- The Washington Times - Monday, June 19, 2000

More than half of adult Americans are going on line for shopping, research and entertainment, and two companies out West have interesting strategies for getting the rest onto the Internet.

Netpliance of Austin, Texas, (www.netpliance.com) and PeoplePC of San Francisco (www.peoplepc.com) have arrived at different solutions to capture the estimated 47 percent of the U.S. adult population that still has not gone on line.

PeoplePC goes beyond bringing people on line; it also serves to link buyers and sellers of computer equipment, and to provide access to the Internet and goods and services found on the World Wide Web.

"In addition to cost, the most common barrier to purchasing a computer system, whether it is a corporate executive or laborer, is the lack of time necessary to research and understand what the best solution to their home computer and Internet needs is," said Mark Barden, vice president, marketing, for PeoplePC.

"With PeoplePC we are offering a computing/Internet solution and purchase options that we hope most persons and families will be able to afford."

After undergoing a credit check and signing on with PeoplePC, members receive a brand-name computer, either a Toshiba, Compaq or Hewlett Packard.

The 400 MHz computer includes 64 MB RAM, a 6 GB hard drive, 40x CD ROM drive, 56K modem, 15" color monitor and floppy diskette drive. Members get unlimited Internet access, round-the-clock technical support, 10 Mbytes of Internet space to create a Web site and on-site technical service for $24.95 per month with a three-year agreement

At the end of that term, the computer belongs to the member or they can choose to return the computer and get a new one if they continue with PeoplePC.

The combined membership is called the PeoplePC Buyers Club and its strength in numbers allows PeoplePC to negotiate savings for members from merchants who are able to reduce the cost of new customer acquisitions.

"Acquiring merchants to highlight on our home page has been simple because we only charge the merchant when one of our members actually clicks through to their Web site and fulfills their requirements, such as purchase an item," said Mr. Barden. "This greatly reduces the merchants' cost of customer acquisition which has been reported as high as $300 per person for E-Trade."

Working through PeoplePC, three companies recently announced that they would subsidize the cost of wiring employees from their homes, providing a new kind of employee incentive.

Delta Airlines said that their system would include access to the Internet and Delta's company intranet, DeltaNet, helping to create a more informed, wired work force for 75,000 employees.

The National Trade Union Corp. of Singapore is making a similar system available to 300,000 of its workers, and the Ford Motor Company is providing 380,000 employees a computer package including a printer for a $5 monthly co-payment.


Netpliance, meanwhile, has come up with Netpliance I-Opener, a plug and play Internet device that brings users directly to a branded shopping and information portal through instant Web access.

The device plugs into a phone line and power source and the user is faced with only a standard keyboard and a 10-inch flat panel display that can display up to 65,536 colors. Taking up no more room than a notebook, it can easily be stored on an office desk or kitchen counter top.

The company, which began shipping I-Openers in November of 1999, already has over than 20,000 users.

"I-Opener is simple, relevant and convenient for first time Internet users," said Munira Fareed, spokesperson for Netpliance. "It also presents a solution for Internet users who are looking for a connection away from their desktop computer or a second Internet connection."

The company makes money by through the cost of the I-Opener unit ($99), peripherals such as a printer ($199) and electronic commerce arrangements with merchants that locate in the I-Opener virtual mall. Monthly service costs range from $4.95 to $24.95, which includes unlimited Internet access for most of the country, excluding some rural areas.

When powering up I-Opener, users are greeted with a simple-to-navigate screen providing shopping links, weather forecasts, finance information, entertainment and sports news and reports and national and international news. Additional icons allow users to access the World Wide Web and personal e-mail account.

In addition to the on-screen navigation using a pointer driven by mouse or touch-pad, users can also choose to access the virtual mall through a series of keys that include "Pizza" taking an I-Opener to Papa John's where one could order a double cheese and pepperoni with a credit card.

What makes the I-Opener uniquely attractive to some users is its lack of complications and compact design. The appliance uses a 200 MHz microprocessor with 32 MB Ram and 16 MB of Flash. However, the unit only allows 4MB of storage for e-mail or draft correspondence.

For all its attractive simplicity, the I-Opener has two major drawbacks.

First, the limited amount of space for storage of e-mails also means that users will be unable to download software, like Adobe Acrobat or RealPlayer, that so many Web sites use. I-Opener does state that they plan to improve the system allowing users to view Web sites that use audio and video elements.

Also, Web sites tend to design based on Netscape Navigator and Internet Explorer technologies. I-Opener's proprietary browser does not give viewers a total experience of exploring the World Wide Web.

• Have an interesting site? Write to Joseph Szadkowski at the Business Browser, The Washington Times, 3600 New York Ave. NE, Washington, D.C. 20002; call 202/636-3016; or send e-mail ([email protected]).

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