Austin, Texas-based Netpliance already faces a crowded Internet appliance market, but through its latest instant messaging system, it hopes to be on top.
"We're not trying to gain a foothold, but we're trying to maintain an established lead," said Jon Osmundsen, corporate communications director for Netpliance.
Netpliance offers a desktop unit, called I-opener, which lacks a hard drive but includes a 10-inch flat-panel display, mouse and keyboard. The Netpliance 2001 membership kit costs $299 with a $21.95 monthly Internet service fee.
The technology behind Jabber is based on XML, and people who use it have the ability to interact with different instant messaging systems, whether it's I-opener's or America Online's system. Netpliance said it has licensed Jabber's software and built its own system, called iChime Direct Messaging, which is designed to simplify use of the application.
Jon Werner, director of strategic technologies for Netpliance, said the company chose Jabber not so much for its interoperability feature but for its involvement with open-source roots.
"Jabber has developed a technology that can bridge the gap to other instant messaging applications," Werner said. "We're trying to become involved in a common standard, so we want to leverage (Jabber's) expertise and experience in creating a standard."
Analysts said Netpliance's new service doesn't set it apart from its competitors and is basically catching up with them.
"It (the instant messaging system) doesn't quite elevate them," said Richard Doherty, director of research for the Envisioneering Group. "It's a good direction but a little late coming in."
Doherty added, "Netpliance is coming up from behind with confusing messages to consumers and retailers." He said that Netpliance has been changing its pricing structure and that its product or service is not clear enough.
"Netpliance is suffering from a bit of an identity crisis," Doherty said. "Netpliance is still not a term or product or service...that's on everybody's Christmas list."