|MSN TV (previously known as WebTV) is a good example of what Microsoft does when they see a threat to Windows: they buy it. WebTV was a way to turn your TV into a web browser and e-mail program, so you wouldn't need a regular computer (running Microsoft Windows). Now they own it. Not surprisingly, they've made sure that the service hasn't gotten good enough to really challenge Windows. And since the 8000-pound gorilla of Microsoft has staked its claim to the "internet appliance" market, it's been very difficult for new players to get in on it. But there are still some alternatives:|
|The Icebox is designed for the kitchen. It includes Web and e-mail (through any standard dial-up service), a color cable-ready TV, a CD/DVD player, and can serve as a baby or video security monitor. It features a flat-screen, a wireless, washable keyboard and palm-sized remote, attaches to the underside of a kitchen cabinet, and can also use a broadband internet connection. It uses a version of Microsoft's WindowsCE.net software, so if you already know you don't like Windows, you might want to skip this option.|
|The Earthlink MailStation provides standard e-mail using a small counter-top or laptop keyboard with a built-in, adjustable LCD panel. The basic unit costs $100 (look for rebates on the less stylish original version), and the basic service is $10/month. The high-end models offer more services, support for attached photos, more storage, and even cordless capability. You can hook up any of a variety of printers. They're a good option for someone who'd be put off by the cost or learning curve of a computer but still wants e-mail. The service from Earthlink (a major internet service company) is available nationwide, so you can even take your MailStation with you on the road.|
|Landel calls the MailBug "e-mail without a computer" (which is technically inaccurate, but close enough to being true). It's actually a very simple-to-use computer, consisting of a keyboard with small backlit text display attached, with which you can send and receive e-mail just by hooking the unit up to a phone line. It only costs $100 for the device, and you have to subscribe to the $10/month e-mail service from Landel, but that's much cheaper than a "real" computer and a full-service internet account.|
|The VTech Companion is another inexpensive option. They use the same "e-mail without a computer" sales pitch as the MailBug, and offer a very similar product and service.|
|One of the reasons the "internet appliance" market doesn't have many players is the fact that "real computers" are inexpensive enough - and so much more flexible - that many people buy one of them instead. There are many different kinds of computers available, but the one that comes closest to matching the ease of use of an appliance is the Apple iMac, its less expensive sibling the eMac, or its portable cousin the iBook. $800 and up is still a lot of money, but if you can afford it, it's worth it.|
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