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Meeting With Netpliance 255

Posted by Nik
from the NP:-Bodyrock dept.
Kalin R. Harvey writes: "Last week I wrote an article which dealt with the i-opener net appliance from Netpliance that everyone was so excited about hacking last month. The response from the community has been great, a lot of people really liked it. So did Netpliance it seems. I was recently contacted by their CTO, Marc Willebeek-LeMair, and asked to meet with the company at their headquarters "to brainstorm about the various issues" raised in the article. He described my article as "intriguing", and I found the message to be very positive overall; it means they have been listening. It means there is a good chance that they want to do the right thing. We haven't set a firm date yet, but are hammering out the details now. What I want is to get from the /. community and the i-opener-hacker community is feedback. Put aside the bad blood that has been brewing between the open source community and the company since they decided to thwart the hack. Look honestly at the situation and consider the issues involved. What would you say to the decision-makers at Netpliance if you had the chance?"
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Meeting With Netpliance

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  • by Anonymous Coward
    I'll buy two (modifiable) right now for $300 each - and then I can get rid of two of the space heaters in my computer room- If you were to add built in 10baseT ethernet, stick linux/netscape6 on the unit and you have yourself an ADSL pret-a-porte email/browser/terminal, etc,etc,etc....just what I could use in every room in my house.
  • by Anonymous Coward
    If you were familiar with the Dilbert cartoon, you will know that a Troll is one of the guardians of Catbert's (the HR manager) domain. These Trolls prevent anyone who has a legitimate reason for seeing Catbert from getting in.

    It seems curious that after a detailed investigation into the community you seem to have been totally unable to understand some of the simplest terminology. However, to help you get startted, here's a quick rundown of some of the more common ones here:

    pr0n - Slang term for PowerOn/Off, corrupted to also apply to on/offline. Where can I download some pr0n means where can I get some offline downloaders

    Flame - An insightful discussion or idea

    FlameBait - A comment that evolves into a Flame
  • by Anonymous Coward
    Isn't the whole point of this discussion to have something to 'futz' around with? I mean, if somebody already has it configured to do what you want, you don't have to 'hack' it, do you?

    Well, let's face it, most people will not be "hacking" their i-opener in the true sense of the word, they'll just be following step-by-step instructions on how to put a hard drive into it that somebody else figured out. If someone does this and thinks all of a sudden they're a some great hacker, they're kidding themselves. I mean, if you just want to solder something, great, but as long as the first thing anyone is going to do is install a hard drive, you might as well have it installed already and stop kidding yourself!
  • by Anonymous Coward
    Wrong- Slashdot is the digital equivalent of the mens room wall. The morons and trolls and the flamers do not speak for most of the Linux professionals I know - I believe, after having been involved with this "community" for over 6 years that since Linux became a fad item that the signal to noise ratio is about 1 to 1 at this point. My only hope is that the hipness factor wears itself out and these idiots leave.
  • by Anonymous Coward
    USB is too immature under linux and PLIP means having to buy **EXPENSIVE** parallel to ethernet devices that nullify the cheapness advantage of the I-Opener. I mean a 100BastT ethernet card costs what, $10 today? Why this wasn't build onto the mboard is a mystery. Didn't they think some people might want to use Netpliance's own ISP over a DSL or cablemodem? And don't say "who would want a proprietary ISP if they have DSL/Cable because AOL supports this option and people use it.
  • by Anonymous Coward
    Ya know...

    Isn't IPC (name in the BIOS) AST's Parent company? You know netpliance probably has to be sure that the suppliers don't undercut them.

    Also, I bet that in business dealings, Technical Solutions Corp (TSC... the name in the comments of the bash scripts) is going to be very hostile twoards open source, as they loose a client to the free software community.

    Just remember that as you begin to tell them what to do.. there are some forces that we are up against.
  • by Anonymous Coward
    mattdm: It's very cool that Netpliance wants to work with us, and if I had extra money, I might buy a $600 device just to affirm that. But
    realistically, how many of you would really buy one of these at a price allowing them to make a profit?

    I wouldn't spend $600 for a small screen, anemic processor, puny RAM. On the other hand, I might spend $400 for a portable LCD with a peppy little processor and adequate RAM for the things it would be used for;)

    Prolly not more than that given what even $500 will get these days, either new (cheapie brands grasping for low-end straws) or used (somebody's formerly state-of-the-normal system from 3 yrs ago, now with "only" 64 MB of RAM and 4GB hard drive).

    But *under* 400 (even 399) and w/o required ISP? Well, they didn't sell fast at 399, but they may just have been ahead of their time. Home networking is more known / advanced / accepted / buzzing, the i-opener is known as a cool product to play with ... maybe now is their time.

  • This is what I want Netpliance to know. I'm willing to buy an I-Opener that I can modify at a reasonable price.

    Netpliance has an opportunity here to beat the rest of the market by months. No one else that I'm aware of is ready to sell anything like this until Christmas 2000. If they would just figure out how to make a little money by selling us modifiable units, everyone would be happy and Netpliance would seal their market position.
  • Trolling is the practice of posting material designed to incite a negative response -- stirring up trouble just for the sake of it.

    I'm not sure your post *was* a troll... but 'I am in the middle of a detailed investigation into the "freeware" phenomenon that Linus Torvaldes started with his Linux operating system' belies a fair amount of ignorance... -- you'll need a little more insight into the history of Freeware pre-Linux before showing anyone your "detailed report".

    I shouldn't accept the average /. poster's opinion as being representative of the Open Source community as a whole, by the way -- most of them spend more time posting than coding.

    Remember also that the community is not homogenous: some of the "socialist zealots" you speak of will in fact be proud to be anti-commercial, and will have jobs which reflect this. Others may be extremely commercially minded, and will be motivated by the benefits they see Commerce can gain from Open Source methodologies.

    By the way -- do you see how you have cost me? By asking a question and posting anonymously you've forced me to reply with an off-topic posting. If I get moderated down and lose karma, it's your fault...


    --
  • Those are 14" and bigger LCDs. This one is only 10". That's a huge difference -- the 10" has about half of the area.

    For $700, you can already get a nice PC with a decent monitor. Sure, it won't look quite as slick, but it'll be a lot more powerful.

    --

  • I don't understand. You'd be willing to pay $400-600 for a device with no licensing restrictions, but you can't cope with $99 + $21.95 * 3 = $164.85?

    --

  • Not losing money is one thing, actually making money is another.

    --

    • Leave the unit as is except for one thing, add the 2nd USB port that the unit is already set up for. No need to add additional things like PCMCIA; afterall, the iMac has already proven that just USB is sufficient. This would also provide an incentive to better the USB support in Linux.

    • Sell the unit at current price for people who will use their IP service, probably with a 1 year minimum service required.

    • Sell it at the higher price for people who wish to hack it.

    • Offer a ready-made hacker kit(the modified IDE cable, HD bracket, and lasagna fan) for some additional profit.

    • Have a non-hacker referral bonus. Ie: get your grandparents and other relatives online using the i-opener and get a discount on your hackable i-opener.
  • As I said in my post - A touchscreen would be REALLY nice, but can't be done cheaply. I realize this - that's why I said it probably wouldn't happen.
  • So many people here are pining for more features - IrDA, Ethernet, etc, when in reality this is the exact wrong approach to take.

    Let's think about why the IO's became so successful. It was the price! For me, and I'm sure for many other people, we saw the original story on /., thought "Cool; another machine hacked to run Linux" and kind of glossed over it. Later I came back and realized: this thing costs like 100 bucks! And I went out and bought one, and so did everyone else. I/we don't really care about features, or processor speed, or RAM, or hard drive space. For most of the things this thing has been hacked to do, those are worthless. I can still type a paper or browse the web whether it's 100 or 1000 mhz. I've got one on my coffee table as a web brower, and it's slow, but it's the coolness factor that I care about: this little box is browsing the net and leaves a teeny little footprint.

    Adding a bunch of specialized features can only serve to increase the price and thus make it less popular. For every potential user that needs Ethernet, there are ten people who don't and for whom this feature would be a dead weight waste of money. This holds true for most of the proposed changes on the board. Integrate GPS would be great, for the four people in the world who would use it. The changes may be good for me, but they won't for a lot of people.

    I submit that very little should change from the original IO, and anything that does should at least follow these two guidelines:

    1. Whatever peripheral is added, make it based on well documented standards.
    2. Don't alter the form factor of the case. The fact that the IO was cute was a big selling point for a lot of people, no matter how lame that sounds.

    Thus, within the guidelines, I would suggest adding a standard PC Card slot - and that's it- which is of course well supported and an open standard, small (so it doesn't mess with the size/weight), and, needless to say, extremely versatile. Possibly even two (or more) PC cards could be added; one for a hard drive and one for miscellaneous. The IO is certainly thick enough to accomodate a few.

    PC Card slots are cheap ($60 for a PC version) and ubiquitous, and could be made to suit everyone's fancy. I think that any proposed addition to the IO should be looked at in this light, and nixed if it doesn't work.

    --

  • [nothing new here, really?]

    1. Build a light secondary image (say, separate iopener.net) for the hackers and accept them as clients as well. Either sell a secondary set - open with specs for extending [some of] both software and software - with a higher price, or other kind of bundled goodies that fit the needs of this client group. Collect and publish the hacks and use what you want for your future products.

    2. sell them here in Finland, too :)
  • um... i bought a linksys USB for $30. And I run FreeBSD on my IOpener. informative, yeah.
  • Have you seen an I-Opener in the flesh?
    I got the same argument from people when I built a field data collection system on the palm pilot -- not rugged enough, they said. Pay $1500 dollars for a rubberized handheld field computer running DOS or some exotic OS, with a low res two line LCD display, they said.
    Compared to the I-Opener, the Palm Pilot is ruggedized. The I-Opener case is rather cheap and flimsy. (At least the one I saw at Circuit City.) Sure, I've seen ordinary stuff in extraordinary use, and it has worked. But, the I-Opener is less than ordinary in its ruggedness.

    Even so, those uses are significantly different from what the I-Opener seems suited for as it exists today. For ideas that NetPliance could market the (modifiable) I-Opener for right now, in spite of the less-than-rugged casing, take a look at this list [slashdot.org] of ideas.

  • But there are already vendors for each of those markets. Telxon does a lot of that (Go to Home Depot and check out the cool mobile pads they have running around on carts.)

    The other issue is that the I-Opener is nowhere near to being rugged enough for most of what you suggest. Being able to withstand the abuse of bored little kids on field trips or hyper yuppies spilling double-decaf-soy-mocha-lattes is fiendishly expensive.

    There are, however, a lot of applications that it could be used for, as-is except for the addition of an ethernet card and hard drive. (Which I listed in another post.)

  • $50 seems like a lot. A cheap ethernet card shouldn't be worth much more than a cheap modem.

    Sure, I just bought one for $13 in a retail box at ChumpUSA. I'd really prefer to be able to just order an I-Opener with the ethernet card instead of the modem.

    But that's not the point here. I would be willing to pay more for an ethernet card to make it worth NetPliance's while to develop it.

    You're welcome to wait, however, until they've recouped their costs and drop the price.

  • I have several comments:

    Customer Service: I understand that Netpliance "got their model beat" by this hack, but I still feel a good deal of animosity against the company for the way that they handled the entire situation. So, specifically, I'd suggest that they react in a careful, planned, methodical fashion to future issues -- rather than the panicked, haphazard, harsh way that they did. Also, I'd definitely invest in improving customer service in general -- long waits on the phone, non-response to email, customer service computers crashing, etc., don't endear geeks like me to a company, so how will Grandma deal with problems? If Netpliance wants to be the Amazon of internet access, they'd better get Amazon-level service.

    Hardware costs: Okay, so maybe it's worth more than $99. But you'll never sell it to grandma for $400 (at least not if they've got grandchildren like me who'll advise them to buy a real computer). I'd agree with another poster who suggested a multi-tier structure for purchasing: free for 3-year contract, $50 or $100 for 2-year, $200 for 1-year, $350-$400 for no contract. Honestly, if Netpliance had told me, upfront, after the story broke on April 11, that they'd require a contract, but I could buy it outright with no contract for $300, I'd still have bought it with no hesitation. You simply can't buy this kind of system, anywhere else, now (at least not easily and pre-assembled).

    Hardware Improvements: It's looking like I'm going to spend an additional $300 on the box just to add a hard drive, ethernet, and a pair of serial ports (via usb). This is not to mention hardware-level hacks, like a drive LED, external audio ports, and a quiet fan. I'd suggest providing a "broadband" version that includes ethernet instead of a modem (or perhaps have the modem be a module, replaceable by an ethernet module, like on some network switches). I'd also suggest building in audio plugs (line in/out, headphones, microphone) for general use. Serial ports are important to me (IR control of Winamp and a Palm cradle), so adding those makes sense, too. Several people have suggested redesigning the heat sink so the heat flows upwards and out (the current design tends to trap heat) -- an efficient heat sink is always preferable to a noisy fan, but there may not be much you can do. Perhaps use the Transmeta chip instead of Intel clones, for power and heat benefits. Also, maybe consider a larger-screen version (would cost considerably more, unfortunately...)

    Software Changes: I really like the idea of the deadicted QNX software with automated updates, etc. However, I do wonder if having a local filesystem (requiring a hard drive) might be good -- I think of the example of Grandma, receiving pictures of her newest grandchild, not wanting to have to download that from the server every time she looks at it. Better to have that local. But you don't want to go too far towards a full-featured computer (unless you wanna support, say, java-office or something), simply because that's not the point of the box (from Netpliance's point of view--some of us may go closer to that, but not all the way).

    All in all, I'm impressed with the hardware as it is, but think that ethernet is a real requirement, especially as people upgrade to broadband services. A better, bigger screen would be welcome, but may not be cost effective. Offering a no-contract option at 300-400 dollars would be great for people who want to push the envelope with local, "thinner" computing. And, finally, Customer Service is of paramount importance -- companies live or die on how well they treat their customers, and, face it, Netpliance has not treated anyone -- hackers or grandmothers -- well this past month.

    I honestly did not expect Netpliance to last the year, based on the service and bumbling responses we've seen. But attempts like this to get ideas from the internet community gives me new hope. We all need a company like Netpliance, and I wish you the best. Keep your minds open and your hardware/software accessible, and I can promise you the internet community will contribute ideas and fixes back to you.

    Thanks for listening!

  • Your terms of service read, in your license section:

    You agree to return any and all copies of the Service Software and related documentation upon termination.

    Please explain this clause. The only software distributed with the i-opener is integrated into the appliance itself. Are you saying that the end user agrees to return the appliance itself upon contract termination? If not, what does this clause mean and how would a person return the service software without returning the appliance?

    Absent any explanation, this looks like a sneaky way of your claiming continued ownership of the appliance even after proper cancellation of the service contract.
  • I dare say that if the I-Opener were sold as a thin-client solution, our university would buy a pile of these. The university is currently using the latest greatest Wyse terms which connect to a W2k server. It is my understanding that they are paying approx. $1000 each for the terms they have now. (They are used as "nano-stations"...basically just terms where anyone can sit down and quickly check their email or quickly look up a web page between classes.)
    ---
  • What makes you think that $199 is a profitable number to sell this box at? I'd expect it's somewhat higher. Don't just look at what people pay for service, look at what Netpliance gets paid showing those people ads.
  • I got a call from a headhunter last week for a job here in Austin. The description was writing Linux device drivers for a network appliance company. When I pressed the guy he said that it was Netpliance!
  • The $400 MSN rebate "hack" was, IMO, not "ethical" because the deal was presented as quid pro quo

    Did you read the terms of the offer? The offer said that you got a $400 rebate, IF you agreed to a long-term contract, UNLESS you lived in California. Taking the money and canceling the contract abided by the letter and spirit of the law and the offer.
  • Right. The OEM/Developer version should have sockets for often-altered things such as CPU and RAM. Could even sell them unpopulated for OEMs. A hard drive bay is an obvious need.

    The USB port provided a lot of expansion options. Now, should they implement the PCMCIA port, or does USB provide enough options? (Pictures on web sites show what looks like a PCMCIA area without its chips and socket installed) PCMCIA would require case alterations, a difficult activity.

  • Someone mark this up.
    This brings up an interesting point. The assumption so far has been that they were selling the boxes as a loss-leader for their ISP service, what if that was only part of their overall strategy of also "profiling" their customers for direct-marketing or directed advertising? (ala DoubleClick, except without having to bother mapping people to profiles, they already have the mappings)

  • 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.

  • I would like them to make the I-Opener more like an appliance:
    • Toasters don't come with monthly subscriptions.
    • Telephones can use whatever company you select.
    • Televisions and radios can view any channel you can receive.
    • Blenders, food processors, and even coffee makers can be used in ways which the designers never imagined.

    The more versatile an appliance, the better. That's why washing machines have different cycles and dryers have "delicate" mode. That's why ovens have bake and broil elements. That's why microwave ovens and VCRs are programmable. That's why I can choose a different long distance company for my phone.

    Let the customer choose how they want to use it. Sure, give them a rebate or something if they want to sign up with your service but don't take away their option to just buy the hardware and use it as they wish.

    Besides, no one has any reason to believe that the i-Opener subscription service would be any good. How 'bout browser upgrades and plug-ins? Seems kind of limiting to me.

  • That occurred, but that presumes I'll actually *use* the service... (I won't, I've got DSL at home. I also happen to have a pre-mod and agreement $99 box, but if I didn't I'd be tempted to pay $99 + 3 mos.)

  • It's very cool that Netpliance wants to work with us, and if I had extra money, I might buy a $600 device just to affirm that. But realistically, how many of you would really buy one of these at a price allowing them to make a profit?

    If the total price was $500-$600, I wouldn't buy one - I'd buy two. But I see your point - I'm not sure how much of the market there would be for what I want. The only changes that I'd want would be to have a 100baseT controller, and purchase options to increase the base memory and to preload net-bootable OSes on the flash drive rather than the ISP-connecting QNX.
  • This is an excellent point. Maybe they could follow the current trend and sell these puppies for $200 a piece, but then offer a $100 rebate when you sign up for the internet service. I know I was considering buying one for several weeks, but being a poor college student doesn't help much. Now that I'm graduating and will have a job, I'd have $200 or so to put down on something like this.

    Matt
  • Ben: Excellent writeup.

    Re: the Devcorner 100 programme. The interesting thing for me is that I haven't signed up yet. Two reasons:

    1. Lack of trust. This is a company that (although it appears to be backing off from such agressive tactics) still did the following:
      • Billed me for my first month's service, even though the units never phoned home, and I ordered before this policy went into effect. When I ordered on the phone, I had verbal assurances that there would be no charges until the units phoned home.
      • Attempted to persuade me to send the units back when I called to cancel the ISP and ask about the charges. I was told that "the new thing" (the $500 policy) didn't apply to me, but that "we can't do anything" about the other $20-odd unauthorized charge. At this point, seeing as how NPLI was threatening to charge $500 and apply their new TOS retroactively, I figured I'd eat the fraudulent loss and be done with it. I'm still not convinced that three months down the road, I won't see a $500 bill on my card. They've given me verbal assurances before and gone back on them.
      • Used fear tactics - "may be illegal" (likely in reference to FCC regs) to mod the units? Puh-leeze.
      • Used bait-and-switch tactics - deliberately withholding orders, and then attempting to force the March 31st TOS on customers who had ordered before March 31st, but who inquired as to where the fsck their IOs were.
      • Used bait-and-switch tactics II - claimed it was a "new model", when the only changes had been to either clip some pins on a mobo connector, or apply goop to the BIOS ROM. Whether this constitutes a "new model" or not is sufficiently ambiguous that it would probably have had to go to court sooner or later.

      Will I attempt to develop stuff for my IOs? You betcha. But given their actions towards the community, will I contact them until after I've done something cool? No way.

    2. The Devcorner Catch-22:
      • If joining the Devcorner 100 means I get a free IO before I develop something cool, NPLI has the problem of people joining only to get the toy.
      • I might join after I develop something cool, but then, I already own an IO for far below its cost, why try to get another? :-) I'd be happy to give away whatever I developed for it whether or not NPLI gave me a free unit in exchange.
      There's a catch-22 here, in that you either already own one, and can prove your worth on it, and thereby join the programme. Or you don't own one, in which case, how can you get started, however good your idea is, after the first 100 units are given out?

      On to other things - things I'd ask NPLI.

      1. Why didn't you write up the TOS of March 31st and apply them on the 17th? If your goal was to stop the bleeding of red ink, it could have been done just as well then as the 31st.
      2. Why did it take you so long to get on the clue train [cluetrain.org] and back off from your policy of attempting to pressure customers who ordered before the 31st into your new TOS? You'd already seen the effects of people talking amongst themselves; we know the hardware under the hood of that thing better than you did. Did you not think we'd talk amongst ourselves and that word of those pressure tactics would spread equally as fast?
      3. To what extent is the recent change in policy (particularly with regard to orders received before the 31st) the result of threatened legal action, or the result of a fears of a PR backlash among geeks that had started to spill onto CNet and Wired?

        (No, you don't have to - and probably can't - answer that one publicly. It's just something to think about. You'll note that nowhere on that list is "it was the right thing to do". We're not that naive.)

      4. My preceding negative comments aside - it's clear that you're learning. Why you're changing Doing The Right Thing is less important to me than the fact that you ARE Doing The Right Thing.

        Your shareholders' interests are protected in the future by the new TOS, and the interests of the community have been protected by a decision to Do The Right Thing for customers who ordered before the new TOS.

      5. So, my next question: What's next?

        We have lots of questions about this product. You have lots of answers. We know what it can do running our operating system of choice; heck, we even know what it can do running Windows :)

        Can you create a space for us where we can talk and share information with each other and with your techs? It looks like you're interested. We're very interested.

      Finally - four minor bug reports, and some product requests for the future:

      Bugs:

      • Reports of phasing issues with the speakers. If true, the fault might be on the motherboard. Can one of your techs confirm or deny?
      • Reports of BIOS-socket unreliability caused by curing of the epoxy goop. Can one of yours (or Quanta's) failure analysis experts look into it?
      • Hardcoded root passwords appear to be identical from unit to unit. There's a telnetd running on the machine. Please ensure (at a minimum) that root cannot telnet in from the network. It's been long enough that a brute-force attack could be close to breaking the root password. Yes, we know it uses a nonstandard crypt algorithm. Yes, source for it has already been posted.
      • That [user]@netpliance.com password for the initial dialup. It might be wise to find ways of embedding that information somewhere less likely for us to find it. Security through obscurity isn't security.
      Requests:
      • Line-out. Lots of people want MP3 players. Even your intended audience may want headphones, particularly those who are hard of hearing.
      • Broadband. This has already taken care of via the USB jack. I can see you're thinking ahead. Sweet.
      • Dig into the MP3 market. Rather than spending a fortune to populate that CF card slot and limiting yourself to memory-card technologies, consider selling (via the partnership arrangement you already have with the mouse/printer vendors) a USB-based CD-ROM, and including some software to play back MP3s on a CDROM. This could be done in three ways:
      • CDROM hanging out the back of the USB port. COTS hardware, small software cost.
      • Sell a new base for the unit with the CDROM embedded in the base. Sell it as an upgrade kit to turn it into a stereo.
      • Sell an optional IR upgrade kit, as above.
      • For ultimate sex, swap out the "mail" LED for an IR sensor and associated circuitry. Sell a remote control, or include "learning" software to make it work with existing remotes. You now have a device that competes on price with the Brujo or other "stereo component" MP3 players, but yours weighs less, looks better, and has a flat-screen display for funky visualization. There is abso-freakin-lutely NOTHING on the market today that matches this. Do a market study on it - I'll bet you there's a market segment who'd pay $500-800 for one of these without blinking an eye.
  • It is clear that people are willing to pay for a mod-able i-opener. I also suggest that the mod kit should be as BARE as possible. Keep the cost down. plus some minimal changes:

    1. 100% of us have to spend money to buy the modified IDE cable(~20), PS2 expansion(~10), plus a keyboard with ESC keys($10). That means, if you sell them for $40 more with these three things, we will be happy to pay.

    Keep the Sandisk with original sofware on it, so that we can be tingle with them impressed about how easy they are to use and therefore buy them for our moms.

    2. Most of us use it with a ethernet card, we will be happy to buy it through Netpliance rather than, say, buy.com. To save some nuisance of ordering and waiting.I personally think it's the quietest Xterminal I have EVER seen. It will make an office completely quiet. (don't worry about the distro, we'll take care of it.)

    3. Pricing. Industry Analyst estimated that the cost of the machines is $350 a piece. Netpliance have been selling these babies like crazy, the average fixed cost MUST go down, plus the free publicity shaved the advertising cost. I suggest Netpliance sell the Dev Kits @ about cost. Why? Because the people who mod thier i-openers are the same people whose suggestions are highly respected from non-technical people.
    Would i pay for it if it is $450? No. There are too many fun things to play with, I-opners is just one of them. I'd rather go for a IBM thinkpad 240 at $1064 without the outragous shipping rate, e.g. $40 dollars from NetPliance.

    Conclusion: i think it's very reasonable if you sell the original at ~250 shipped. if you put the moded IDE able, PS2 port, standard keyboard and a HD bracket, we will probably pay $300 for it. Shipped. We will take care of the rest from there.

    The free 100 machine idea is apparently not going to work, don't go there.
  • Actually, your state attorney general handles things like this on a daily basis, and may have more time and interest in the case than the FTC. I'm not sure if they'd spend much time on a $19 charge, though, unless you could assert that it was general policy to screw people out of this same money. Depends where you live, too. If you live in a fairly unpopulated state, you'll have a better chance of getting help. If you live somewhere like New York city or California, the attorney general's office is probably too busy with "more important things".
  • Why not leave I-opener alone and support a company that is making a versitile web-pad with built in wireless networking that runs Linux. Check out Qubit [qubit.net]. Their device should be out this summer and cost around $400.00. It also runs BeIA.

  • when I'm sure an ethernet port would cost somewhere in the lines of another
    $75-$100 to install

    Sorry, wrong. A tulip-based ethernet port would add at most $20, and more likely $10, to the BOM (bill of material, the cost of the parts in the unit). Labor costs are nil, since the pick-and-place system that stuffs the rest of the parts would handle the ethernet.
  • Sorry, but your post doesn't hold water: the USB protocol was designed to connect slaves to a master PC, not to network PCs. Connecting a networking device to USB requires all sorts of horrid mutations just to connect to the networking stack. USB also does not do very well from a driver standpoint: most modern NICs use what's called a packet ring structure: the driver sets up a series of buffers in system memory, and hands them over to the NIC. The NIC fills them in as packets arrive, and interrupts the system when the ring is non-empty. This allows the system to service multiple packets with only one interrupt, greatly reducing system overhead. USB chips don't have the packet ring structure, nor are they likely to, since unlike Ethernet USB transfers have no well defined size (most Ethernet transfers are 1500 bytes long, no longer, and not many shorter.)


    Additionally, you may add $20 to the BOM by adding Ethernet, but without it, I have to purchase a $50-$75 Ethernet->USB gateway, and have yet another device to futz with.


    Furthermore, sir, it is not necessary to be rude when posting. While you pretend to have a login, you hide behind the AC tag. If you are too damn "lazy" to log in, then by rights you should be too damn lazy to post.

  • True, however, I feel they are dooming themselves by not having Ethernet: most DSL and Cablemodems use an Ethernet link to the PC. By not having this, they are condemning themselves to modems speeds. This is like driving a moped on the Autobahn.
  • We just sold a load of 'new' terminals for use in a POS system. 80x40, ANSI color, 14 inch, with serial and TwinAx connections. Price tag? $570 each. Sell them for $450, pre-installed with a terminal prog or browser, Ethernet/serial, and you can sure as hell take a chunk out of Olivetti.

    We also sold three whole skids of year old Celerons, for use as X-Terminals at a university. Price tag? $550 each. Sell a model for $450 with ethernet, a *nix and X preinstalled on the flash and you sure as hell will take a chunk out of that market.

    I bought a bunch of cheapo laptops a while back, to be used in much the same way a geek would use the I-Opener. P200MMX Dells, no HD, 16M ram. Price tag? $400 each. Sell them for $300 totally stripped, no processor, no HD/flash, no keyboard, with Ethernet and a real IDE header. Sell the rest of the components marked up, for those of us that can't live without a 'Pizza' key. I would have bought the I-Opener instead!! you'll make a bigger killing off of geekdom if you can lower the price further, say by offering a model without sound, or without a case for those kiosk builders.

  • There are three and a half things I can see adding to the i-Opener
    • Disk drive if you want to run standalone
    • LAN interface if you want to run tethered
    • Wireless LAN for couch/backyard/bathtub use
    • More RAM/flash/etc. if you don't think there's enough
    If you don't mind a cord, USB is fine for LANs. It's annoying for wireless use, since you have this frob hanging off the back -- there are also parallel port wireless 1-2Mbps LANs that have the same problem. I don't know if anybody's done a USB disk except CDROM or floppy; again, these are fine for deskwork and especially for initially firing up the system with your favorite OS (at least until you get it running wireless), but they're made for sitting at a desk. However, there are various PCMCIA-format disks ranging from triple-high clunky to cool and little, which give you standalone capabilities so you can use them unwired and unradioed.

    The general comments on durability come down to this - it's not a laptop made for bashing by airport luggage handlers or being dropped 4 feet onto bare concrete by postal clerks. It's a friendly device for home use by adults and more responsible children, and sitting on the couch with the kids and cats but not with the large bouncy dog, or sticking in the kitchen as a television-substitute. And that's just fine - I'd like a device like that, and I'd prefer it unwired.

  • I can't blame them for 6-8 week backorders at Circuit City - they were trying to sell a couch-potato-user-friendly-cuddly thing, and probably estimated that market tolerably well. They got slashdotted, and it takes longer to recover from that in the physical world than it does on your webserver. At least they were taking backorders rather than simply issuing rainchecks for future merchandise that might never arrive.

    Changing the terms for people who ordered or especially who bought under the original deal is way rude.

    Changing the machine design for people who didn't order the things the first couple of days is IMHO a bad idea, but they've got to salvage their business plan somehow; I wish they'd done it differently, and maybe they still can.

  • You guys are being silly. The percentage of people buying I-Openers to take apart and put Linux on and hack around with must be an incredibly small percentage of the overall number sold. (I'd say at most, in the single-digit percentages.) A majority percent of your recent public image has been concentrated on a very small minority percent of your customer base. The attitude you guys are copping to prevent people from hacking the box (trying to retroactively apply "click-through" agreements, telling people if they don't sign up for a certain number of months of service, they're going to get a big bill on the credit card, etc.) are making you look bad to the large percentage of people who don't have any idea what Linux is or why you should be concerned about people using it on your products.

    Example: I put an order in at Circuit City for an I-Opener that I was going to give to my girlfriend as a gift since all she wants to do is surf and check email. I ordered it just before this whole brouhaha stirred up. It's been over a month now and I still have yet to see it because all of CC's backorders have been held until you guys can do whatever it is you want to do to keep the hackers from fooling around with your box. Previously, not only was I excited about finding such a cool little gizmo for my g-friend, but I was considering ordering one for myself to play around with. At this point, because of the incredibly restrictive conditions of use you guys have been throwing around to try to head off "the Linux hacker threat" not only do I no longer want to buy one, but I'm considering canceling my order for the first one, because I don't want my g-friend to get stuck with a huge bill on her credit card if she decides she doesn't really need the service after a month or so, because I think you guys are being just downright stupid about the whole issue and frankly, because I'm tired of waiting around for the back-order to be filled while you guys "fix the hardware" so someone can't fool around with it.

    You know what the best thing you could have done about this whole fiasco? Ignore it. Sure, you'd see a slight upswing of sales and downswing of service signups initially as a bunch of hackers bought boxes to play around with, but you know what would have happened after that? Business as usual as the novelty wore off. The hacker crowd is short on attention and big on novelty. Honestly, there's not a lot you can do with such a stripped-down box and once most of the options have been tried, a lot of people are going to want to find something new to play with.

    Besides, if your business model is so shaky that a small percentage of sales going to hackers who aren't going to pay for your service is likely to cause it to collapse, you need to rethink what you're doing.

    Trying to court the hacker crowd by making a slightly more expensive box that they can buy outright is a good idea, (and I know at least a couple people who say they would buy one for as much as $400, which I personally think is too much) but unfortunately, you've already left a bad taste in a lot of people's mouths. It's going to be hard to wash that out no matter what you do. (The best thing to do would be to retroactively stop all your silliness, like you tried to retroactively apply this "you must sign up for x months of service" license, but I'm sure at this point, you're seeing how well that works...)

    -=-=-=-=-

  • Market two versions of your product: one is your QNX-based model for folks who want easy 'net access. Second version is an "hackable" model. Make it a bit more expensive, perhaps, but let the hackers be hackers and sell them the machine!. Then let them hack all they want and incorporate the best changes in the next generation.

    I agree. This model should be X based. As someone mentioned before, the market for a cheap, cool-looking remote X terminal is virtually untapped, and I think NetPliance could make a going at this. I'd buy one at its retail price, as long as it was an open system I could configure the way I want it.

  • Netplianc should work with the Linux community to come to a positive outcome that will be benificial for both parties. Maybe they could license the iOpener to a company like Penguin Computing, maybe even at a higher price to make up for the lost ISP revenue. Or maybe open up the ISP to Linux customers. Computers such as the iOpener will become an excellent foundation for Linux-based low-priced terminals
  • Stock market capitalizations are not the only things inflated by the internet boom: windy opinions, too, have soared! That article this whole thread is based on is soooooo looooong and it adds so little new. And Netpliance wants to meet with him?

    mattdm (the slashdotter I'm responding to) hits the nail on the head when he points out it's the fact that it was so darn cheap, that's all. All the other verbiage in this discussion simply keeps redescribing the network computer, a la Larry Elison. Larry spent too much time describing it all on his own: do we need to rehash it more?

    Netpliance used an LCD screen -- that's hot technology that's what made the cheap seem extra cheap -- in a small form factor box. There was nothing "linux" about the hack. On that original hack site, they demoed Windows running also. Netpliance used industry standard architecture... so what? who wouldn't?

    thanks for the sobriety, mattdm.

  • My interest in the IOpener, as it was marketed, went to zero when I realized I couldn't get their service in Canada.

    A fully functional Linux box, however, would work with any of my local ISPs.

    Even at a higher cost, the "hacked" hardware would find a market in places (countries) where they had not been willing (or able) to provide the net service. Too many folks "up north" are net.disabled, often due to hardware cost. A low-cost, highly capable machine (i.e. the IOpener running Linux) would really help ease that.

    KNOCK, KNOCK! It's opportunity!

  • The Iopener hack has shown what has been wanted by members of the community for a long time: a low cost, fanless, computer suitable for use as a terminal or other device, but with a reasonable degree of processing power. The Iopener was the first such device to come along in recent memory, and the first with a decent amount of processing power.

    However, it is quite clear that Netpliance can't make a profit at $99, or even $199 for these machines: they are loss leaders for their internet service. As such, it is perfectly understandable that they make it difficult/impossible to use for other than their intended tasks.

    But the demand for this box suggests that a slight revision would prove useful: A standard IDE conector, the heatsink changed to include a disk mounting bracket, for a $299-$350 price point. Call it the "Opened I".

    The "standard" device shipped as the Iopener could be identical, but without the bracket and without populating (soldering onto the motherboard) the IDE connector, so the $99/199 loss leader device can't be modified without a lot of effort, but the same design can be sold for those who would desire a lightweight full machine, just by populating the connector and adding the mounting bracket.

    Especially when ethernet is added (undoubtedly coming soon, so the Iopener can take advantage of corporate networks, DSL, and cable modems), an "Opened I" variant ($299 diskless, but with IDE connector and network booting capabilities) could easily become a very popular hobbiest and corporate terminal, to be plopped down wherever and whenever a small, cheap, low footprint, low noise machine is needed. I know I would buy one in a hot second.

  • to be versatile enough, a little expansion capability is called for. First, remove the bios restriction on memory size. A PCMCIA slot would make the divice much more amenable to various applications, by allowing one hacker to pop in 100mbit ethernet for 50 bucks, and some other hacker to put in scsi controler. True, there is usb, but the performance isn't there fore high bandwidth peripherals. If you're going to hack it to be a network computer, you're gonna be willing to shell out 50 bucks after buying it to get *fast* ethernet. Me, I'd put in a WaveLAN card. When I pull into my driveway, the I-0pener, mounted on my dashboard, would connect to my home lan and sync up my music and NPR Mp3 files. No wires!
  • Hell, I'd pay $300 for a cheap-ass X term...I think that it'd be worth the money. Just the flatscreen monitor would be pretty fly...it's worth the money to me. But their ISP stuff? Forget it. I already pay about $50/month for my cable modem, why the hell should I pay $25 for freaking dialup?

  • I think that you misunderstand the tooling and inventory costs associated with having multiple models. The unit has a USB port. Plug one in yourself.
    Anomalous: inconsistent with or deviating from what is usual, normal, or expected
  • Why a hard drive? All you need is a kernel in flash with USB ethernet drivers (2.3.99pre) and the Linux Terminal Server Project [ltsp.org] server. Mount your filesystems
    from the server.

    Anomalous: inconsistent with or deviating from what is usual, normal, or expected
  • I have to agree. Ethernet is a must-have for most applications, but there are many ways to get there. Having a class III PCMCIA socket would give you lots of expandability options, and wouldn't impose a cost burden on those people who don't need Ethernet. They wouldn't even necessarily need to provide an actual socket, just a punch-out panel in the case where you can stick your own & the appropriate headers on the motherboard. I like the idea of keeping it as bare-bones as possible: it keeps the cost down, lets you customize it to your particular needs, and (most importantly from Netpliance's standpoint) creates a market for add-ons which they can then fill.

    Want a bare-bones i-opener? that'll be $299 please. Want a PCMCIA socket, HD Mounting Bracket, & IDE Cable too? That'll be another $65. Want us to install it for you? That'll be another $75. Getting the picture yet, Netpliance? You've accidentially discovered a totally untapped market. Don't kill the goose that laid the golden egg.


    "The axiom 'An honest man has nothing to fear from the police'

  • Oh for the love of an escape key !! I'm sure there must be some place we can put an escape key on that keyboard!!

    I do think Netpliance will have something going for them if they will listen to their consumers on a whole and act on it within reasonable means. Especially if they were to market this with college kids.... not necessarily with Linux or BSD but it would make life a litte easier (mind you I'd probably grow sick of seeing them...) Do some programming by the river baby!! =)

    [Then I'd need a car adapter thingy and a *small* wireless keyboard....hmmmmm]
    Nuff Respec'

    DeICQLady
    7D3 CPE
  • It seems like a better reaction to the situation of people hacking their boxes would have been to simply charge more for them (so they maybe made a little money) if you didn't buy the service contract, versus outright banning of hacking, etc.

    After all - this would be just like the 'free cell phone' business model: not buying the service contract means you pay $300 for the phone. I think there are a lot of people that would pay $400-$500 for an iOpener.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday April 11, 2000 @03:17AM (#1140661)
    an i-opener with

    1. No ISP requirement
    2. No modem
    3. 100-mbit ethernet instead of the modem
    4. 1024x768x32bit display
    5. Modifiable (ie, has an IDE port)
    6. Sells for a fair market price, so I'm not screwing i-opener over.

    Make that box, send it to Circuit City at $300 / unit, and you'll be selling them by the thousands
  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday April 11, 2000 @03:24AM (#1140662)
    replacing their current screen with a touchscreen would make this a super remote terminal for kiosks, in-store information queries and so forth. That would make a simple flat box that could be mounted anywhere, liked by cable to a server. Think of an airport lounge lined with rows of chairs with these mounted on arms. People could check on their flights, browse the Internet, read a good book, all from a box that would be small, one-piece and easily encased in vandal-proof housing.

    Of course the other direction is a hard-drived enabled, hack-able PC version priced at a reasonable level.

  • by whoop (194) on Tuesday April 11, 2000 @05:08AM (#1140663) Homepage
    A PCMCIA port would be better than just an ethernet interface. That way you can plug anything from a standard 10bT, to wireless cards like wavelan, to anything else. Before I'd put one of these things in my house, I'd rather it be as wireless as possible. This could be close enough to work as one of those Webpads, since they will never be anywhere but display items at computer shows...
  • by Hrunting (2191) on Tuesday April 11, 2000 @05:26AM (#1140664) Homepage
    Like the good old C=64. Hackable like h*ll. And people love(d) it.\

    People didn't love it. Hackers loved it. There's a big difference. Netpliance isn't marketing this thing to hackers. They're marketing it to a much less technologically adept person than a hacker. The whole point is that it shouldn't just be cheap, but be so easy that a two-year old could do it. Old C64's while great, were not machines from grandma. Any machine is hackable given the right person. While hackable computers are nice, they should not be the business model. Face it, Slashdot may think it's this superimportant group, but in terms of market power, they are small, and Netpliance is not going to make money trying to cater to them.
  • by Genom (3868) on Tuesday April 11, 2000 @04:28AM (#1140665)
    Okay - let's assume that Netpliance decides to stop all of it's EXTREMELY poor treatment of customers (ie: changing terms of sale AFTER the sale, charging customers WITHOUT their consent, bait-and-switch the gooped/maimed version for the ungooped/unmaimed version people THOUGFHT they were buying, etc...)

    There are a few changes that should make an iOpener fairly attractive to the linux/geek/hacker community...

    PRICE - One of the BIG reasons the iOpener became popular in the first place was the dirt-cheap price. Obviously they were being sold at a loss. For a modifiable unit with no service being sold, expect the price to rise a bit - it'd still be REALLY nice to get a barebones unit for $199 or so, as long as there aren't any service contracts, etc...

    ETHERNET - Most geeks/hackers already have an ISP. More commonly, they're paying for broadband access - Cable or (in some lucky areas) DSL. Most already have a computer. We're not going to want to pay ANOTHER ISP bill for slow dialup access. Swap out the modem for an ethernet port, so we can hook them up to the cable/dsl connection we already have.

    IDE - Let's face it, this was the enabler for the hacks. If you want to target people who WOULD HAVE bought the machine to hack it, include a STANDARD IDE interface. Not pinswapped, not clipped -- standard. A HDD mounting bracket would be nice, but isn't really necessary if it'd add to the price.

    NO OS - Since in the process of setting the machine up, we're going to get rid of the OS anyway (to replace it with Be, Linux, 'doze, or whatever), why make us pay for it in the first place? Save those licensing fees for those who can't install their own OS.

    FLASH MEMORY - Okay, this is a bit of a point of contention, I'm sure - but my view is, use cheaper, non-flash memory, and assume that a HDD will be added for storage. Save a bit of money, and lower the cost a little.

    TOUCH SCREEN - This would be REALLY cool, but is probably too expensive to implement while keeping the price down.

    IrDA - Again, REALLY cool, but probably too expensive to implement at the price point we'd want.

    PCMCIA - Since the iOpeners are so small, it'd make sense for them to have a PCMCIA port or two, if only for upgradability/expandability. Not sure how much one or two slots would add to the price, but it'd be a nice addition.

    SPEED - Ramp up the processor speed a bit. I'm not saying to run the thing at 600mhz -- just make the thing a little snappier.

    If they can do most of that for $199, I know I'd buy at least 2.
  • The market is very hungry for decent cheap thin clients. At the same time the cheapest offerings for now are above 1000 which just makes you go and buy a laptop or a PC.

    Yeah, indeed, so many people have concluded to the death of the network computer ... but sheeesh, have you seen the price? Here in France it's close to 10kFF, which translates to $1600, whereas a full blown PC (128MB RAM, 14Gb hard drive, 17" monitor, CD Burner, DVD, ...) costs less! What's the fucking point?

    True Story: in my previous job, they bought me a nice HP X11 terminal, the latest version. ... With a whopping 8 MB of RAM and 1MB video card! 5 year old technology ... list price: $3000!!!!!!! It just wasn't *useable*! I took an old pentium 100 off the scrap pile, put in a slightly better video card (2Mb! Crap but at least usable ...), installed RedHat, and whoooou ... I was flying compared to the beast they had given me. Plus I had a sound card, which HP sold probably for a wonderful price of $500 ... no kidding!!

  • by Thag (8436) on Tuesday April 11, 2000 @04:01AM (#1140667) Homepage
    For the keyboard and mouse, use separate PS2-style sockets, and if necessary put the splitter on the keyboard/mouse.

    I wouldn't use the iOpener with the keyboard/gamepad it comes with. Make it easy to swap these parts out.

    I agree, ethernet is better than a modem.

    Good luck, Netpliance!

    Jon
  • by UncleRoger (9456) on Tuesday April 11, 2000 @06:08AM (#1140668) Homepage
    First, there are a lot of folks who will rip their I-Opener apart and make (as someone suggested) an electronic dashboard, or whatever. That's cool, and I'm sure I could come up with something like that too.

    But NetPliance is probably looking for ways to sell the unmodified I-Opener as is without losing money on it. So here is what I'd like to do with an I-Opener:

    • Replace the sucky Compaq Portable 486c (256 color LCD lunchbox) in the bedroom for nighttime slashdot reading
    • MP3 Player/Recipe computer in the kitchen
    • Bathroom Browsing (in the new ofuro!)
    • Backyard browsing
    • Intelligent Telephone (with the modem)
    • Put one in the garage/workshop for reading woodworking tips/looking at digital plans/looking up auto repair info
    • hook it up as a voicemail system
    • Take 20 of them into my wife's classroom, hook them up to a network with a big fileserver.
    These are all tasks (maybe with the exception of the bathroom idea) that I would be willing to pay $250 for the machine, even if I had to pay an extra $25 for the cable/bracket kit to add the hard drive and $50 for the ethernet card to replace the modem.

    So, what needs to be done:

    • Fix the IDE connector (or sell/include the cable)
    • Change the heatsink to allow for the IDE cable
    • Pre-drill/tap mounting points for the hard drive bracket
    • Sell/include a hard drive bracket
    • Offer an ethernet adapter (a $50 charge to replace the modem, $75 in addition to the modem seems reasonable.)
    Smart things for NetPliance to do:

    • List all the Linux-info on their web page (drivers to use, etc.) with links, or even make them availble for download
    • Set up a forum for discussion of I-Opener mods (Maybe even I-Linux, I-Windows, and I-Other boards)
    • Accept that they screwed up before and not try to charge people after the fact for service
    • Figure out at what price they can make money on the I-Opener as-is (modifiable)
    • Make the case less flimsy
    If they do this stuff, I'll buy several.

  • by TrentC (11023) on Tuesday April 11, 2000 @05:22AM (#1140669) Homepage
    Why doesn't VA Linux or some other hardware company take this on?

    Netpliance has shown that there is a market for cheap-ass, open thin clients. Even though you're going to double your investment adding the mods to it, apparently geeks are willing to shell out $400-$600 to get one of these things up and running.

    So how about a company with more of a proven commitment to Linux and Open Source developing soemthing similar?

    Give me a flat screen, minimal hard drive (or large flash ROM, as someone else pointed out) and an Ethernet adaptor. (Would sound be necessary on something like this? I guess it depends on what you're using it for.) Hell, don't even give me a keyboard or mouse -- I can get cheap ones for about $20.

    Preload Linux or *BSD, or just open the specs and let someone else do it for you.

    How much would something like this cost to make? How much would people be willing to pay?
  • by arivanov (12034) on Tuesday April 11, 2000 @04:32AM (#1140670) Homepage
    You are right about the hack.

    You are wrong about the price. Even at 700 it will still sell, though in small numbers.

    The current price tag on a standalone LCD is between approx 900 (Viewsonic) and 1167$ (IBM). Add the thinnest mainboard possible and you get a price tag higher than the price of a cheap laptop.
  • by orpheus (14534) on Tuesday April 11, 2000 @07:07AM (#1140671)
    A few press releases, and they could raise prices and make themselves more attractive to the intended core audience.

    What would the target audience think when they hear... (just one spin of many)


    "In a world where computer prices are always dropping, computer [geeks] have begged one [city] start-up to quadruple prices, just to get their hands on them. They're called i-Opener, and here's their story... [cut to reporter. interviews include]

    [Obvious techie: They were targetted at a non-technical market, but the design was so cool -- and was expandable. When world got out, the hardware types basically bought every machine on the market in two days. I know *I* want one. ]

    [Lots of sexy promo footage]

    [i-Opener spokesperson: Everyone loves them. We were buried in requests for more. We've decided to make a version of our product available to the technical hobbyist, at a competitive price. It has a few internal hobbyist connectors and the option for a different processor, but it's the same unit.

    "But we started this computer to be an ultra-easy convenient and, okay, stylish way for ordinary people to use the internet, without having to learn all that computer stuff We're loyal to our original customers -- the casual home internet user -- and will continue to sell our units at our original bargain price of $100 to anyone who signs our x-year internet user contract. You'll need that internet connection anyway, so we think that is a fair way to tell if you're the type of home internet user we started this company for.

    "These units are hot, though. We're fighting to keep prices down this summer, but after that... well, with people already snapping them up at four times the price... well, we can only make some many of these things, and this will be a hot Christmas item. If you want some for the grandkids, better get them now]


    Take-home for the layman (target market):

    This hot hot hot gadget is cheap, and the geeks are fighting over them like cabbage patch dolls. But I can get one for just $100.

    They keep saying its easy. It sure looks easy. Maybe I can use one without my neighbors laughing after me -- I mean even hackers use them! It does look kinda cool.

    The company sounds nice, too. They're not milking us. That's unusual. Maybe I should buy their stock

    __________

  • I actually live in Austin and contacted them about this, here's essentially what I said:

    "You're stumbled blindly into an undiscovered market with no competitors--the market for low-cost, low-profile low-end graphical terminals for home networks. Thousands of geeks are buying old PIIs and expensive, large monitors for their home networks but would really like slicker, more integrated boxen like your i-opener. You'll have to modify the pricing and hardware, do a bit of swapping out, but you can still provide a low-cost solution with a low profile for this market and make money head over foot..."

  • by redhog (15207) on Tuesday April 11, 2000 @03:34AM (#1140673) Homepage
    If such a "hacker-version" is to be produced, it would be apreciable if that version had:

    a) A non-twisted IDE-contact (Easy to fix)

    b) An ethernet interface

    The last one would certainly be an incitament for people to by that version, not the current one, if they where to use it with Linux.
    --The knowledge that you are an idiot, is what distinguishes you from one.
  • by Industrial Disease (16177) on Tuesday April 11, 2000 @05:08AM (#1140674) Homepage
    How many of the people who want to hack these terminals are really interested in anything more than the compact flat screen? I might consider buying one of these rigs at a non-loss-leader price, but I'd also be interested in the availability of a cheap flat screen to hook up to my secondary computer instead of having to deal with my KVM switch. I'll admit that I hadn't even thought of the possibility of cheap flat screens before the iOpener hack; are these beasts already on the market? I know that you can get compact system units for a song these days.
    --
  • by Wee (17189) on Tuesday April 11, 2000 @06:23AM (#1140675)
    I'd seriously buy an I-opener for $500 if it had wireless LAN or ethernet capability (actually, a PC Card slot would do nicely since I've got a boatload of various old laptop components sitting around). IMO, a computing device (of any type) is of little value without some sort of network integration. And a modem is not what I mean.

    This sounds really lame, but I want one to act as a "front end" to my home network's streaming MP3 server. Right now I've got a crufty old P100 laptop doing duty, and it can barely run X and XMMS at the same time (I'm serious: I've tried BlackBox and even fvwm). I've got around 20GB of stored music, and I've boxed up my CDs and put them away. I've spent a lot of time on my home network and my music system. So having a front end to that is required -- I can't go back to a regular stereo. When I first saw the I-opener, I thought I'd found that front end.

    What I need is a low cost, fairly small footprint machine that can get on a network. Once I have that, I can get Linux on it somehow. I've considered buying an I-opener and taking the 3 month hit for their subscription (even though I won't use it even once) just to get a machine that I can hack into.

    I know the "moderation window" on this post is closed (which is that first four hour window one has in which to post such that the comment will not be buried in other posts and which can therefore be moderated up or down), but I figured I'd throw my couple cents in anyway. However, if you do read this, tell them to put in a PC Card slot and let us take care of the rest.

    (Hey, I just had a thought: Anyone remember Heathkit? Anyone here remember putting together one of their kits? Well, how about if Netpliance sold "Open Source" kits that included stuff like that HDD mounting plate and such. What they need to do is let people hack into the things and then get all the best hacks incoporated into one -- or more -- kits that people can buy. Sell them the regular I-opener and the kit for whatever extra. Then give them a special warranty and license to hack. It'd be Open Source Hardware, and pretty damn cool. They could even give a couple percent of the proceeds to the guys that first made the hacks that get sold. Since they wouldn't have to assemble anything, there'd be no re-tooling and the only additional SKUs would be for the kits: the BOM for the I-opener itself would stay the same and so would the cost to produce them. And yet everyone would be very happy, because they'd get to play around with a Philips Head and such.)

    -B

  • by dutky (20510) on Tuesday April 11, 2000 @03:27AM (#1140676) Homepage Journal

    My advice to Netpliance is to consider several alternative products based on the iopener hardware but tailored to the Linux/hacker community (and priced at profit making levels):

    1. an enhanced iopener with an ethernet port, unscrambled IDE header, and built-in splitter for the keyboard/mouse. Price this at an modest profit and market two versions for a) home users with DSL or cable modems, and b) Linux hackers who want a nice small network workstation.
    2. a screenless iopener with two ethernet ports and a modem, running a Linux or *BSD firewall configuration, targeted at SOHO users. The market for home security appliances is just starting to open up and Netpliance should get in at the starting bell.
    3. another screenless iopener with one ethernet port, a much faster processor, more memory, and a couple of large harddrives, marketed as an application/file server for the enhanced iopener on a SOHO network.

    Each device shuld be essentially the same hardware as the current iopener with only minor variations in the manufacturing details. The devices each cover distinctly different segments within a single market (SOHO users and Linux/*BSD hackers) and could easly be sold at competitive and profitable prices.

    The fact that Netpliance was able to offer the iopener at all indicates that it is only a matter of time before someone is offering these products to consumers. There is no good reason that Netpliance should be that someone.

  • by ryanr (30917) <ryan@thievco.com> on Tuesday April 11, 2000 @04:42AM (#1140677) Homepage Journal
    Can anyone explain to me, if Netpliance is worried about cost, why they still sell them for $99 and only require 3 months service? That's still only $165, plus shipping if any, right?

    Either they are much cheaper to produce than folks think, or Netpliance just doesn't learn.

    The only other difference (so far) with the new arrangement is that they have apparantly clipped 4 of the HD pins, made a BIOS update (which so far no one has demonstrated is "disabled" in any way) and epoxied the BIOS chip.

    Well... some sort of soldering iron and EEPROM burner is in order.
  • by hey! (33014) on Tuesday April 11, 2000 @07:04AM (#1140678) Homepage Journal
    Sure, but do they do it with commodity hardware.

    I got the same argument from people when I built a field data collection system on the palm pilot -- not rugged enough, they said. Pay $1500 dollars for a rubberized handheld field computer running DOS or some exotic OS, with a low res two line LCD display, they said.

    I expect the price for a PalmOS device to go south of $100 pretty darn soon, now, and it turns out they're plenty rugged enough. It's an easy sell becaue its cheaper and the user experience is better.

    I expect the same to happen with x86 flat panel computers. Sure, if I had to field a solution today I'd probably find some specialized vendor, but eventually the power of commodity hardware to provide a cheaper and better solution will prevail.
  • by jasiu (33881) on Tuesday April 11, 2000 @03:31AM (#1140679)

    1) Deliver the already-promised goods. The original plan said nothing of an ISP contract, or a mysterious 6-8 week Circuit City delay. Some people in my area have postulated that the delay is part of an attempt to get people to call NP about their orders, at which time the new-"upgraded"-model-and-terms-of-service are fed to them. Others think it's merely to give NP time to get all the new gooped-and-maimed IOpeners built and shipped. Either way, NP's not making any friends out there. Give 'em the info straight, guv'nor!

    2) If NP *must* pander to the stockholders, then so be it, but have the honor to deal fairly with the people that bought IOs with the understanding that they can be noodled, without an ISP contract. I'd guess NetPliance will easily recoup their losses on all the media coverage and brand-awareness this...erm...situation will give them. What they need to do is turn the situation around, make it positive PR.

    3) On that note, opening the IO (no pun intended) is a good idea, as are the new pricing options for no-ISP and extra-hackable gadgetry, but it is not enough. The fair treatment of all customers is a big thing with the Geek Community (witness our love of MS business practices), and the perceived shafting of the Mar 16-20th customers will be a burr in NPs saddle until resolved.

    4) The new mods. The Engineer's Motto is: if you can build it, you can deconstruct it. Just as the software industry found with copy protection, any safeguard can be circumvented. How many customers is NP losing while they retool their production lines to goop-n-maim the IOs? Signing an ISP contract at purchase would probably be quite sufficient to legally enforce continued cash inflow (IANAL). What does NP care if their customers tool their IO to run BeOS, so long as NP gets their $$? It's even better if the hackers *don't* dial-in: they don't use NP's ISP bandwidth and phone lines, but NP collects the cash anyway. The only way I could see NP not liking this idea (in my admittedly limited vision) is that they're hoping that ppl will be too lazy/forgetful to cancel if they truly don't want the service.

    Just a few thoughts.

  • by pkj (64294) on Tuesday April 11, 2000 @08:02AM (#1140680)

    I just read on one of the I-Opener mailing list archives that I-Openers are now being shipped with the IDE header pins clipped off the motherboard. Can anyone confirm or deny that this is the current policy?

    This would be the sensible thing for Netpliance to do to prevent the majority of hacks over the short term. It is a relative quick, simple, and effective procedure.

    I put down a deposit at Circuit City on an IOpener as soon as I realized that this was going to be the only way to get one at the $99 price. I've seence been back several times to check on the status, as well as to other Circuit Cities in the Baltimore/metro area. It seems as if there have been no shipments of IOpeners to Curcuit City from Netpliance since news of the hack hit the net. My guess is that there is a team of pinsnippers down in Austin (or wherever the units are built/distributed) opening and altering all units before shipping them out. Either that, or Netpliance just isn't shipping any at all to Circuit City until the fad blows over and people loose interest.

    Has anyone gotten an IOpener from Circuit City in the past few weeks? If you did, what was the staus of your pins?

    -p.

  • by Silicon_Knight (66140) on Tuesday April 11, 2000 @10:52AM (#1140681)
    Offer parts for sale, individually, at a price that will cover their cost, with full specifications.

    I have a SONY laptop, and I wanted to get an extra (kanji) keyboard. No go, since they won't ship parts to anyone BUT a sony authorized refurb center. A part breaks on my laptop? I have to ship it back, I can't install it myself. From a hacking standpoint, even simple customerization of the Sony laptop will require me jumping through lots and lots of hoops.

    OTOH, take a good look at Handspring. I can go to their website, and with a few simple clicks I can order blank springboard module plastics - the same parts used in production springboards. I can get full access to their documentations, wiring schematics of their springboard modules, and software APIs that they have changed in PalmOS to call them. And, guess what, my friend's senior EE project he's building a smartmedia springboard reader. A simple act of selling their hardware and parts to anybody and opening the documentation makes the visor a lot more hackable.

    -=- SiKnight
  • by erlando (88533) on Tuesday April 11, 2000 @02:58AM (#1140682) Homepage
    The possibilities are endless..! The key IMHO is to keep it cheap. The price has to be less than an ordinary PC obviously. An i-Opener with integrated Ethernet- and IDE-interfaces would be nice. And a sound card is a must. Let it be an option whether it's shipped with or without HD. Make it hackable and let people take it from there. Like the good old C=64. Hackable like h*ll. And people love(d) it.
  • by Carnage4Life (106069) on Tuesday April 11, 2000 @03:55AM (#1140683) Homepage Journal
    3: sell the i-opener at $199 to those who don't sign up for service
    that way they will make some money off their products,


    This is the idea I originally had until I remembered that even at $199 the I-opener is a loss leader. The netpliance originally cost $300 as can be seen at the bottom of this article [iminorities.com] and in this article [epinions.com] it states they upped the price to $300 after using $199 as an intro price. The current price of $99 is a promotion and is not a price the company will be able to maintain for the long term.

    Secondly 1 year of service costs $250 ($21.50 * 12) which is about a $100 of profit per year. A more suitable and realistic plan would probably be
    1. 1. sell the I-opener at $149 to those who sign up for at least 2 years of service. (Total customer expenditure - $649)
    1. 2. sell the I-opener at $259 to those who sign up for 1 year of service. (Total customer expenditure - $549)
    1. 3. sell the I-opener at $450 to those who sign up for at least 2 years of service. (Total customer expenditure - $450)
    PS: We all know that being a loss leader never works out, after all look at what happened to CDNow [zdnet.com].

  • The popularity of the hack centers around one figure: the low price.

    My gut tells me this is right on target. All the exciting hacks are in the principle of creation: something from (almost) nothing. Or, something completely different than intended.

    In this case, there is a feeling of mischeviousness. Almost a kind of "ha ha, so there" against an obvious attempt to build in a dependency which didn't naturally exist (i.e., Netpliance ISP was the only way to use the system).

    It's this kind of resourcefulness that encouraged my company to begin using Linux a few years ago: older machines (486 and slower Pentiums) that were in no shape to run NT Server, or Win9x as desktops, could serve as excellent Linux servers for different tasks. The feeling was, "Hey! Let's beat the system." Instead of paying the WinTel monopoly regular tithes (worse, actually) according to a GM-like obsolesence plan (why do you think MSFT started naming OS versions by year? It's like a 1999 Ford Mustang, by now it should feel old--don't you want a 2001 model?).

    I'm all in favor of (ethical) hacks. The $400 MSN rebate "hack" was, IMO, not "ethical" because the deal was presented as quid pro quo, but the I-Opener deal was not originally presented as such; the ISP was an option. Only in retrospect did Netpliance add terms to the deal to enforce their "business model".

    Slashdot reported on another interesting hack in February: the netBSD port to the Workpad z50 [slashdot.org]. I bought one of these beauties (it really is) and have been following the NetBSD and LinuxCE mailing lists as to progress being made. This was an ethical hack: take a discontinued but interesting machine and make it better. WinCE is pretty awful (but usable for text editing, I found) and the ability to add my native enviroment to this little treasure is too nifty! I never would have paid $1000 for the unit. Not when a real laptop is not much more. But, I did buy at under $400. And, by looking on eBay daily, it seems a lot of people are still buying these things (although the price is going up).

  • by yamla (136560) <chris@@@hypocrite...org> on Tuesday April 11, 2000 @02:52AM (#1140685)
    Sell the hardware either with a mandatory service plan (at a loss) or sans service plan for one lump sum payment. Expect to make most of the money selling to newbies so you can keep the price low (while still making a profit) on pure hardware sales.

    Of course, you'd definitely do well to sell mod kits so that customers do not need much technical skill to plug in a hard drive.

    Consider upping the screen resolution. That would be sweet. Definitely an option worth paying money for.

    Definitely allow extensive feedback (preferably in a web-based discussion board) for people running Linux et al on the hardware. It could serve as free advertising and tech support.

    Basically, have the option of selling the hardware for a profit for those people who want to run Linux on them. That's all we ask for.

  • by Anomalous Canard (137695) on Tuesday April 11, 2000 @04:22AM (#1140686)
    the market for a cheap, cool-looking remote X terminal is virtually untapped

    I think you misspelled "nonexistant" as in virtually nonexistant.

    People flocked to the i-opener because it was cheap. At $99 or even $200 it's a bargain. But at a more realistic price of perhaps $600, the market dries up again. You and I both might buy one at that price (I know I want one), but there wouldn't be the huge demand that there is now.

    That said, I think that Netpliance needs to get its contracts in order. If they want/need people to be obligated for some minimum term of service to cover the initial hardware cost, they need to have it specified properly in a real sign-it-and-mean-it contract with appropriate penalties for early cancellation just like a cell phone contract.

    Anomalous: inconsistent with or deviating from what is usual, normal, or expected
  • by robwhit (166118) on Tuesday April 11, 2000 @04:14AM (#1140687)
    It's been said that NetPliance should take the cost of the manufacturing of the hardware and then add a little bit and sell that as a hacker's eterm without the ISP. Well, to save more cost on that, have it completely disassembled and let the hackers/geeks assemble it themselves. Geeks and hackers should know how to put together a little computer, so that's easy money saved on NetPliance's side.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday April 11, 2000 @03:12AM (#1140688)
    1. Give us a "real" price for the original system, a price that assumes it will never earn any revenue for you via a user account.

    2. Consider creating and selling a "pre-hacked" system that includes a hard drive.

    3. "Open" the unit (fully document it) so that external peripherals may more easily be connected and used.

    4. Uh, er, add a PC-Card (PCMCIA) slot? (Mainly to make adding Ethernet easier.)

    Anything more, I feel, will be "guilding the lily", taking the system far from the current design, and thus possibly losing the benefits of using the same production runs for multiple purposes.

    My ideal use for a "hacked" system would be as a convenient Web browsing system to have on an end table, conveniently available to use during TV commercials.

    From the basic system, here are the hacks I'd like to add:

    1. Wireless networking.

    My main system is in another room, connected to a cable modem. It has more horsepower and connectivity than the i-Opener, so I'd like to take advantage of it as easily as possible. While it is no problem running A/C to where I'd put the i-Opener, getting Ethernet there would be a pain.

    2. InfraRed I/O.

    Possibly a full IrDA port, but anything that would allow the iOpener to easily control my TV and VCR.

    3. X-10 Firecracker Interface.

    I've just started automating my home, one lamp and appliance at a time, and having convenient centralized control and access in the living room would be convenient.

    4. Remote Keyboard with Integrated Pointer.

    RF is preferred, but IR will do. I don't need the i-Ioener screen to be in front of me, but the keyboard pretty much has to. (Unless, of course, some future i-Opener were to include a touch screen or a simple pointer device integrated in to the bezel of the display.)

    I could do all of this with a retired laptop (perfectly capable laptops can be had for under $500), but they lack, well, style.

    While I would never buy the i-Opener service for myself, my computer-phobic father is turning 70 this summer, and I intend to give him an i-Opener to finally get him online in the easiest way possible (he already detests the idea of WebTV).

    An excellent product, with the added bonus of being emminently hackable!

    -BobC
    (The guy who never remembers his /. nick or p/w.)
  • by dmuth (14143) <doug,muth+slashdot&gmail,com> on Tuesday April 11, 2000 @04:14AM (#1140689) Homepage Journal
    IANAL, but since they charged you for something you never received, that sounds like a case of fraud. Why not file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission [ftc.gov] and see what happens? I think most businesses will tend to fear the government more than other businesses. :-)
  • by spiney (28277) on Tuesday April 11, 2000 @02:47AM (#1140690) Homepage
    It's really simple actually. Give us a way to pay a fair price for a modifiable unit, with no bundled Internet service, and we'll buy the thing.
  • ... and i-Opener has plenty of possibilities!

    Yes, at work, we are moving from character-based apps. to HTML-based apps. This way, we could use an i-Opener derivative as our platform.

    We are talking on 500 to 1,500 units here. Serious bussiness.

    The requiremets would be an i-Opener with those add-ons:

    -Ethernet Card (10/100)

    -Bootable Hard Disk Drive (1Gb its OK)

    -A way to install any desired OS (Linux/Win-dos would be primary choices) and a browser (Mozilla?)

    -Key mapping instructions to links their "unique" keys to our applications (help, mail, web, home...)

    -Mouse port

    -A range of CPUs to choose from (w/ or w/o MMx, 3D instructions, 200 to ??? MHz

    -Nice price ;)

    I guess all this is pretty easy to bundle to any i-Opener. I mean, Netpliance can easily substitute the modem for a ethernet card, attach a 2.5" HDD to the IDE port and provide a Y-cordline for a regular KB+Mouse... ot their KB (without the pizza key, please!).

    BTW, we are based at good-old Barcelona-Europe (yes, that's why my english looks wierd sometimes ;) and some of our providers can act as importers or European Partners or whatsoever.

    How many corporations wouldn't go for a cheap "i-O-Client"? Not only for HTML but any C/S application will work great with it. You have all the Hospitals, Small bussiness, ... just anyone with a need for a small front-end for their server applications.

    I will appreciate if someone can convince Netpliance that they're in the path of a big-bucks bussiness. We are willing to buy some!

    Thank you in advance,
    Sinner Falcatas

    (remove NOSPAM to email me)
  • Take a clue from the cellular phone industry. The loss-leader hardware with service contract doesn't make you much money unless you actually manage to keep your customers around for a long time, and you can actually WAIT for that money to come in.

    Get real.

    First, only requiring three months of service is asking for trouble. After paying the $65 for three months of service, whether I use it or not, I can take the hardware and run. Netpliance gets $165, I own the hardware free and clear. Now some people have estimated the cost of this box at around $300. I'm not very good at math, but I think that means Netpliance loses $135.

    Second, ISP service costs money, even at wholesale. If you get it for $5, and resell it at $22, that's $17 revenue. To make up the $201 difference between $99 loss-leader price and $300 cost, your customer has to stick around at least 12 months. That's right, a whole year. (I had to get out the calculator for that.) The service contract only requires three months.

    So what should Netpliance do?

    Netpliance should figure out a reasonable markup to the actual manufacturing cost of the i-opener and then sell it at that price in a completely hackable version. Maybe even include one of those laptop IDE cables and a hard drive mount inside the case, so it's all ready to go.

    Netpliance should then sell the same i-opener for $99, with a service contract that requires at least as much service as will generate the required amount of revenue to bring in a similar amount of money. Maybe a little more, since it's spread out over time. A 12-18 month contract seems appropriate.

    Netpliance should then sit back, relax and let us hackers get to what we do best: hacking. Watch the ideas we come up with and our prototypes and maybe even buy some of the ideas, or even hire some of the hackers, for future products.
    ---

  • by daitengu (172781) on Tuesday April 11, 2000 @02:50AM (#1140693) Homepage Journal
    I, being a current employee of Circuit City recieved an E-mail from my company last week.. we currently have 28 Iopeners on Special order, from back in the day when they were hackable. The e-mail stated to me that it will be ANOTHER 6-8 weeks before we will see any more I-openers.

    I know that at least 25 of these 28 machines were to have hard drives hooked up to them, I don't know if Netpliance already has the money from circuit city, or if cc is just holding on to it ... all I know is Netpliance is going to see all their income DROP like a brick through glass when these I-openers do come back into stock.

    In my opinion Netpliance should have done the following:

    1: sell the I-opener at $99 to those who sign up for at least 2 years of service.

    2: sell the i-opener for $149 to those who sign up for 1 year of service

    3: sell the i-opener at $199 to those who don't sign up for service

    that way they will make some money off their products, instead of knowing that they will have to dig themselves out of a BIG BLACK HOLE in the coming 6 months ... put everything back to the way it should be ... heck .. I'd pay $199 for one, it's still better than the old Packard Bell we have sitting on our shelves for $450 ...!
    DaiTengu
    --------
    Damage Inc. BBS

  • by mattdm (1931) on Tuesday April 11, 2000 @02:49AM (#1140694) Homepage
    The popularity of the hack centers around one figure: the low price. Sure, it'd still be a cool hack even if the thing cost $500 -- but it would have only attracted passing geek interest, if that. The exciting thing was, with a little bit of knowledge and skill, you could get something for obviously a lot less than its worth.

    It's very cool that Netpliance wants to work with us, and if I had extra money, I might buy a $600 device just to affirm that. But realistically, how many of you would really buy one of these at a price allowing them to make a profit?

    --

  • by mmmbeer (9963) on Tuesday April 11, 2000 @02:57AM (#1140695) Homepage

    As someone who has had an I-Opener on order since the last slashdot article, I am dissapointed that Netpliance has taken up such a hostile attitude towards the hackers who are essentially developing other Netpliance product lines. I've been watching an I-Opener message board [kenseglerdesigns.com] and there are people doing marvelous things with hackable (and some non-hackable) I-Os. A popular use is to mount the device in a car and use it as a GPS, MP3 player and/or digital dashboard. The "hackers" (term used loosely, no flame por favor) are going out of their way by a long-shot to modify these devices for general use, sometimes costing hundreds of Altarian dollars.

    I believe that if Netpliance offered a slightly more expensive general-use I-Opener they would be astounded at the uses the community will come up with, and the ingenuity of the geeks they're trying so hard to thwart may become a key ally in the company's longevity

    Would that be a C-to-B business model?

    CapnBry
  • by arivanov (12034) on Tuesday April 11, 2000 @03:05AM (#1140696) Homepage
    I will immediately by the set as a cheap X term for my home if:

    1. It has the rumored non-loss-leader price (around 300$).

    2. It has no stupid ISP contracts. Yeah right, what the fsck will this ISP offer me here across the pond.

    3. It is extensible and has full specs and no M$ fee hanging on it.

    4. And if they sell it in Europe of course.

    The market is very hungry for decent cheap thin clients. At the same time the cheapest offerings for now are above 1000 which just makes you go and buy a laptop or a PC.

    So why don't these people get a clue and start selling a separate hacker/thin-client pack.

    Because thin clients have their place more in home than in the office. I do not want to hear any fscking fan and hard disk noise in my room. There is an equipment rack for that purpose...
  • by Samrobb (12731) on Tuesday April 11, 2000 @05:43AM (#1140697) Homepage Journal

    Browsing through the netpliance site, I came across two pieces of information that together make me worry...

    From their development job [netpliance.com] listings:

    Data Mining Developer

    • 4 years UNIX, Oracle experience
    • 2 years data modeling, relational database design, and data mining
    • 4 years programming experience in C, Java, Perl

    From their add-ons FAQ page: [netpliance.com]

    Q: Can I connect external storage devices, such as a ZIP drive, via the USB port?
    A: Not at this time. Everything on your i-opener is backed up on our network. (emphasis added)

    So... someone with an iOpener contract: does Netpliance mention the fact that your data will be backed up on their network, or contain any mention of the fact that Netpliance may be mining either your backed-up data or data recorded about your network usage (browsing, email) habits? It occurs to me that this may be one reason they are so adamant about requiring people to use their ISP service with the iOpener...

  • by hey! (33014) on Tuesday April 11, 2000 @03:21AM (#1140698) Homepage Journal
    What I want in an NC is to have the least clutter. I'd like to be able to just plug it in to power and be networked. I don't care about huge network or CPU performance.

    I'd like to see these things adaptible as NCs with wireless networking (perhaps by having a PC card slot) and a small amount of persistent storage, enough to boot a stripped down Linux or BSD.

    Here are some applications I'd see for such a setup.

    Trade shows information kiosks.

    Interactive supermarket and mall directories.

    Low end word processing and Internet access workstations.

    Interactive museum displays.

    Cybercafe terminals.

    Warehouse and point of sale application terminals.

    I'd like to put one or more of these in every store and restaurant in my nice little suburb's main street, and have a town commerce network with information on stores, sales going on, amenities and services.
  • by agravaine (66629) on Tuesday April 11, 2000 @05:29AM (#1140699)
    It's true that some people saw this as a way to get a $300 PC. ($99 plus hard drive, etc.,) but I think there's another camp which i-opener can reach and make a bit more money. That would be those of us who, like myself, are perfectly willing to spend the money required to get a low-end PC to use as a network terminal,etc in our house, but don't want to stick a big ugly vanilla mini-tower, a 50lb 15" CRT and a rat's nest of cables in every room.

    I'm willing to bet that over 75% of Slashdot readers don't buy Dell, or Compaq, or Gateway - they prefer to go to Fry's, or order online from their favorite distributor, and build the exact configuration they want. It's almost a matter of pride. But some of those same people -- not the starving students, of course :^) -- will turn around and plunk down $2500 for IBM ThinkPad so they can install and run Red Hat on it.

    Why? Because they have no other alternative that meets their requirements (i.e. small, lightweight, portable.) You *can't* build your own laptop from off-the-shelf components.

    This i-opener gives people the opportunity to build *their own* network terminal, with the features they want, with a form-factor that no one else will sell them. *THAT* is the untapped market which i-opener can make money from, if they are smart and nimble enought to take advantage of it.
  • by Noryungi (70322) on Tuesday April 11, 2000 @02:59AM (#1140700) Homepage Journal
    A couple of quick things:

    1. The cat is out of the bag. Forget about putting it back in. This being said, the confluence of Netpliance hardware and Open source opens up many possibilities:

    2. Market two versions of your product: one is your QNX-based model for folks who want easy 'net access. Second version is an "hackable" model. Make it a bit more expensive, perhaps, but let the hackers be hackers and sell them the machine!. Then let them hack all they want and incorporate the best changes in the next generation.

    3. Target other markets: schools, colleges and universities could use cheap machines with standardized, open-source OS installed. Target large corporations, who need a computer on every desk, and sell them these machines. With Linux or one of the BSDs, you can overturn the Microsoft monopoly.

    4. Penguins are your best friends.... Daemons may be a little bit more controversial, but they are also cute. =)

    Welcome to Open Source!

  • by b_pretender (105284) on Tuesday April 11, 2000 @02:55AM (#1140701)
    Do you think that this is open source? I'm interested in your opinions. Here's something that I just sent out...

    Dear Netpliance,

    I think it is great that you are embracing the open source community by
    announcing the Developers Corner. I am glad to see the Developer 100
    Pilot Program announced, but I feel that it doesn't support an "open
    development" process that you describe.

    The open source community works at solving problems by working together,
    collaborating with each other. People can pitch in and work on part of a
    project that interests them and/or is their area of expertise. People
    work together on projects, not because they are given incentive to do so
    (i.e. free I-openers), but because their project interests them.

    The two main problems with the 100 Pilot Program is that...

    1. It provides the wrong incentive for people to contribute to the open
    source movement. I've already talked to many friends who say that they
    will apply to the program just to receive a free I-opener. You can't
    expect many contributions from someone who are in it just for a free
    I-opener.

    Instead you need to target the people who are actually interested in
    developing things. One way to do this would be to devote resources to
    webpages or discussion forums about specific areas of development. By
    doing so, Netpliance would also be able to focus the development that
    was going on. Hosting these webservices would probably be cheaper then
    giving away 100 I-openers, and the developers would do the work of
    creating the sites/BBS's/whatever as they were needed.

    A good example of a company devoting resources to an open-source
    development is Netscape. Go to http://mozilla.org/ and see what they
    have done to rewrite the Netscape source code. Netscape 6.0 is a product
    of the Mozilla project; we will have to see for ourselves if it is a
    good thing or not. (B.T.W. Netscape 6.0 is much smaller then it's past
    versions. I smell an embeddable web browser!)

    2. By limiting the number to 100 people and then making it difficult for
    others to work with their I-openers, you are severly hindering an open
    development process. There are already close to 100 websites on the
    internet about modifying the I-opener and the number of people working
    with these units is much greater.

    I'm sure that you've already recieved over 100 emails from people asking
    to recieve an I-opener to turn it into something or other. Once these
    are given out this will prevent developers with potentially good ideas
    from being able to work on thier ideas.

    As I have already said, a better solution would be to host discussion
    forums and support the development from the inside. This would better
    for Netpliance economically, allow Netpliance to dynamically control
    development, and probably give Netpliance a better relationship with
    it's open source developers.

    Thank You,
    Ben
  • by Tassach (137772) on Tuesday April 11, 2000 @03:58AM (#1140702)
    Keep It Simple, Stupid: the first law of engineering.

    Reading the comments people have posted, a common theme is "Just add [foo] to it". I think this is the wrong approach -- if you want [foo], add it yourself; if the specs are open, someone should be able to figure it out. The most attractive feature of the i-opener is it's price -- start adding more hardware, and you are going to drive the price way up. IMHO, a reasonable price for a hackable i-opener, as-is (or as-was, before March 20th) is around $300-$350. Any significant changes to the design will involve significant re-tooling charges at the factory.

    Now, if these folks are smart, they'll make an i-opener 2, which would have 10baseT ethernet, more expansion options, and a slightly bigger case , maybe with an (empty) 2.5 or 3.5 drive bay. They don't really have to add any new components -- just give us the headers to attach our own, we'll do the rest. They can then take the best ideas and sell them as after-market add-ons, to get some additional revinue out of the beasties. They can also make money by selling an i-opener linux distro, optimized to work on their hardware.

    An expandable i-opener, with ethernet & documented expansion headers, could go for as much as $500, and maybe a little more. Price is a serious issue with this -- overprice it and it will fail; find a good price point and it will become a standard, filling the gap between a full-blown PC and a palmtop. There is definatly a market to be tapped here, guys -- don't blow your chances to dominate a new, untapped market by being stupid and/or geedy.

    (And, btw, reexamine your distribution model -- using only Circuit City is going to hurt you in the long run. Either use the Dell/Gateway model and only sell direct to the consumer, or put the things everywhere.
    "The axiom 'An honest man has nothing to fear from the police'

  • by yubyub (173486) on Tuesday April 11, 2000 @02:49AM (#1140703)
    The only beef I have with them is what they've done with their TOS. Changing the contract _after_ the units have been sold is a bad mistake, IMHO. If they needed to change their agreements, then it should be done professionally, honoring their previous sales. It's bad business to do otherwise.
  • by bananax (173500) on Tuesday April 11, 2000 @03:25AM (#1140704) Homepage
    I hope NetPliance has everything together now. (sob story ahead-> I bought an IOpener on March 12, was billed for $99 plus shipping on March 12, and never plugged it in.

    They added a $19.11 charge to my credit card 2 weeks later, and I went through a truly awful phone call with them whereupon they asserted they could charge me for things based on their company policy.

    (they changed their TOS well after I bought the machine).

    Discover gave me a temporary credit and are currently "investigating" the situation. I imagine it will go like this: "NetPliance, why did you charge our customer for something he did not order?", "Discover, it is our company policy to do so." "NetPliance, please hand over your merchant account."

    So, for me, tell NetPliance the basics of how money works. Remind them, for their own good, that they need some sort of agreement from the customer before executing a transaction. Yea, remind them that they cannot charge me money just because someone at NetPliance assumed they could. etc.

    I fear them.

    The above comments and the URL below are mutually exclusive.

"An open mind has but one disadvantage: it collects dirt." -- a saying at RPI

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