I-Opener no longer a $99 Linux PC

Netpliance moves to make it impossible to add a hard drive to its Internet appliance -- to some customers' dismay

Buyers of the I-Opener Internet appliance, hoping to get what amounts to a full-fledged personal computer for just $99 ($£61) and some hardware tweaking, will soon learn otherwise.

Netpliance has delayed shipping some orders placed before March 20 to alert buyers that the product has been changed so that it can no longer run Linux or other operating systems.

I-Opener garnered a lot of attention in March after Las Vegas engineer Ken Segler publicised a way to add a hard drive to his I-opener, essentially turning it into a $99 PC. The hard drive allowed him to install Linux or other operating systems, as well as applications, on the device.

That was an interesting proposition for some customers, but not so good for Netpliance, which offers cheap hardware prices by making it up in Internet access fees. Buyers were only obligated to pay for three months of Net access.

The company has modified the device's motherboard so that a hard drive cannot be added.

"We thought it was the wrong thing to do to ship (customers) a product they did not order," said Munira Fareed, director of marketing at Netpliance.

Fareed said Netpliance is contacting customers by phone in order to make them aware of the change. The I-opener was designed to run its own custom operating system and Web interface.

At least one customer who contacted ZDNet News has already cancelled his order, placed March 17.

Orders from after March 20 appear to have been filled. Customers can call the company to find the status of their order, Fareed said.

Developer 100 Pilot Program

While it moved to eliminate the ability to modify its device, Netpliance has created a developer program for I-opener. The program, called Developer 100 Pilot Program, will provide 100 registered software developers with I-openers that can be modified.

"We hope one of the developers will create a program a Mom can use. We'll add it to our service," Fareed said.

What do you think? Tell the Mailroom. And read what others have said.