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Commentary: Net appliances still in PCs' shadow

Intel's Dot.Station is only the latest of several initiatives by major vendors to launch Internet appliances, but they may not enjoy the popularity of PCs.

By Peter Lowber , Gartner Analyst

Intel's Dot.Station is only the latest of several initiatives by major vendors to launch Internet appliances, or very thin clients that provide Web surfing, email and a few simple functions.

Vendors seek to make Internet access as simple and inexpensive as possible to attract the largest number of consumers--mainly those with lower incomes, who have not yet tapped the Internet.

Gartner does not believe that Internet appliances such as the Dot.Station will find a large audience. Several challenges stand in the way.

First, although they

See news story:
Intel's Dot.Station joins crowded device market
are smaller than a full-size PC, machines such as this still represent a large form factor and are not easily portable. Devices the size of Palm Pilots or Web-enabled phones give consumers more mobility and take up less space (although one can only view a small amount of content on these devices' small screens).

Second, Internet appliances will be made available for little or no cost primarily through Internet service providers (ISPs). Nevertheless, these appliances will not cost significantly less than low-end PCs. ISPs have also made free or near-free PCs available to consumers for more than a year, and the price of PCs will continue to fall.

Third and most significantly, Internet appliances will not do everything that consumers will expect of them. Microsoft's WebTV and America Online's AOL TV will give consumers TV and Internet access if they want it. America Online has also built a large customer base because it offers a wide number of popular features, especially chat and instant messaging that Internet appliances probably will not be able to support.

In the future, the various devices in the household will be networked, but with a single port that connects to the Net, the devices won't be able to take advantage of new networking technologies.

In addition, Web-based office applications with a range of functions (e.g., word processing, spreadsheets, presentation and groupware software) are not yet available for Internet appliances. Thus, students will not be able to write term papers for school on Internet appliances, nor will parents be able to track household finances on spreadsheet programs.

Dot.Station will use Linux from Red Hat Software, yet Linux has a very small presence on the desktop. People overwhelmingly use Microsoft Office applications, and often information on the Web comes in this form. Web surfers looking on corporate Web sites for financial reporting information, for example, may need Microsoft Word or Excel to get at it--or perhaps Adobe Systems' Acrobat Reader.

PCs have none of these drawbacks, and Gartner believes that consumers will continue to prefer them.

(For related information on thin clients and related terminology, see TechRepublic.com--free registration required.)

Entire contents, Copyright © 2000 Gartner Group, Inc. All rights reserved. The information contained herein represents Gartner's initial commentary and analysis and has been obtained from sources believed to be reliable. Positions taken are subject to change as more information becomes available and further analysis is undertaken. Gartner disclaims all warranties as to the accuracy, completeness or adequacy of the information. Gartner shall have no liability for errors, omissions or inadequacies in the information contained herein or for interpretations thereof.