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America Online

AOL teams up with NCI 51

AOL announced today it is teaming up with NCI, as software partner, to build a range of AOL set-top boxes. NCI uses FreeBSD suggesting AOL may be shipping FreeBSD based boxes. The devices will use MediaGX chips from National/Cyrix. Update: 05/12 04:07 by S : Paul Wain of NCI wrote in to tell me in an unofficial capacity that their "Corporate" Machines use a NetBSD derivative but the consumer ones use other OSes. Some of our server products use FreeBSD but not the "Consumer" ones.
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AOL teams up with NCI

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  • by Anonymous Coward
    1) Cyrix is not sold yet
    2) the part of cyrix to be sold is the 686MX division, not the integrated processor (MediaGX/PCOAC) division.
  • by Anonymous Coward
    No. They're selling the 6x86MX team. Not the MediaGX team.
  • by Anonymous Coward
    The 5x86 core/new generations of it. Not the 6x86 core.
  • by Anonymous Coward
    Looks like a rough row to hoe. I don't think there is much consumer demand for something like this because there are so many more attractive alternatives in competition for the consumer entertainment dollar. For example, DirecTV [], Sony PlayStation [], and DVD. With respect to bang-for-the-buck, DirecTV offers quite a bit of entertainment value, beating cable TV by a mile. From what I see, this AOL box is just another version of WebTV--something which has not really caught the consumers' eye (or pocketbook). With the coming mini-recession next year, I think it is an ill-advised time to venture into this market. Prediction: AOL stock will eventually tumble due to almost certain losses from this venture.
  • by Anonymous Coward
    If you go to the AOL corporate website you will see that AOL specified Linux as the operating system. This was set in stone by the terms of the contract.
  • I agree w/ license is secondary for a user . . . but "next to impossible to find software better than BSD"? Well, depends on the task. BeOS is better suited for media related tasks, for example.
  • by Anonymous Coward
    They used NetBSD for their desktop NCs and FreeBSD for the servers which the NCs booted from.

    However the set-top boxes are a different design originating from a Netscape division called Navio who merged with NCI in 1997. The original NT150 used an AMD 486/133 and ran VxWorks (stored in flash ROM), I doubt they would switch to another O/S now.

    Their Web site is

  • by Anonymous Coward
    I understand that one of the problems with the BSD license is that a company such as AOL can take the existing code base, modify it to their needs, and copyright the resulting fork.

    It is this very possibility to prevents MS from a takeover of a GLP'ed project, (i.e. Linux).

    Or am I misunderstanding the issue.

  • AOL considering Linux device, sources say []

    Caldera adding Linux to set-top boxes []

    This one mentions that there was a company in the running for the AOL contract with a Linux-based set-top, but they lost out.

  • The settops are going to use the MediaGX chips, which are x86ish so it could go either way.
  • They can easily go up to a commercial vendor and ask for patches or get support when they have problems..
    And, a commercial vendor can easily say "Piss off, we've got 32,324 higher priority bugs to fix first" ;) Besides, the money saved on royalties should be enough to hire a nice team of programmers from amongst the active contributors (ala Alan Cox) The astute executive may even notice that it's generally more effective demanding a fix from an employee than from the arrogant corporate megalith of the decade.
  • Linux, FreeBSD, either way it would be cool to see AOL actually use an OpenSource OS. Maybe AOL's reputation will even move up a few steps with geeks. Then again, maybe not...
  • With a low end PC at $500 and going lower, a box sitting on a low res TV is a stupid idea. I lump this brainiac idea up there with that Push thing that displayed ads on screensavers while you weren't even around.

    I can't find a market for this kind of product. It does a programmer no good. It does a gamer no good. And even if all you want to do is browse all day, wouldn't you rather do it at 1024x768?

    The only promising idea I've heard about for set-top boxes is for wagering on horse races, where you get to watch live races and bet with the remote.

    I can see people placing $20 on Menifee in the Derby (sorry, you lost), but not choosing that box over the PC.

    {off topic} Hey sengan, good to see a post from you. Let's see more of those hard science posts you're so fond of.

  • > Seeing as how Hughes Network Systems is involved... I suspect they would lean away from linux or bsd.

    *aol mode activated*


    *aol off*

    Anyone that can base their appliance off a free OS is doing a smart thing by avoiding royalties imo.
  • Yup.... It might be a "rough row to hoe", but not
    if AOL is going to *give* it to new consumers :-)

    AOL is a volume-oriented business and this brings them more volume.

    Even if the other options are "better", *free* (with a year's subscription) is tough to beat :-)

    - Hawkeye

  • How can a company lead you down the dark path?
  • As a BSD zealot, I claim it would be next to impossible to find software better than BSD. I use BSD first because of sheer and overwhealming technical superiority. License is seconday.
  • No it didn't. Didn't you read the article?
  • I need a simple, reliable, easy to work with OS.
  • Because when I said I wanted to make my software freely redistributable, I meant it.

    And to turn the question around, why do you think you should be able to tell people what they can and cannot do with the software they create?
  • This is not a problem. The license specifically allows for anyone to create a proprietary fork. This is one of the reasons I use FreeBSD and have contributed back code to it. It is also one of the reasons companies make more money from BSD than they do from Linux.

    Reading the BSD lists, I have seen many say that it is not about a vision or freedom or even anti-Microsoft behaviour. It is simply about writing the best software possible and allowing anyone to use it however they want. And the license is targetted as such.
  • This is not a "problem" -- this is intentional. One of the reasons I hack on NetBSD is that I want people to be able to use my code, even for proprietary projects.

    In general, most companies have been remarkably good at contributing back fixes.

    The folks at Digital contributed back virtually every bit of their reference port of NetBSD to their ARM32 based NC. The folks at Apple, who use NetBSD's userland and TCP/IP stack in Darwin/OS-X have contributed back virtually all the code they fixed or changed to us. A number of people from NC participate on NetBSD technical mailing lists and contribute back fixes, too.
  • by perry ( 7046 ) on Tuesday May 11, 1999 @10:46AM (#1898076)
    NCI uses FreeBSD based servers, but the network computers themselves run a derivative of NetBSD. I happen to have a Genuine DNARD (Digital Network Appliance Reference Design) network computer sitting right here, complete with NC logo painted on the front. It was built to run NetBSD. (Runs it beautifully, btw -- the boxes are fully supported by recent NetBSD releases.)

    This should be obvious to people, of course. NCs are mostly not Intel based -- they tend to run on processors like ARMs and MIPS, and FreeBSD runs mostly on the i386. (They have an Alpha port but it isn't stable yet -- they certainly have no ARM or MIPS ports).
  • I assume MSIE won't work on BSD, right?
    It should work under NetBSD/i386 as well as it works under Linux, FreeBSD, BSDI, SCO or Solaris/x86. And under NetBSD/sparc as well as it works under SunOS or Solaris. I'm not entirely convinced it `works' on any of these platforms, though. :-)

    I do run Solaris and SunOS versions of Netscape Navigator quite successfully on my NetBSD/sparc system, and tons of Linux applications (including Communicator and RealAudio player) under NetBSD/i386.

    It seems to me, in fact, that one of the best contributions Linux may be making is to bring forth a broadly available ABI--essentially an informal standard ABI for the Unix community. The lack of this has always been a complaint in the past.


  • by cjs ( 12969 ) <> on Tuesday May 11, 1999 @11:19AM (#1898079) Homepage

    understand that one of the problems with the BSD license is that a company such as AOL can take the existing code base, modify it to their needs, and copyright the resulting fork.
    No, that's not an accurate statement; you are misunderstanding the issue.

    In terms of copyright, AOL owns the copyright on any changes it makes, but not on the original code. This is true under both the BSD licence and the GPL. In both cases they are also free not to distribute their changes, if they want to keep them for in-house use.

    The difference between the Berkeley licence and the GPL is that under the former they may distribute binary versions of their software without distributing the source, under the latter they must distribute the source as well.

    In the end, this isn't as big a deal as one would think. There are very strong financial incentives to contributing changes back to the open source maintainers because it's actually quite expensive to maintain your own separate tree, especially in terms of debugging. Take a look at how far behind NetBSD OpenBSD now is, despite a couple of dozen developers working on it--they simply don't have the manpower to keep merging in the NetBSD changes, especially the larger ones.

    Regardless, a project cannot be `taken over' by someone who's keeping his changes private; the original source code doesn't disappear. A project can only be `taken over' if people stop working on the free version. And the mere presence or absence of someone else using that code base for their ends is not going to do that.

    I know this is an emotional issue for some people; that's why it's important to keep in mind that, while you may have problems with other people making money from you code, many BSD contributors don't have a problem with this. I'm perfectly happy to see someone take free code I've developed and make money from it; I put it out there for others to use, after all. That, to my mind, is the whole point of code being free: people can use it without the sort of restrictions that the GPL puts on you.


  • Pardon my BSD ignorance, but:

    I assume MSIE won't work on BSD, right?

    AOL owns Netscape now. Would this be a potential
    opportunity for Mozilla to show up in a big way
    when it's finished?

  • But one evil company could take BSD... make an incredible amount of changes and then the resulting software could be proprietary...

    if that new proprietary software was exceedingly superior there would be a lot of pressure on the *BSD community to get back up to the new standard... and if they didn't do that they would lose out in the end...

    BUT I sincerely doubt that AOL will put any effort at all into developing BSD into a _generally_ superior product... rather they will take it and twist it to do exactly what they need and make that proprietary

    no loss to the community, no loss to AOL...
  • If one evil company "steals" FreeBSD (or even Linux) code, their actions do not prevent others from still using and contributing to the FreeBSD and Linux open source projects.

  • Wow, aren't they kind! Oh thank you Digital! Oh thank you Apple!

    *BSD will do anything to be popular, including but not limited to whoring itself to proprietary crud manufacturers.

    Why the *hell* do you want people to modify your code, keep the changes, and profit from it, with absolutely *no* benefit to yourself?
  • I've been a FreeBSD user and fan since the beginning, and I am all for this. Linux is great, but so is FreeBSD. Either one is a great choice.


  • NCI's software is abstracted from the OS
    The actual operating system could be
    BSD, VxWorks, QNX, or Linux.
    Seeing as how Hughes Network Systems is involved... I suspect they would lean away from
    linux or bsd.
  • Slashdot is unddeniably Linux-centric (is there a charter somewhere making it so?!) but this is a thought worth pursuing ... the old "Can't we all just get along?"in regards to Linux and Free / Open / NetBSD and any other free OS.

    FreeBSD, Linux, other free OS projects have far more in common with each other in comparison to most commercial OSes than they have differences amongst themselves.

    I think the Linux devpt. process is neat (as a geek only in the old fashioned sense, with no likely code contributions unless my brain grows a bit), but then so is the FreeBSD model.

    Set-top boxes / appliances running abstracted versions of any free OS are cool because of what they imply and the possibilities they open up.

    Especially given that one implication is that MS operating systems are not the only choice. News to no one reading this, but to middle america -- still, I assert -- a personal computer is either a cute box with a Macintosh splashscreen or a more rectilinear box with the Windows splashscreen, and other operating systems are still experimental / 'out there.'

    Lets hear it for differences!


  • For example, DirecTV, Sony PlayStation, and DVD. With respect to bang-for-the-buck, DirecTV offers quite a bit of entertainment value, beating cable TV by a mile. From what I see, this AOL box is just another version of WebTV--something which has not really caught the consumers' eye (or pocketbook). With the coming mini-recession next year, I think it is an ill-advised time to venture into this market.

    Actually, this box will be integrated with DirecTV... Same box, with AOL chatrooms during the Superbowl. Now all they need to do is teach a bunch of drunk Superbowl meatheads how to type.
  • Sorry but maybe you haven't heard of

    "We provide professional, guaranteed support services for FreeBSD. Support is available on a case-by-case basis, or as a convenient, extensible annual contract. "

    And as always with anything you have source to, you just need to wave enough cash at the right people and anything can be fixed.

An egghead is one who stands firmly on both feet, in mid-air, on both sides of an issue. -- Homer Ferguson