The BIOS password is "schwasck". It's QNX, not Linux. You're welcome.

    --
  • i am a new member to this site. i really don't know how to use a computer, i would like some help? but i know i like starsky and hutch!how about those asses that walked down that hall the other day day wendsday i think, georgious i, think.
  • You haven't read the Virgin contract and I have. There are specific terms in the contract that state what must happen on termination of the agreement. The user, under the termination clauses, must return the equipment or face financial penalties. This possibility was anticipated in the contract.

    If you don't return the unit by the date, they will likely put the termination charge on your credit card.
  • You haven't read the Virgin contract and I have. There are specific terms in the contract that state what must happen on termination of the agreement. The user, under the termination clauses, must return the equipment or face financial penalties. This possibility was anticipated in the contract.

    If you don't return the unit by the date, they will likely put the termination charge on your credit card.
  • Alright, I want to get video inputs onto my samsung webplayer screen, now what? anyone know the wiring code? if i can't do that it would make a PHAT computer for the bathroom, or finally, can i just use the screen for my in car computer?, how do i connect a standard VGa cable to this? ANYONE? ok thank you matt@zim.com

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