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"The Year of Web Appliances"

Intel, the world's largest chip supplier, is set to release the first of its new line of Internet appliance products in the summer of 2000. These appliances will combine Internet access with telephony features such as enhanced email and messaging services. The appliances, which don't have the capabilities of a full desktop PCs, are being designed for easy access to customers that do not want a regular PC. Intel doesn't plan to sell the devices under its own name and is planning on resellers such as Internet Service Providers to market the devices.

The machines, about the size of a standard computer monitor, will provide easier Net access than current PCs. Intel will be showing these concepts, but not the actual product, during the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.

Several newspapers have reported the products, which will run on Intel's low end Celeron processors, will not utilize the Windows operating system but will instead operate with the rival Linux OS. The move signifies a break from Intel's long-standing relationship with Microsoft. Not only will the machine run on Linux, the web browser that will be shipped with it will be Netscape Communication's Mozilla engine instead of a Microsoft Internet Explorer based browser.

Intel has currently lined up several customers for the Web appliances, including NEC Corp.'s Biglobe in Japan, France's Laser-Galeries Lafayette Group, and U.S. West.

Not to be outdone, Microsoft is previewing the new MSN™ Web Companion and has demonstrated how consumers would be able to use the new device for Web-based services, browsing and e-mail. It is based upon the Windows CE Operating System (the devices will be tagged with a "Powered by Windows" emblem) and is intended for people who want a simple way to get on the Internet but don't have a need for PC-based applications. The device will go to beta by the end of the year and will be available in desktop and laptop formats.

Microsoft also plans to extend the reach of their MSN.COM site to a broad range of non-PC devices, including PDA's (personal digital assistanst), cellular phones and the television. As the first leading online service provider to offer wireless notifications, Microsoft will extend MSN.COM Mobile Service by working with carriers to allow more users of those types of non-PC devices to send instant messages and view Web content such as sports scores, news and weather information. The next version of MSN.COM Mobile Service is scheduled to provide complete integration with MSN.COM portal services, offering users more freedom in connecting to information and services on the Web.

Microsoft and Intel are not the only companies who are developing web appliances. Whirlpool displayed a prototype of an Internet-connected refrigerator at CES. The refrigerator included a handheld device with a docking station on the door which will allow users to remotely monitor and control the appliances and to access Internet-based products and services for the home. The appliances will use Java and Jini technology from Sun Microsystems along with technology from Cisco Systems.

  - by Clayton Crooks

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