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Old chip, obscure OS power latest appliance contender

Joining the race to offer easy Internet access and basic computing functions, unveils its Global PC, a computer running on a 486 processor and a little-known operating system called GEOS.

    There's a new contestant in the race to deliver cheap and easy Internet access and basic computing functions: Global PC, from start-up

    MyTurn today unveiled the Global PC, a computer running on an ancient processor and a little-known operating system. The system starts at $299 without a monitor and will be available at stores such as Wal-Mart in the next couple of weeks, the company said today.

    MyTurn, which also markets an online service, joins a crowded field of competitors. Almost every player in the PC industry--including hardware manufacturers, communications and networking companies, and software and online service companies such as Microsoft and America Online--is vying to put together a winning combination of simplicity and easy Internet connectivity.

    The prize is the roughly 50 percent of the United States population without a home PC or Internet access.

    Internet appliance makers, which have promoted their array of Web tablets, countertop appliances and TV set-top boxes as easier to use and cheaper than a traditional PC, have yet to find significant success. Microsoft's WebTV has stagnated in its quest to add members, and start-up Netpliance is scrambling to find an audience for its I-opener device, especially after marking it up from $99 to $399.

    Cost is one part of the problem, according to Michael Slater, president of PhotoTablet and a noted industry analyst. "This is one of the things that is a huge barrier," he said. "The real cost here is in the disks and screens."

    Incompatibility with software, printers and other peripherals also hurts TV set-tops' attractiveness. Ungainly as they might be, PCs nonetheless work with most of the items you can buy in a computer store. The Netpliance I-opener, by contrast, works with "the grand total of one printer" Slater noted.

    Alameda, Calif.-based MyTurn says it will avoid the missteps of Microsoft, Dell Computer, Netpliance and others by eschewing Microsoft and Intel's so-called Windows architecture, which it blames for the majority of bugs and problems most PC users face.

    Instead, the company is using the GEOS operating system, which it says is more "consumer friendly" than Windows. Instead of a Pentium III or Celeron processor from Intel, the company is using a 486 chip--the precursor to the original Pentium processor.

    "Since Windows is in over 90 percent of the computers in the world, we know that some of the problems that people have with their computers are Windows-based," said Michael Fuchs, MyTurn's interim CEO and formerly HBO's chairman.

    Because the GEOS requires much less memory and processing power than does Windows, the Global PC does not require the hefty hardware that powers most PCs and even Internet appliances today, he asserted. Many analysts have noted that the majority of home users will not come close to using most of the power offered by today's 1-GHz processors.

    "Our operating system is simple and the software is elegant, so we don't need enormous memory or microprocessing power," Fuchs said.

    The combination of the non-Wintel architecture and low prices will help MyTurn compete with companies like Emachines, which catapulted into the list of top 10 PC makers in its first year of existence with its sub-$400 Windows-based systems.

    "We have the inexpensiveness and ease of use of a Web appliance, and yet we have the full functionality of a PC," Fuchs said, conceding that the first round of systems will not be suitable to high-end multimedia streaming from the Web or other digital imaging applications. MyTurn may offer higher-end systems in the future, he said.

    Fuchs sits on MyTurn's board and will eventually turn over the company to someone with more technology experience, he said. In the meantime, he says his experience with HBO and taking viewers away from traditional network broadcasters will benefit MyTurn in its quest to steal customers from Microsoft and the PC industry.

    "This is a major marketing task, which I enjoy," he said.

    The company will stay away from computer superstores and focus on nabbing non-PC users at discount retailers, he said. The first retailer to sign on to this strategy is Wal-Mart, which will begin selling the Global PC in Indianapolis, Minneapolis and Tampa, Fla., in the next few weeks.

    "We don't want to be in CompUSA, because our customers don't go into CompUSA," Fuchs said. Another Internet appliance maker, Epods, is taking a similar strategy.