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PC World

Linux-based Net appliance targets home

November 12, 1999
Web posted at: 9:37 a.m. EST (1437 GMT)

by David Essex linux graphic

(IDG) -- EBIZ Enterprises introduces a $349 Linux-based personal Internet appliance on Monday.

The launch of EBIZ's second generation PIA comes on the heels of superficially similar announcements from some better-known "Wintel" dealers. Compaq, Hewlett-Packard, and IBM are all rolling out stripped-down, low-maintenance devices that provide cheap and easy Internet access, as well as the ability to perform basic tasks like e-mail and word processing. EBIZ, however, has a different customer, the home user, in mind.

With its appliance-like design, faster Celeron, and additional peripherals, the second generation PIA differs from the original PIA, a midtower-style system announced late last summer, according to EBIZ.

The tale of the gratuitous GUI

The PIA, expected to ship this month, is a "closed" box, roughly 11 inches square with a curved top. It contains a 366-MHz Intel Celeron processor, 32MB of memory, 2GB hard drive, 10/100 Ethernet adapter, 56K modem, and standard PC ports, according to a company spokesperson.

The PIA Plus, which will be available for $399, adds a 40X CD-ROM and a floppy drive. The PIA's price does not include a monitor. Both models run Linux, and Corel's WordPerfect 8 for Linux Personal Edition will come bundled with the PIA.

The PIAs can be used with any Internet service provider, but EBIZ offers a $100 rebate when you sign up for six months (at $16.95 a month) with its ISP.

What's an appliance, anyway?

While the term Internet appliance has acquired several meanings, the notion common to all of them is affordable, plug-and-play Internet access. Corporate Web servers, wireless networked handheld PCs, and set-top boxes have all been called Internet appliances.

The PIA is yet another type, closer in form and function to a full-blown PC. Its closest competitor is Microworkz's $299.95 iToaster, says Jeffrey Rassas, founder and chief executive of EBIZ, which sells Linux products under the name The iToaster runs a combination of Linux and BeOS operating systems and a suite of office applications, and also offers ISP tie-in deals.

The PIA and iToaster compete with so-called free and sub-$500 PCs.

Bringing it all back home?

Mark Snowden, a senior analyst at Gartner Group, is skeptical about appliances that target consumers but retain PC-like features. "It begs the question, 'Why buy these things when PCs aren't much more expensive?'" Snowden says. "They're aiming for a really low end of the market that doesn't exist."

Several other major vendors this week unveiled PC-like appliances targeted at corporations. Compaq's $499 iPaq, expected in January, will run Microsoft's new Windows 2000 operating system. Hewlett-Packard will offer a similarly stripped-down system, the e-PC, and IBM plans to sell a line of corporate appliances called EON sometime next year.

Snowden says these appliances have a stronger rationale than consumer devices like PIA and iToaster because corporations place a high value on cutting maintenance costs.

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