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The free iMac gets partners

The free iMac offer is being propelled by agreements with EarthLink and CyberCash as the company prepares to present its business strategy.

The free iMac offer is being propelled by agreements with EarthLink and CyberCash as the company prepares to present its business strategy today.

As reported earlier, start-up FreeMac.com, is unveiling a plan to give away 1 million Apple iMac computers complete with Internet service from EarthLink to qualified applicants.

The start-up is scheduled to give a presentation at a BancBoston Robertson Stephens conference in San Francisco today. Like Free-PC, FreeMac.com will give the iMacs to individuals who meet certain demographic criteria.

In exchange, these iMac users will become members of a "community." FreeMac.com will profit from advertisers and e-commerce providers.

EarthLink said today that it will become the FreeMac.com Internet service provider for customers who agree to pay for three years of EarthLink Sprint Internet access service and qualify for a FreeMac Visa card.

FreeMac.com's pool of customers is estimated to reach as many as 1 million people.

"Leveraging EarthLink's existing relationship with Apple Computer, FreeMac.com will give qualified customers a brand new Apple iMac computer and set them up with a full-featured EarthLink Sprint Internet access account," the company said today.

EarthLink is currently the default ISP on the Internet Setup Wizard of all iMacs.

"We've teamed with FreeMac.com to build on our existing iMac presence, offering potential Net surfers an attractive Free PC alternative," Bob Johnson, a vice president at EarthLink, said in a statement. "Instead of the usual no-name hardware and no-frills Internet service, we'll be offering consumers two strong and trustworthy brands."

FreeMac.com's chief executive and founder Jonathan Strum said EarthLink was chosen because of its track record. "In keeping with our business model, we had to make sure the ISP we chose is an established brand, has an excellent reliability record, offers top-notch customer service, and goes above and beyond to provide Internet tools and education to its members. We got all that and more with EarthLink," said Strum.

All FreeMac community members will pay EarthLink's standard $19.95 per month, unlimited access fee and receive a full-featured EarthLink Sprint Internet access account.

CyberCash, an e-commerce technologies and services company, today announced that it has partnered with FreeMac.com to make the InstaBuy shopping service available to more than one million computer users who will receive the Apple iMac computer.

"We feel strongly that InstaBuy will make shopping online easier for our community members, as well as increase the number of sales at the FreeMac.com store and at our online merchant sites," said FreeMac.com's Strum in a statement.

The FreeMac.com community will be able to build free Web sites, create their own customized start pages, take part in e-commerce and experience the full range of multimedia capabilities offered by the iMac.

FreeMac community members register for their "wallets" as part of the general FreeMac.com registration process. Wallets are activated by establishing a private password and users can use their wallets at the FreeMac store and at other InstaBuy merchants.

Industry observers have been expecting Apple to begin offering some kind of Internet access, despite Apple interim CEO Steve Jobs's somewhat dismissive comments at a recent trade show. Nearly all of the major PC companies have either started selling their own ISP service or offering free service for limited periods of time. The iMac is also dropping in price, making subsidizing the cost of the hardware in an ISP contract easier to do.

Nonetheless, FreeMac.com will likely face intense scrutiny. In recent weeks, some of the PC companies that offer "free" or heavily discounted systems have floundered. Customers have complained about late orders and poor customer service, among other problems.

The start-up company is operating with Apple's knowledge. Speaking on Apple's behalf, a spokeswoman from outside the company said that Apple is familiar with FreeMac.com and its business plans. She added that the new company won't likely be classified as a standard Apple dealer, because it is giving the machines away, rather than selling them.

FreeMac.com won't distribute 1 million iMacs right away. That is the eventual goal.