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Desktops

Lindows adopts the network computer

The software maker is promoting a $169 desktop machine that comes sans a hard drive or floppy drive but can access the Web and display information.

Lindows.com is attempting to resurrect the lifeless network computer.

Lindows, which distributes LindowsOS--a consumer-oriented version of the Linux operating system--launched on Tuesday a $169 desktop machine.

The new computer, dubbed the WebStation, is a basic PC sans a hard drive or a floppy drive. Instead, it boots from its CD drive and uses data downloaded from a network or an Internet connection.

Lindows intends WebStation to be used as a bare-bones method for accessing the Web. The company envisions that, instead of spending $400 to buy a basic Windows PC or $300 to get a basic Lindows desktop, some companies or individuals would rather pay less for a WebStation.

Companies could use the WebStation to set up a kiosk that displays information on the Web, or individuals could use it to surf the Web, Lindows said.

The idea of a basic computer that mimics a desktop PC but stores data on a network has been around for some time. Oracle CEO Larry Ellison pushed the idea in the 1990s, and a number of other companies such as Intel, Microsoft, Compaq Computer, Sony, Gateway and 3Com got behind the concept as well. None of the devices got off the ground, however.

After it failed to find an audience in the 1990s, network computers may be catching on again. Hewlett-Packard, for one, is working on a so-called blade PC, which it says will help companies save money by centrally managing PCs. Start-up ClearCube also manufactures a blade PC. HP has said it would offer the blade PC to large companies that are looking to hold down costs.

Tiger Direct and iDot.com will sell the WebStation. The machine will come with software that lets it browse the Web, send and receive Web-based e-mail and play videos. It also includes software that can open and edit Microsoft Office documents, Lindows said in a statement.

The WebStation is based on hardware from Via Technologies. Its base configuration includes an 800MHz Via C3 processor, 256MB of RAM, a CD-ROM, a keyboard and a mouse, according to iDot.com. It also includes two USB (universal serial bus) ports for attaching peripherals such as a floppy drive. Its price does not include a monitor.

Because the WebStation does not come with a hard drive, owners cannot save data locally without equipment such as a USB storage device. Data such as e-mail remains on the network or on the Web.

A consumer could still add a hard drive to the WebStation, if so desired. Adding a 20GB drive at the factory costs $67, according to iDot.com's online configuration tool. If a customer chooses to add the hard drive, along with a floppy drive and a set of basic speakers, the WebStation's price increases to $253, according to iDot.com's site.

Lindows' WebStation is the latest of a series of inexpensive PCs created by the company and manufactured and sold by third parties.

Lindows also has a relationship with Wal-Mart and PC builder Microtel, both of which sell Lindows desktops for less than $300. The companies sold PCs starting at as low as $199 last summer. Right now, the cheapest model listed on Wal-Mart's Web site sells for $288.