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Say Goodbye To The Netpliance i-opener 116

HiyaPower writes "Netpliance announced that they have thrown in the towel and will no longer produce their internet appliance. This follows the failure of web appliances by Virgin, and a number of others. It looks like even grandma wants a good isp when she logs on the net and that bundling cute hardware with inferior service just doesn't cut the mustard. This will be a sad note to all of those who have yet to buy the unit that cost $400 to produce for a fraction of that amount. Get'm while you can, cuz they don't make'm no more..." CEO John McHale says in that announcement: "We plan to reposition Netpliance from a direct consumer Internet appliance service provider to an enabling infrastructure and managed services company." Perhaps there will be some closeouts? jensend sent in this C|Net coverage as well.
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Say Goodbye To The Netpliance i-opener

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  • by RebornData ( 25811 ) on Friday November 10, 2000 @12:33PM (#631044)
    She's completely computer-illiterate, and she has been using an I-Opener for e-mail pretty successfully. She's lost most of her hearing, so it's really made it possible for her to communicate with family more regularly and easily than she could on the phone. A PC is waaay too complicated for her- she learned to learn by rote, and the fact that I could fit click-by-click instructions for doing I-Opener e-mail on one side of a piece of paper is the only reason she uses it successfully.

    I think the lesson here is that the market for peripherals for the permanently computer illiterate is not big enough to sustain a company like I-Opener. Too bad, because there aren't a lot of good alternatives for them.
  • by Vegeta99 ( 219501 ) <rjlynnNO@SPAMgmail.com> on Friday November 10, 2000 @12:33PM (#631045)
    Think about it. I go to CNN.com and see "Video Coverage!". I click on it in an i-Opener or any netpliance. I get a cryptic error message like "Unknown file type: .rm", and I don't know what it means! It's not working. Let's take it back, it doesn't do what I told it to.
    They don't work as good as PCs. They don't do what they should be able to.
  • WTF?! They're venture capitalists, part of the planet's ruling class. How can feel pity for some rich motherfuckers losing out on a gamble?
  • by bughunter ( 10093 ) <{ten.knilhtrae} {ta} {retnuhgub}> on Friday November 10, 2000 @01:32PM (#631047) Journal
    If my BS filter is working properly, I think this means that they want to change into an upstream service provider for businesses and small ISPs, and provide unspecified information services for corporate customers (you know, email, database servers, file servers, etc...).

    The CNET article also says that they are going to license the I-Opener to AT&T and continue to provide the service, probably one layer removed from the consumer.

    From CNET: Netpliance said it is forming a venture with AT&T's WorldNet service to jointly offer a version of the I-opener, with Netpliance providing infrastructure and helping to manage the service. The $299 units, similar to the I-opener, will go on sale after Thanksgiving on QVC, the television shopping network. Monthly service for the I-opener will be priced at $21.95.

  • by technos ( 73414 ) on Friday November 10, 2000 @01:38PM (#631048) Homepage Journal
    Translation:

    We're firing people, `cuz this "let's sell hardware cheap to Joe Schmoo so we can rape him on service charges" thing we've been doing is making us hemorrage money like you wouldn't believe. Instead, we're gonna try the "let's sell hardware cheap to Joe Q. Business so we can rape him on service charges". Mabye we'll offer to add the company logo to the I-Opener for `em. Never know, might work. Gotta do something, `cuz otherwise the buzzards are gonna eat us inside of six months.
  • See http://www.linux-hacker.net [linux-hacker.net] and read the I-Appliance Discussion Forum BBS [kenseglerdesigns.com]. You can use an SMC 10/100 or similar USB Ethernet adapter (be careful, not all work).
  • The i-Opener story is an interesting one. I, along with the rest of you on Slashdot, have watched this story develop over the preceeding months with interest.

    Unfortunately, I believe the majority of Slashdot readers have come out on the wrong side of the controversy, and helped to drive this promising device to a premature death.

    Most of us learned of this device from one of the many Slashdot articles on "hacking" the i-Opener. Of course, none of the well-educated, tech-oriented and upper-middle class Slashdot audience would be expected to purchase such a low-end and unpowerful device, especially when the purpose of the device is to access the internet through a propietary interface.

    But that changed when an individual decided to purchase the device, tear it a part and put it back together with unintended alterations. This individual then spread the knowledge of how to pervert this device from its intended use.

    Eventually, the story of the aformentioned hacker's exploits made it to Slashdot, along with news of a loophole in the i-Opener program which allowed people to buy the i-Opener and then not sign up for internet access, turning the sale into an unprofitable one for Netpliance.

    What did these people use there underpriced, all-but stolen devices for? Cheap MP3 players or x terminals. Some didn't even use the guts of the machine at all, instead tearing out the LCD screen for a cheap, below-market display on their rack-mount.

    That is all fine, until you think of the victims, the people who might be using these devices as they were intended if not for the efforts of "hackers". Who is the intended audience of the i-Opener? I'll tell you:
    Those with low-incomes and limited technical background. The elderly; people of color; folks in rural areas. The i-Opener might have provided these people with their first taste of the web, spurring them to further technological investigations. It would have given these people a voice on the web, where upper-income caucasians still hold sway. It would have narrowed the gap in internet access.

    But all this ended because a few thought the rules didn't apply to them. I hope the death of the i-Opener shows denizens of Slashdot that their actions do have consequences. Others can't go on financing your lifestyle forever.

    Let me leave you with this, a quotation I've taken from the i-Opener web site:
    You have a GREAT product; easy to use, compact, attractive, very reasonably priced and FUN!

    You were right. Within minutes of opening the box, we had e-mailed our daughter, checked the weather, and surfed through several quilting web sites.
    Lynda Merriman, 55
    Indianapolic, IN
    avid quilter

    Can you see now the happiness you've taken from so many? Something for the spoiled to meditate upon. This is truly a sad day.

    I am,

  • It is "cut the muster" not "mustard"

    Nope, mustard is the correct word [alt-usage-english.org].


    Cheers,

  • Er, moderator, do you have something against first posts? This is most definitely NOT offtopic, you intellectual midget.
  • and now you want them to support QNX too? :)

    yes RealPlayer is supported on QNX. I'm running it right now

  • > WTF?! They're venture capitalists, part of the planet's ruling class. How can feel pity for some rich motherfuckers losing out on a gamble?

    Umm, because those "rich motherfuckers" were the ones whose capital made it possible for me to get some really cool hardware, to say nothing of the jobs they created for those who worked at Netpliance while it was operating?

    The IO (and the other network appliances) were neat ideas. Wrong ideas for 1999 and 2000, it turned out. Maybe a good idea some time in the future. Maybe not. But without rich motherfuckers to fund these ideas, we'll never know.

  • I dont care if theyw ere your firend or your enemey.

    The simple principle remains. Take the profit out of an endevour and the endevour will cease. You can't expect others to pay for your stealing. They won't any more then you would in reverse.

  • "I wish I could say it is a shame that Netpliance is having to kill the iOpener but well, they sort of deserved it. Netpliance tried to build a piece of hardware at a loss and then make up the money by seeling a service. This is a poor business model ..."

    Hmm. So game consoles have a bad bsuienss model? (They sell the concole at a loss to sell the software.) Tell that to the milliosn of VERY happy investors in Sony. The classic example of all of this is Razor Baldes, wher the same mdoel is used and have been hugely financially successful.

    The problem isn't the mdoel. The problem is greedy people who took unreasonable advanatge of it. (Go look in a mirror.) If you wanted them to survive, maybe you should have helped them MAKE money rather then lose it.

  • Game consoles do not sell hardare at a real loss. Besides which they have an impressively effective licensing system which garantees they will make money on all games produced for said system. That Playstation logo you see when the game starts up, it costs about 5$ per game produced by the game publisher. Say a million copies of the game are made and sold, thats 5 million easy dollars Sony just made. Netpliance was not that clever. Don't think you're so fucking smart. I never went out and bought an iOpener, I didn't need yet another underpowered piece of computer hardware to further add you my electricity bill. Fuck Netpliance for not being clever enough to stay in business.
  • Suppose that you were right. I'll give you a a counter example: Tivo. we DID "take advantage" of Tivo and hacked to double the drive size. We did a lot of other things. Tivo gracefully let us go, knowing that there isn't much they can do about it. Let me ask you this: is Tivo going under?

    No. Why? maybe because Tivo is a better product to start with. Maybe it's because Tivo never chose to do a "lose leader" and never distrust its customers.
  • And in a really bad situation, I would much rather have printed material than a computer.

    All those pins on circuit boards are really rough on the skin.

    I always go with 3 ply paper over 6 layer circuit board.
  • (snipped)

    Agreed. If NPLI had managed to partner with an ISP (AOL? Earthlink?) and co-brand (as opposed to "hiding" the ISP beneath the embedded system), they might have done really well. Let the ISP fund the costs of the hardware, and sell demographic data back to the ISP.

    The built-in USB port also meant their unit was well-positioned for the cablemodem or DSL age.

    I agree with you that they were ahead of their time. The early bird gets the worm, but the second mouse gets the cheese.

  • There is a way to fix those broken Palms for less then Palm charges. I think the price is $50 for replacement screens but you have to take the unit apart. If you still have the old units around I might be willing to buy them from you.

    LoB
  • thank you spinless worm.
  • This bulletin board [kenseglerdesigns.com] is dedicated to hacking the webplayer and other appliances. I am going to try to put a laptop HD in mine in a few weeks and then use it as an MP3 player for the car...
  • Before folks start screaming that 3v17 h@x0rZ killed NPLI

    I feel an obligation to the /. community to point out that "3v17 h@x0rZ" translates into "evit hackers", which makes no sense.
    What I think you meant to say was "3\/1L h4x0r5" or maybe "31337 h4x0r5", which mean "Evil Hackers" and "Elite Hackers" respectively. However there is the remote possibility that you meant to say, "1 4m l337 h4x0r, 1 0\/\/n j00," but we can't be sure. Please clarify your comment.

  • > Ahhh, I get it now: idiot moderator.
    Or troll moderator. But I repeat yourself.

    The above sentence is not gramatically correct. So sue me.
  • by ewhac ( 5844 ) on Friday November 10, 2000 @04:39PM (#631066) Homepage Journal

    But all this ended because a few thought the rules didn't apply to them.

    Nice attempt at mis-direction. Yes, you're correct: The i-Opener is going away because a few people thought the rules didn't apply to them. The few people involved are Netpliance management. The rules they thought didn't apply to them are:

    • Items purchased in a retail venue become the purchaser's property, to do with as they please.
      So-called license "agreements" are nothing of the kind. They are an invalid form of contract, and a massively unethical business practice. As a person may buy a washing machine from Sears and use it as part of a sculpture (contrary to the intentions of the manufacturer), so may they also buy a computer at Best Buy and use it in any manner they wish.
    • The razor/razor blade model only works when the cost of the razor is epsilon compared to the profit margin on blades.
      What is the cost of a typical razor? What is the cost of a typical pack of razor blades? The reality is that the cost of the razor will usually be recovered after the sale of three or four (at most) packs of blades. Netpliance's cost differential was way out of whack. When you're looking at two to three years of uninterrupted service revenue to recover the cost of one unit, you've got a big imbalance.
    • When confronted with a choice between a single-purpose device for $X, and an expandable general purpose device for $(1.3 * X), more consumers will choose the general-purpose device.
      Full-on PCs are dirt cheap. You can get a nicely capable PC for about $700 these days. You're not locked in to any ISP. You're not locked in to any particular browser (though Micros~1 makes it hard for you to switch). You can play real games, not cheeseball Java- and Flash-based rot. And your data is your data. If the ISP goes down, you can still compose email and do other things. The cost/benefit ratio of an Internet Appliance just doesn't measure up to a full PC.

    Netpliance thought these rules didn't apply to them. They were wrong. Any failure of their business can be laid squarely at the door of Netpliance's management. The Open Source and hacking communities had nothing whatsoever to do with it.

    Schwab

  • Most welcome -- but the props for the real work go to Turbo3, Las_Vegas, Prefect, and others on the BBS for the hacks -- I just implemented 'em and mangled a lot of bits with my digital camera ;-)

    I don't think the IO's are gonna end up in a landfill - even NPLI isn't talking about nuking the service altogether, and with the flash-updatability of the SanDisk, AT&T could very easily "upgrade" the units to any platform they desired, so even current non-hacker owners are likely to have an upgrade path should AT&T decide to continue the experiment.

  • Re: framebuffer

    Perhaps, but I was talking about the physical screen. No way to get around that ;-)

  • You actually believed that ? ehehehe
  • I really do think that selling hardware at a loss to recoop the cost through service CAN work. Its worked wonders for the cellphone industry. The only problem is, the service is inadaquate. With every other person picking up a high speed internet account from somewhere, dialup accounts (while still VERY prevelant) will be old dinosaurs in 3-5 years. Then again, so will the I-Openers, but the contracts will still last that long.

    However, the phone company gave me a dsl modem when I ordered the service. I'm sure that the cost is included in my monthly payment, but there were NO setup charges of any kind, so the charge is effectively invisible. I'm sure the phone companies aren't losing money by this model, and they sure don't seem to be showing any signs of cutting back on offering dsl service.

    The I-Opener should have had this built in. Dialup OR dsl, or LAN access. Then sell the internet service with it as planned, but sell dsl service instead of dialup where dsl is available. I guarantee the cost increase wouldn't have been significant, but people are buying up dsl as fast as they can get it, so they wouldn't have chosen a dead market. Sure, in 5 years time, dsl might be in the process of getting replaced by something even more sexy, but at least the IOpener would have served a useful purpose for that length of time and the customers will probably still be using them up to that point and would be happy to purchase whatever they offer next.

    You CAN'T plan a long term service option on current technology only. You MUST look to the future and plan for what will be coming in 3 months, 6 months, a year, 3 years. DSL isn't new. Its been available in some areas for well over 3 years and has been talked about for many years before that. Yet Netpliance ignores it even though its an emerging market.

    Please note that this applies equally well to cable.

    Imagine. A relatively idiotproof box, with built in cable and dsl support, built in hub, (at least enough to daisychain it to another hub), phone connection that can work with either regular dialup service or dsl service. Make it slick and sexy and, most importantly, make sure, whatever price you sell it at, make sure its CHEAPER than the lowest cost PC you can currently purchase. You might get ripped by a few people who only want to install linux on it, but 99% of your customers will be happy to get it for the service and you will succeed. Hmmmmm... I might have to consider this. :)

    -Restil
  • I bought a $99 dollar one that I was going to try to hack, but never got around to. It's sitting on a shelf somewhere in my den.

    It was an interesting experiment, but maybe 5 years ahead of it's time. Maybe more.

    Anyway, I was going to give it to the grandparent-in-laws, but now that Netpliance's future is in doubt, I may have to go back to the hacking route. Or maybe I'll sell it.

  • Save your lunch money and buy a clue. A very large portion of applications (especially on Windows) are written with professionals in mind. People that can be reasonably assumed to understand basic computer interface concepts. They are afterall being paid to know how to write email and type in a word processor. Since the business market for those sorts of programs has been traditionally (until the past 5 years or so) much larger than the home market developers have stuck to the idea that the people running their software know what they are doing. With the boom in home computer users this view of the market has changed much. More and more programs are being designed to be easy to use. AOL and MSN Explorer are really pointed examples of such software. Developers of internet appliances don't have years of corporate software development that pervades their programming and interface styles. They are just following the example of AOL which makes it nearly impossible to really fuck up in doing a task. Lots of companies now are also following AOL's lead and buidling software which is really friendly. Don't insult developers saying they have no skill and don't know what they are doing. They developed for the market that made them the most money, now they've begun to do the same thing again.
  • uh huh...if a layman like myself thinks these things are butt-ugly...then...who are you selling these to? industry experts such as yourself? I was under the impression you were trying to sell them to normal people.....

    /me is half scared he is feeding a troll

  • I wish I could say it is a shame that Netpliance is having to kill the iOpener but well, they sort of deserved it. Netpliance tried to build a piece of hardware at a loss and then make up the money by seeling a service. This is a poor business model and only works in a limited number of circumstances (mail order catalogs cost alot to print and mail but for every quarter they lose they make a few bucks from handling fees on orders). Selling non-commodity items at a loss is just generally a bad idea, maybe companies will learn to stay away from this model. PeoplePC and Gateway have the right idea though. You lease-to-own a box from the company for a few tens of dollars a month and bundled with that box is internet access (which is sub-leased from existing ISPs and repackaged at quite a saving to said company). The leases are termed contracts so the company is garanteed to get the full cost of the system and the user gets internet access and something to access it with. If Netpliance had tried this route instead of selling SELLING! their hardware at a loss they would be in a much different position now. I think this will temper (hopefully) these stupid and ill-conceived .com business plans. Tip: you need to make more money than you spend in order to not go bankrupt.
  • This is why NIC [thinknic.com] makes sense. I've got a web terminal dialing up to my ISP even if the manufacturer goes under.
  • Yup, get your free QNX RTP CD image and see for yourself. Doom is on the CD too. :)

    Get it here [qnx.com].

  • yeah, me too.

    Damn magazine ads!

    I hate magazines. Let's burn them... ALL!!!

    Hoo-ray. I'm so happy.

  • by bughunter ( 10093 ) <{ten.knilhtrae} {ta} {retnuhgub}> on Friday November 10, 2000 @01:55PM (#631078) Journal
    I don't think "net devices" are going to be anything more than a niche product until they meet the following criteria:
    • Portabiltity. They need to be as portable as a book or a newspaper. Microsoft's recently announced product is a good example.
    • Peer connectivity. This has already been done with PDAs and handhelds, and in a portable net device, it will be expected. Transparent Connectivity. The network connection needs to be totally transparent. Buy device, enter name and password, and you're on. There are many hypothetical ways to make this work, but no practical ways yet. (You still have to buy the device, arrange for a seperate network service for it, and then wait for it to activate, that's not going to fly!)
    • Reliability. It needs to be as reliable as a book or a newspaper as well. OK... that's impossible. But it has to be close.
    • Storage. It can't be just another dumb terminal like a cellphone. It has to have some provision to store and upgrade the user's choice of applications, and reference data.
    • Utility. The reason PDAs and Cellphones have become so popular is because they fill a necessary useful purpose. So far, browsing the web and checking email isn't a necessary useful purpose in many peoples' lives (slashdotters excepted). And until it does, net devices won't take off.

    There are too many companies trying to force the next "killer app" or "insanely great thing" via marketing instead of by using old-fashioned innovation. And their corpses are beginning to pile up...

    (And ironically, it's actually cheaper and easier to use innovation. Of course, that assumes one possesses creativity and insight...)

  • I seriously doubt if they would have made it. After all, look at the Virgin unit. From what I could tell, they did everything perfectly from the start. They kept control of the distribution, had a strong but fair contract, spelled out all of the requirements in advance, etc. But they're floating wrong-side up.

    Netpliance, OTOH, made every possible wrong move. They didn't control distribution. They didn't have any requirements attached to the sale. Then they added a 3-month requirement (as if that would pay for the hardware). Then they tried to bully people who'd placed their orders before the new contract was in place. The list goes on. Once I saw how inept they were, I didn't feel bad at all about hacking the one I picked up. Even if the concept had been sound, Netpliance would have screwed it up royally. Better to have a few of these units out there being put to good use than all of them residing in a landfill.

    BTW, if anyone wants to sell me their unused i-opener (or other web appliance)... :)

  • 12" or so Touch TFT
    ONboard everything type PC strapped on the back (ala IOpener)
    Linux Supported Hardware
    Wireless keyboard
    1 10/100bt ethernet
    USB/Firewire if you feel generous

    So I can strap it on the wall in the kitchen, the foyer, the bathroom and the garage. Cant it be seen that their is a market for such a device - a terminal class PC with touch TFT up front...
  • I've got one that was never used. Set up once, but the recipient rejected the internet. Its from December 99 before they required contracts. $200 would buy it from me.
  • I think you are accurately describing the future of PDA's. I already use my Palm IIIx in most of the above capacity, Books, news, Email. The only thing it does not have is the storage and the connectivity. The next big jump is as you have surmised... PDA's.

    Palm will be on the forefront of this, the Palm VII is just the tip of the iceberg.

    On the note of reliability, the palms need to be more durable, I have broken 2 screens, and a friend of mine broke one yesterday.

    The next killer app, is already here, it will just take time to develop.

    Your list of criteria is dead on.
  • This trend spells bad news for Be Inc, who are staking their lives on their "new" applicance OS, BeIA, to the point that the last line on their main website reads: "We also offer BeOS, an alternative operating system for personal computers"
  • I have many many computers at home and in the office we have many many more and I can touch all of them !
    If you see me.. I usually have 6 keyboards in front of me and I enrage on them like a mad piano player. All My frined tell me I'm SuperGeek and they beg me to spill some words of wisdom about this world of geeks so obscure to them.
    Last but not least.. the chicks areally dig my computers. I think I will buy a Z80 to stick into my lighter and make a micro MP3 player. I already ported Linux to the Z80 and I'm almost done optimizing the MP3 decoder.

    Thank you.

  • It was an interesting experiment, but maybe 5 years ahead of it's time. Maybe more.

    Yea - in 5 years that speedy 56k dial up POTS ISP will really be comeing into it's own.
  • by Rhg ( 253675 )
    Did anyone have stock in NPLI? They did good when they opened, then plummeted FAST.
  • The websurfer died before the hackers hacked the box (no big effort, the thing was designed to be a pc) and netpliance is dying... I expected it a long time ago.. you cant start a new ISP and expect to make money/be in business.. there are 60,000 isp's (My rural area has 10 to choose from!) out there all stabbing each other's back to get the customers.. an the so-called "simple appliance" was just a gimmick. Most any grandma has a grandson that created them a linux/winsnot box that was basically grandma-proof (or gave them one of those e-mail thingy's).

    There is NO market for the non-techie web appliance. Yes I have 2 i-openers , both hacked. I also have 2 websurfers hacked. and all of them are easier to use for my mom, grandma, mother-in-law, grandmother-in-law in my hacked state, and they will display photos/small videos sent to them from us.

    something nither of those 2 boxes on their own could do.

    I-opener = neato hardware + stupid ISP that was worthless.

    websufer = someone elses item + crappy way to extort money from users.

    therefore I-opener + websurfer / (companies) = retarted CEO's trying to spend venture capitol for fun.
  • Couldn't you get pass the 800x600 screen resolution limitation by using framebuffer? Thats how I got my laptop to do more then 800x600. I even got it up to 1280x1024 but the screen was madly off center.

    SealBeater
  • I got my Virgin Records Webplayer about 8 months ago for free. Now, they go under and I don't have to return it. I never paid a cent for it or for the service. Now that's what I call a good deal.


  • They had the same goal. Provide a cheap, simple way for technphobes to get on the net.

    My point is that netpliance was run by idiots who couldn't plan their way out of a wet paper sack. The way they set up their business, it was destined to fail. I brought up Virgin to point out that even a company that makes all the right moves was unable to achieve the same goal as Netpliance.

    One more time. Both companies had the same goal. If the company that did everything right failed, it's a pretty good indicator that a company that couldn't even manage to write a half-assed TOS didn't stand a chance.

  • My question is, where could i get one? I wouldn't mind turnign it into an X terminal. Anyone know?
  • by Anonymous Coward
    no more cheap lcd/computers?
  • Fact is, you can get (virtually) the same functionality from MyMailStation. My Grandmother has one, loves it, and we now correspond a couple of times a week.

    From IO's point of view, it's the same thing without the useless web browser, at a price point of $100, which they can't match.

    Game Over, Man.
  • See EBay [ebay.com], or just stroll in to Target and plunk down $299. It's a fine X terminal running Jailbait [sourceforge.net], or check out the Linux Terminal Server Project [ltsp.org] if you don't want to put a disk on it but do want more than what JailBait provides. Or check out the bboard [kenseglerdesigns.com] ; ; at http://www.linux-hacker.net [linux-hacker.net] for details on everything necessary to turn an I-Opener into a standard Linux machine.
  • Phew...I was SO tired of seeing those stupid annoying ads on TV and in my magazines. Not only did they look incredibly stupid, they also bogged down my magazines and had stupid ads on TV...stupid netpliances, good riddance.

  • If they're worried about selling the remaining i-openers in stock, why not make them into Linux boxen and sell them via a slashdot advert??
    -russ
  • you said it yourself, the iopener was designed for eldery people and low income people.. not us geeks, if there was no hack, we would have never bought 'em, and they would have made less money, it died because their target audiance didnt buy them, therefore if there was no hack, it would have still died

    -----
  • It was mentioned in /. a few days ago. Does it come attached with better services? From their website, at least, one gets the impression that the services side has been planned more carefully.
  • AOL/Transmeta/Gateway Internet Appliance Launch - Slashdot, in regards to the next story.

    Need I say more?

  • You're not locked in to any particular browser (though Micros~1 makes it hard for you to switch).

    No they don't. My machine here runs Netscape 4.7, Opera and IE.

    So what's the hard part?

    Simon
  • "We plan to reposition Netpliance from a direct consumer Internet appliance service provider to an enabling infrastructure and managed services company."

    Suuuuure you will. Isn't that what every company with roots in the dotcom goldrush of '99 declares, just before they make the frontpage of FC? We did!

  • blad-owwww
  • this company might have succeeded if nobody took advantage of them.

    boo hoo. (i think i hear violins playing a sad song) Likewise a self service bank with out walls or a vault or guards(just a pile of money in an alley) might succeed if no one took advantage of them.

    i can buy a a diesel engine from Caterpillar [caterpillar.com], add a chassis and a blade and resell it as a bulldozer competing directly against Cat's bulldozer. If Caterpillar sells the aforementioned engine at a loss then...well then maybe they're a little too stupid to stay in business. Netapliance simply should have known better

    the moral : stupidity & short-sightedness deserve to be punished.

  • Anybody know if NetPliance is planning on liquidating their i-openers without requiring an ISP contract while they restructure? I could sure use an LCD screen and a new linux box ;)
  • by saikou ( 211301 )
    Main question is, will they be able to sell the technology, prooven it can't survive as standalone model. And will AT&T or any other major provider be willing to buy it just to add something like MSN Companion?

    -----
  • The I-Opener should have had this built in. Dialup OR dsl, or LAN access. Then sell the internet service with it as planned, but sell dsl service instead of dialup where dsl is available.

    They don't need built in ethernet. They have the USB port. I got some (ARK?) 10Mb ethernet with 3 port hubs for about $40 that work in my i-opener.

    What they did need was a way to tap into the DSL (or other broadband) dollar stream, and to make the software work with a USB enet that they sold/gave away (assuming a real contract got signed).

    I think less then 25% of the people with i-openerws would have DSL, so paying $40 each for them would be better then $10 on each i-opener. Actually less then $40, because they don't need the built in hub.

    They had the hardware side Ok. It was the bisness side (as usual) that they failed on.

  • I dunno... don't mark me as flaimbait, 'cause I think it needs to be stated that this company might have succeeded if nobody took advantage of them. I know they have horrible legal contracts, i know the protection was simple, i know it was a loss leader. The point is, that a shortcut was taken by many. Who knows... we could've seen these things on any street corner, and even tho they suck, it would've been nice to ssh to a box in public every now and then.

    ----

  • First Oracle's Network Computer bites the dust, and is followed by a string of similarly ill fated attempts.

    The iMac was Apple's idea of a network computer, and a success, but of course it's still a proper personal computer as well.

    Maybe the Network Computer will be the killer product in 5 years, but at the moment it involves giving up too much for too little gain, even if the cost is less than a PC.

  • Is it their poor net service, or is it the fact that they were underselling the cost of the device hoping to make their money back through the online service, and sooo many people were violating their terms of service, popping them open and making them fully functional computers for remote terminals in their living rooms for checking mail and such. People like me that is..

    Has
  • by Tackhead ( 54550 ) on Friday November 10, 2000 @01:08PM (#631111)
    > its limited cpu and non-TFT screen made for a boring user experience.

    The passive-matrix screen and 800x600 resolution are something that can't be fixed, but any IO can be hacked with a bit of solder to run a K6-III-333 at speeds up to 450 MHz.

    There are serious heat and power supply limits at 450, but even a very conservative clocking of a K6-III-333 underclocked to 200 MHz is about a 2:1 performance boost over the original WinChip 200. Cost of the chip is $30 at Fry's (for those lucky enough to live near a Fry's.)

    Hey, it plays MP3s and runs my GPS mapware. I'm happy, even if the GPSware is a Windoze app.

    It's never gonna replace your desktop, and for the amount of time/money you'll put into it, you're better off buying a used laptop on EBay. But I had a hell of a lot more fun building my own line-out, headphone jack, second serial port, VGA-out connector, IDE connectors, hard drive mounts, cooling fans, and doing core voltage / CPU-upgrade mods with a soldering iron and a prayer than I ever woulda had with a used laptop.

    Like I said in my other post - my thanks to NPLI for the cool hardware. I learned a lot and had a ball doing it.

  • As always, goals empower ISP-based appliance manufacturing. The integrated NetPliance opportunity works effectively with the inexpensive model it was based on. The tangent achieves a new strategies. Value-added products administrate.
    It's got to be done in the quality-oriented goals of the meta-services. If you question that, the open-ended three-week beta engendered the parallel market. For them to grow, they absolutely had to develop the resource-leveling established standards. They did not, and thus they failed.

    Leading indicators would seem to suggest that all of you establish an action item for materials. As our company President states in a recent memo about automated application frameworks, " soup-to-nuts strategic and tactical actions sign off on alliances." The growth markets align the POSIX-compliant solutions, and a competitive platform has possibilities for future technical advances.

  • The way to make money off the 'net is not to sell hardware as a loss-leader Maybe somebody should tell that to Sony... Granted, the PS2 is not exactly strictly "making money off the net," but ... it IS network enabled.
  • From what I've seen myriads of companies attempt to produce thin clients capble of virtually everything, but in a cuter packaging and easy to use. What they fail to see is that their thin client is not a thin client, but is merely a computer, just like others. Thin client has to do something special, not "surf-the-net" and then perhaps "write e-mail" and do word processing, but it has do something you would dedicated a system full time to, such as an X-terminal or any other terminal. Checkout what NCD [ncd.com] offers as example of what thin clients should be.

  • Hey, RealPlayer doesn't support HP-UX on PA-RISC and now you want them to support QNX too? :)

    Seriously, though, I admit to feeling a little guilty about my hacked i-opener now, although I agree that it doesn't look like the hacker community was really the cause of the device's demise. I recommended it to several people, and probably would have accounted for several sales if my family weren't divided between hardcore geeks and total luddites (well, maybe they aren't anti-technology, they're just a-technology). Half of the family doesn't want any computer, and the other half just bought their dream machines.

    What Netpliance really proved was that there is a sizeable market for cheap flat-panel screens, even if they are of somewhat low quality, and as soon as somebody finds a way to make money in that market they will make a mint.

  • AOL appliance costs more and delivers more. People don't want to buy an appliance to be stuck with one tiny provider (like Netpliance). It must be either generic appliance (ThinkNIC) that will work with any ISP, or a BIG provider like AOL.
  • Actually, there is not much of a market for it - when talking about home users and hackers (old school)

    Go out on the web and price it out. It is quite easy to put together a system with those specs. It will almost definitely run you over $1,500 dollars - unless you know of some great gray/after market deals. There are many, many vendors that make the integrated motherboards - a nice P2/Celeron class board will probably be over $400. A nice, touch screen active matrix color LCD will be well over $1000. Netpliance used a proprietary board, cheap screen, and slow processor to reduce price, and still failed.

    In the current day market place these products are only targeted at industrial, POS terminal, and other niche markets due to cost.

    I think you are mistaken when you say there is a market - few slashdot readers are going to fork over $1500 to $2000 to browse while taking a dump. Besides, my appartments foyer is to small for a 42" gas plasma display...
  • Are they doing it right in Europe?

    http://www.freepad.net/hq_picture.html
    http://www.internetworld.de/iw/news/0999/08_15.htm

  • Sorry, I was a dolt. The I-Opener has a USB, a Parallel, and a a 56K modem. Some folks have reported success using the Intel Home RF USB device, which claims 1 Megabit but is said not to achieve it. I've so far not found any USB 802.11b devices, nor any parallel port ones as the original poster requested.
  • "It looks like even grandma wants a good isp when she logs on the net and that bundling cute hardware with inferior service just doesn't cut the mustard."

    It is "cut the muster" not "mustard"

  • Virgin was trying to give away similar computers for free, and then fund the monthly internet charges through advertising.

    Netpliance was selling the initial hardware for a modest fee, and then charging the typical $20-25/month internet access fees.

    Completely different business plans, which have no bearing on one another.

    I believe the initial comment in this thread has merit, and the Linux activists did aid in damaging the companies profitability. I don't think you should be proud of financially harming a company that did you no harm.
  • I like the Larry Ellison(TM) attitude behind Oracle. Fill the form in the Oracle Technology Network site [oracle.com], and they will send you a 6 CD kit by UPS the next day containing the full version of all Oracle Linux tools. You pay if you like and use the shit. Cool.

    If thinknic is like that, it can't fail.

  • Has anybody told AOL about the rash of web/internet appliance companies crashing and burning as of late? Seems like it would behoove them to consider this.
  • Well, there's a big difference between selling hardware and internet service and relying on sales of information about browsing patterns (the NetPliance model) and the BeIA strategy of selling an internet appliance focused operating system, without hardware and without relying on sales of harvested data.

    Of course, the world might not be ready for internet applicances (although I want an Audrey) but the "refocusing" of Netpliance is hardly predictive of the future of BeIA.

  • What a pathetic piece of shit.

    Who is the intended audience of the i-Opener? I'll tell you: Those with low-incomes and limited technical background. The elderly; people of color; folks in rural areas.

    I'll tell you what the intended audience of the i-Opener is -- people with too little time on their hands and money to burn on net access charges.

    You act as if Internet access is some sort of manna from heaven. Just goes to show your bias I guess.

  • by SquadBoy ( 167263 ) on Friday November 10, 2000 @12:21PM (#631126) Homepage Journal
    The website is still up and selling them. It just looks like they will not produce them anymore read the article they are going to leave the service up and running and continue full support. It looks like they are just scaling back on it so the answer is no you will not be able to get one without having to sign up for the service in the near future. But for $200 for a rebuilt one it is still pretty tempting.
  • the lcd screen isn't all that good.

    I bought an I-O the day the slashdot article (the first one) hit. it was a 'version1' unit that was fully hackable with no real issues other than the reversed ide cable pins.

    it was cute to hack on and a fun project for a while but its limited cpu and non-TFT screen made for a boring user experience.

    most folks saw the flaw in their business plan way back then. we all knew they would go belly up sooner or later. and that the high $300 ebay prices for hackable units would soon be a joke; for when the company is being liquidated, their remaining stock would probably go cheap.

    any bets on how cheap their remaining stock (of units) will go?

    --

  • where is the site tho?
  • Now I guess the question is, "how much longer will Netpliance be in business?" - because at $299 + maybe only one or two months of "ongoing" monthly fees (haha!) it's a steal!
    Once they bite the dust for real there won't be nobody to collect the money. Fuckedcompany.com doesn't have much mention of them yet...
  • by Mr. Flibble ( 12943 ) on Friday November 10, 2000 @12:24PM (#631130) Homepage
    I would never want a "net device", but I am a geek. I own 8 PC's and I administer many more at work. Because I am a geek people always ask me what kind of computer they should buy, I always give them some idea of what they need.

    You can see where this is going...

    People who know nothing about the systems ask the people who do know what to buy... How often would you imagine that the word-of-mouth from geeks is praiseworthy over a net device? I would say almost never.

    On the bright side (for geeks) there are cheap "PC's" around to hack on. I am trying to get a WebSurfer from Virgin to build a dedicated Linux MP3 player for my car. (The WebSurfer has a disk on a chip WOOO! Talk about fast boots!)
  • by Stiletto ( 12066 ) on Friday November 10, 2000 @01:15PM (#631131)
    CEO John McHale says in that announcement: "We plan to reposition Netpliance from a direct consumer Internet appliance service provider to an enabling infrastructure and managed services company."

    When their CEO can't even get past the "buzzword phase" how does Netpliance expect to even dream of coming up with a useful product?

    Can anyone even decipher what the above quote even means???
  • for those people who wanted to get an i-opener to hack. As disgruntled Netpliance customers start replacing thier machines with inexpensive PCs and NetZero or Juno Internet access, you may be able to pick up those old machines cheap.

    I wonder how easy it would be to customise the ThinkNIC's software for the i-opener? Switch to NetZero that way (so, since NetZero is now supporting a Linux-based "appliance", does that mean general support for Linux is on the way?)

  • Forget E-Bay then =) Start a SlashAuction =P Each new bid higher than the last can go as a reply to the last high bid comment. You could get quite a bit for it. But no Shilling! *grin*

    ---
  • Does anyone know of a parallel-port wireless ethernet card that's supported under Linux, or is close enough to futz with? I have a hacked i-opener, but I have an apartment where I can't run cable through the walls and I want to use the i-opener as a portable terminal throughout the place. Sure, it still has a power cord, but I've got power outlets all over the place, whereas I don't have network jacks.

    I've been meaning to look into this for a few months but have been too busy. This article seems like the perfect opportunity, though.

    Any ideas?

  • by kalinh ( 167661 ) on Friday November 10, 2000 @01:30PM (#631137) Homepage
    My impression of NPLI from their press releases, and from having the chance to talk to its executives has always been that the i-opener hardware was more of a way of getting their market established, building a recognizable brand and then, as soon as possible, farming their services out to other providers as an internet company.

    The fact that they want to stop their cash bleed on the hardware should have been very apparant to anyone with eyes when they raised the price of the i-opener back up to $399 instead of the $99 that they had offered for some time. Anyone with a basic grip on economics should have known that it was going to happen way before that.

    Basically they are a software company that everyone kept treating like an appliance company. In a July interview [altavista.com] on Raging Bull president Kent Savage had to go to pains to get this point across,

    Cyber: But isn't a large part of Netpliance's premise to sell that hardware, the I-opener?

    Savage: No, not at all. We did that because we had to. We're a market maker and a first mover, and we had to innovate in order to reach this market.

    It's really predictable and sad the way that the geek community has so heavily focused on the device. Unfortunately, it was really nothing too special technology-wise and the interesting things that NPLI was up to was its interface and "OS-agnostic" software package. Also it's client-server infrastructure kind of resurrected 'push' in a market and environment where it almost starts to make sense.

    The "i-opener experience" is not nearly as stupid as it sounds, if you step outside of your "master of the source" persona and pretend you are on the other-side of the digital divide for a second. Sure, I prefer to navigate the net with Enlightenment as my interface of choice, but I doubt most of the flashing-12:00-on-the-VCR crowd would. The i-opener interface is just clean and as simple and dumbed-down as you can get, which is great for the market they were targetting.

    They signed major strategic relations with big cable companies a long time ago (check the press releases on their web site), and their client software is well suited to be rolled out as an adjunct to set-top boxes and appliance offerings from telcos like At&T. It's curious what difficulties they might be going through negotiating "managed services" contracts with these companies because if I was running the company I would have made this shift in business plans a long long time ago. However you feel about it, they'll probably be around for a while yet, especially if they can convince US West or AT&T subsidize the hardware side of things instead of blowing all their IPO capital on it.

    Kalin

    Metamuscle [metamuscle.com] - Building better bodies through hypertext. Slashdot for bodybuilders.

  • I believe the initial comment in this thread has merit, and the Linux activists did aid in damaging the companies profitability. I don't think you should be proud of financially harming a company that did you no harm.

    Pointing out the fact that a company's product can be used in alternative ways is not morally wrong. If Alice sells widgets for less than what Bob charges for identical widgets, should I not state this publicly because it will "financially harm" Bob? Markets depend on information to operate efficiently. The iOpener business plan was fundamentally flawed, and hopefully others will learn from its failures.

  • "This will be a sad note to all of those who have yet to buy the unit that cost $400 to produce for a fraction of that amount. Get'm while you can, cuz they don't make'm no more..."

    And so Slashdot users mourn the passing of a device they were instrumental in killing.

    Blaing the failure of this device on "inferior ISP service" is questionable at best. Certainly all the money this company lost producing a loss-leader device that Slashdot promoted using in a way that produced a loss for the company didn't hel pthem survive.

    There is a parallel here. Noone produces things for YOUR benefit folks. If you take away the profitability, you take away the product.

    Consider that carefully when you think about your feelins on the protection of commercial intelelctual property.

    Do you want to live in a world with no writers and no movie makers?
  • The iOpener business plan was no more fundamentally flawed than that of the Playstation.

    What others will learn from it is not to trust the Linux hacker community. :(
  • I thought moderators were supposed to save us from idiots. What do we do when the moderators are themselves idiots?? How can this question be off-topic when it directly addresses something in the linked story?? Ahhh, I get it now: idiot moderator.
    -russ
  • Too bad Rob didn't name you guys "Yet Another Moron" instead of "Anonymous Coward". It would be a lot more accurate.
    -russ
    p.s. linux has seats; *bsd has flames.
  • by hanway ( 28844 ) on Friday November 10, 2000 @12:28PM (#631152) Homepage
    I would like to take this opportunity to fling a big "ha, ha, told ya" in Netpliance's direction. I posted this in the Slashdot discussion Meeting With Netpliance [slashdot.org] this past April 11:

    Here's what I'd tell Netpliance: Please go ahead with whatever onerous changes in terms of service you need to make a buck, but leave the hardware hackable, because in a year or so when you're out of business we'll still be around to make some use of used and surplus i-openers, otherwise they'll all end up in landfills all too soon.

  • by Tackhead ( 54550 ) on Friday November 10, 2000 @12:30PM (#631157)
    Hey, it'll make Netpliance more than $99 per unit in revenue, right? ;-)

    More seriously - my condolences to the employees and investors - and gratitude for the cool hardware.

    Before folks start screaming that 3v17 h@x0rZ killed NPLI, judging from their revenue figures and number of units sold, I'd bet that the "hackers" snagged about 5000 units, costing about $1.5M over the history of the company - a drop in the bucket against the $10M+ marketing and G&A expenses for the most recent quarter.

    The way to make money off the 'net is not to sell hardware as a loss-leader, nor is it to get into the $20/month ISP business.

    That's not to say anyone really knows what the way to make money is, just to say that NPLI and others (e.g. Virgin's "internet appliance" operation folded a few days ago) found out the hard way what it wasn't, and that no amount of marketing expense can change it.

  • by ruiner5000 ( 241452 ) on Friday November 10, 2000 @12:33PM (#631159) Homepage
    They will be selling them again with AT&T starting after Thanksgiving. Then they will resume selling them on their own after January 31st. They just canceled their remaining contract with Quanta. I assume this means they will be going with someone else or perhaps get AT&T to assist them. Austin Tech News [austintechnews.org]

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