Internet Toaster? Readers react
SunWorld Online readers comment on the proposed `Internet terminal'
We gave SunWorld Online readers the chance to comment in essay form on the notion of the Internet Appliance, and many seized that opportunity. Herewith, we share our readers thoughts received from midday January 17 through January 30, 1996. (Comments from january 1 to the 17th are available in an earlier version of this story.) -- Editors
The comments are reproduced as received; only some minor spelling and punctuation errors have been corrected. You'll notice that some readers are cut off in mid-sentence; apparently the comments field in our server wasn't expecting such extensive commentary. Our apologies.
For people who just want to do Web browsing, email and etc., the concept of
an Internet terminal makes a lot of sense. The main market for this device
will be people who would not otherwise buy a computer for the location
they use it at. We're talking company phone receptionists and mainly the
home market here. The ``drivers'' for sales will be 1) ease of use and 2)
content. These folks will not care very much about technical
specifications. They want it to be cheap, not be obsolete every few years,
work, and work fast. A power switch, reset button, keyboard, pointing
device, and graphics-capable LCD (a monitor will be too big and ``clunky''
for kitchen counters). First, the phone company n...
There have been numerous attempts to create brain-dead computers that have
failed. Anyone who currently uses a computer isn't going to give up the
flexibility and power for an emasculated WEB browser, when for not a lot
more money, they can have a browser and a computer. The one market I see
for such devices is as information sources for people without access to
computers otherwise, perhaps provided by public service agencies such as
churches, libraries, welfare offices, etc. I suppose that the people who
use TV sales channels, such as QVC and Home Shopping Network, might also be
an audience, but they already get their shopping for the price of cable
Anyone who claims to be sure about this either has a vested interest or is
For home use, the Internet terminal could provide the `first' computer
purchase for computer `illiterates' who are intimidated by the
difficulties of configuring and operating PCs. However, the terminal must
provide access to compelling content in order to draw in these buyers. A
strong enabling factor for the compelling content will be the arrival of
multi-Megabit/s cable modems and high-bandwidth Web services from the
cable companies. The buyers may end up spending $500 or so on the Internet
terminal, and another $500 on the cable modem! (Why not spend as much on
the modem, since the network IS the computer!)
As stated in the article, the display device is the crux of the matter. Of
course no one states what this Internet Toaster will enable people to do,
surf the Web or use email or both. A device could be created for each of
these services for the cost range, but not for both. I also noticed that
no one mentioned Sega who is supposedly making a surfing setup right now.
1. Uses TV screen 2. Uses cable modem (or ISDN or ATM) for FAST and
UNEXPENSIVE network access 3. Very simple to use (For people who are
generally somewhat educated, but do not have the skills and time to
maintain a home PC) 4. Less than $500 (More close to $300). A game console
AND Internet terminal in one box for $500 (with a CD) will sell the best.
The top 10-20% from the PC users will continue using their PCs for
Internet access. The Internet terminal will be for all of the rest. Also a
must for anybody who travel. The personal WEB pages and the Internet
terminal will be as popular (and necessary) as the answering machine...
They will NOT replace PCs! They will NOT threaten Wintel! But they will be
popular, and will be used in place of kiosks in all the places you see
kiosks in now, and since they will be much more affordable than kiosks,
you will see many, many more.
A "good" Internet terminal would allow me to cheaply wire my children up
to a central home machine (for writing term papers and such).
Most computer illiterate people I know are expressing a want to be
connected to the Internet and would be interested in an "Internet
The Internet Terminal will be the ideal tool for the new breed of Internet
user. But woe to the poor poor souls who will have the unfortunate
minimum-wage paying job of supporting these awful things. The people who
snatch these things up will be the people at the most distant left end of
the cluefulness bell curve. If you think AOL people are clueless, just
wait until the next generation of Internet Box users gets their grubby
little hands on the Net. Backbone routers will need to be reconfigured to
deal with large amounts of incoming Spam. (I hear Cisco is coming out with
one that will filter head cheese and bologna, but they are still working
on one to prevent Spam.)
of the future for my organization. We currently have 1700 dumb terminals
along with approximately 200 stand alone PC's. The Internet terminal
approach is very likely the path we will take this year if it comes to be
are the `America On-Line' type -- not so technically savvy, but interested
in learning more -- with an easy way to access the Internet. It's this
group of users, in my opinion, who'll drive the market for the Internet
terminal. I've got one in my house -- my wife. She balks at using the
computer, but would love to explore the Internet. Give her something only
marginally more complicated than a TV (she's used Netscape, and can easily
relate to the interface), and I think she'd be on the thing all the time.
I suspect that I'm not alone on this...
I think the idea has a lot of merit. The Internet right now is still not
ready for market acceptance. There needs to be more in terms of "real"
robust consumer services available before the general population will
spend money on this kind of device.
Not everybody wants or needs 2-4K dollars of computing on their desk. Once
the client/server Internet connection become a reality... What do I care
if the application program I like to run is not resident inside my
computing device... If I can get cheap, reliable, and fast access to the
programs, services, information that I want & need, I would not care at
all that my "terminal" was not a PC!. The Internet terminal WILL BE!
Another marketing edge that a "Toaster" would have over PC's is that they
could be very simple and easy to use. Consumers who don't want to have to
deal with a complicated OS and complicated software and TOO MANY choices
might be willing to spend less on a simple-to-use dedicated device which
lets them do the thing that is becoming part of pop culture. "Surfin the
Sun Microsystems has a rare opportunity to combine forces with other
market leaders to bring this idea to fruition. I *highly* recommend Sun
take a serious look at PDA platforms like the Apple Newton.
There's still lots of computer-literate people who don't have computers
at home because they don't need them. For their occasional personal needs
they use their computer at work. Computers are still "too hard" for some
people to deal with. Windows 95 is too hard to configure, even for
intelligent, experienced computer experts (so is Solaris :) I think there
is a market for a real device that works right out of the box, and doesn't
need constant ministering to, and constant upgrades. An Internet "toaster"
that is as easy to use as a television could be attractive to the large
segment of the country that has the money, but hasn't bought a computer
yet, or they bought a 286/386 and found...
interesting toy, but find after a few weeks that they should have spent
the money on a real computer.
It reminds me of the CB radio fad of a few years back. Everyone wants
"Internet Access"; but, without a valid reason for it, it will die off
quickly. And the device in question would need to be upgradeable to handle
technologic advances. HTML and VRML will not remain static, but will
continue to become more and more complex (remember how young the WWW is
and how far we've come already). Given that the hype is over a less than
$500 or less than $1000 system (depending on which news sources one
reads), such a device would need to replace television and "Nintendo" to
succeed. Tell me who can produce a fast enough processor...
System using ARM CPU/Modem/downloadable OS/battery-backed memory could
come in extremely cheaply. Given the price point of Psion series 3a, a
terminal is certainly in scope. ARM is cheap to build on and new StrongARM
is Pentium class in performance. DEC are fabbing ARM. Also MIPs R3000
series. Would need a persistent cache. Price point affected by need for
display (use TV???) Not necessary to do this using Java, of course.
Just an old-fashion marking ploy!! -- Desktop system + networking
capabilities are getting cheaper every day -- no one vendor (PC/Mac/Unix) can build the answer to all the world's requirements -- they will try
(why not, it's the American way!!), in the end the low-ball clones will win
out -- you will see some early adopters use this technology only to find
that the technical life cycle of such as device will be short lived!
They are a completely NEW market. They will of course cut into the
existing markets, but they will also expand the use of Internet and indeed
computers in general. When people run out of steam on their I-toaster they
will buy an Internet-capable PC as well. There will also be a niche for
these boxes within businesses, but again, I think that they will expand the
use of online Intranet resources, rather than boot out existing boxes.
Then again, they might just completely flop.
This is a bit like the Mac/X-terminal when they arrived. Some initial
sales, slowly creating a market and then the mainstream takes over. X-
terminals are replaced with PC-X software and the Mac with Windows.
Internet terminals will be replaced with, perhaps, intelligent TV's or
even phones at home. And with PC software at the office. Microsoft Office
will have some MS-specific Web server/client and that is it.
It may become as handy as a telephone or TV, i.e., maybe everybody will
have one in their home. But whether this will mean the end of the PC is a
whole other question which, I believe, only time will tell. It may just
take on a completely different life from the PC.
Price isn't the issue. That's why the word "toaster" is used, not "cheap."
Even if it's the same price as a PC, the notion of never having to
install, configure, and endlessly act as a system administrator for a PC
will attract an entire NEW market of people who just don't want to deal
with PC's. You turn it on, and -- Boom, you're in your browser. Click away.
Automatic upgrades of the OS and browser happen thru the Net. NO software
install, ever. PC geeks will tout the future "plug-and-play" level 999 as
a way to match the ease of use/maintenance of a toaster, but PCs will
never be able to compete as long as they have to deal with legacy hardware
Get it under 1K with the features you discussed and call me. I am a
staunch supporter of your effort.
Probably a rehash of what I've read elsewhere, however ... I reckon that
an "Internet terminal" will spur PC developers, both hardware and software,
into intensive competition that will probably kill the "Internet toaster"
before they really get going but will make cheaper, more connectable PC's
widely available. The big winners will probably be the users and the
suppliers of the server software, Netscape, Microsoft, and the hardware
vendors supplying server hardware, Sun, DEC, HP, IBM, SGI, not forgetting
the network suppliers and phone companies. Losers will probably be anyone
who bets too heavily on the toaster and PC makers...
There may be a place for pure-Java desktop machines (I hate the term "Java
Terminal"), but I doubt that the sub-$1,000 price will be the big winner.
People are willing to pay more for more capability, especially in the
home. People will want large, high-res screens, large disks, etc. This will
drive the price over $1,000. Why all this focus on price when a pure Java
workstation could have significant benefits over PCs and Macs. The big
problem is the chicken-and-egg issue: Where are all the Java applications
that will be needed to drive this market?
People will prefer low-cost clones.
I love the idea and can't wait. I would buy them as perks for my clients
to keep them informed of my company's offerings via the Web.
I think there is a market for the Internet PC. However, the timing when
these products will become popular is unclear due to several factors. I
think the network infrastructure needs to further evolve before we
could have a shift from the PC-centric to Network-centric way of
computing. Even with this shift there will still be a need for PCs and
high-powered workstations. The shift will only open up new markets that
were not previously accessible.
I think that they will become popular in a public access role first rather
than in the home. Libraries and school have been crying out for stable
Internet access devices that don't need the wide-ranging maintenance
skills of the standard PC device. And because the underlying system (Java)
can be made secure, you don't have to worry about having to reconfigure
the machine every time some spotty little kid decides to have hack!
Impossible to build for under $1000. Although PC prices are continually
dropping, prices for the main components that Inet terminals will need to
be successful don't (e.g. RAM, Hi End Video and Sound). Present Telephony
infrastructure would not make it possible to take full advantage of Inet
terminals and people who would opt to buy an Inet terminal instead of
spending a few thousands more to get the real thing definitely would not
invest in ISDN, fiber optic or cable communications.
As services become more sophisticated I believe there will be a niche for
those who do not want the headaches of a PC but want to enjoy the coming
capabilities of the Web. I feel this is especially so when the time comes
that people will be able to play games, interact in a 3D world and
manipulate objects like virtual books, making reservations and so on will
there be a real boom in usage. Until then, no way. To do this it will take
a machine that has more than four megs of RAM and be speedier than what we
The Internet Toaster is not enough to bring vast customers. The Internet
PDA and organizer is the ultimate Internet Toaster. We will use PDA as
remote control to TV, use pen at PDA and Touch Screen to put data response
to Interactive TV, Access with wireless and wireline to Sun Oracle
database with small LCD terminal. The Internet PDA will put in the pocket
easily. You can see the example as Sharp Touch Screen, and
provide the feature of organizer. Please do it as soon as possible. Don't
stick with 96's Internet Toaster.
Sweet and simple. The idea was long predicted in quality science-fiction,
however the future is not here (damn close, however). We have both heard
and read the arguments for and against, and against seems to make more
sense -- at this time. A used 386 can be purchased for much less than one of
your dumb terminals, and will do much more. However, for $500, would I
like access to a SPARC station? You bet. That's where it's leading, but who
will take us there.? Until ISDN or cable-connects for the Net are common,
it ain't gonna happen. So are you guys pushing the cable companies?
The significantly reduced costs of supporting PC's on the desktop is one
of the clearest reasons why a simplified terminal device will become
popular. Even if it can only be built for the same price as today's PC's,
the whole life cost of ownership would be much lower.
As a research scientist, I see the Internet toaster finally breaking
through the plethora of problems which have limited the growth of
educational software. I have worked with several school districts and I
have a good sense of their motive (rational or irrational) for the limited
use of computers in providing curriculum. First, school districts have
limited budgets and the priorities for spending this money change
annually. Java programming and Internet toasters will provide a cost-
effective solution for allowing EACH individual child with access to the
Internet. In addition, applets will now provide programmers with the
ability to make educational software "dynamic".
Why spend $500+ for an Internet terminal and be limited to being connected
to the Internet to do anything? If I were the consumer, I would look at
what it provided and invest a little more money to get more features (a
PC). Plus, PC vendors are not going to continue to offer the same product
and features as today if the consumer starts to move toward the Internet
terminal. The consumer who will spend the money is not the consumer who
is saying give me a $500 Internet terminal. Everyone I have talked to that
thinks it is a good idea does not need it, and will not buy it.
I think the PC market is saturated for the "base" market; the TOASTER will
address the remaining potential users, with particular emphasis on
educational users. Pricing the downloading of software will be critical to
the success of the TOASTER concept.
I expect that the pace of PC obsolescence will slow, while PC prices will
continue to drop. It seems likely that the PC and Internet terminal
concepts will merge -- the Internet terminal will simply be a cheap PC with
a pre-configured, possibly firmware-based OS geared towards Internet
access. The future of distributed-on-demand applications seems a bit less
certain. As your article points out, billing is a major problem. In
today's phone network, 50% of all resources are devoted to billing. Phone
calls must be delivered on a network, obviously, but a word processor need
not be. Because of this, distributed-on-demand applications start out with
a built-in cost disadvantage ...
I think that the idea is a great one, and even if the price were $1500, it
would still beat the average multimedia Pentium that most people crave.
They are inevitable...
I think the future of Internet terminals lies particularly with ideas like
Netscape Navigator for the Nintendo Ultra-64, at least initially. Games
consoles are going to become Internet aware, and I think this if anything,
is the potential market for an Internet terminal. Anything else which
just proposes to be novel or intriguing, will IMHO suffer somewhat of a
similar fate to the Commodore Amiga-CD32. Also, it is quite naive and
foolish to reckon that Internet Terminals propose such a threat to
Microsoft. For this to happen, whole concepts of personal computing will
have to change. I believe the "thick-client, thick-server" approach may be
the way forward.
Without the ability to download software and store files, IT's won't be
nearly as useful as real, general-purpose internetworked computers.
They are great idea and a very possible concept and companies should
approach its development ASAP coz once ready they will take over the
desktop, especially with Java capabilities.
The Internet terminal can become the central point in a home for
information retrieval and to perform information transactions : personal
email, banking, catalog purchasing, etc. Benefits: As no significant
software resides on the system, the lifespan of the product is
dramatically extended -- people must be getting tired of spending $4000
every three years to replace their aged PC's. (As long as it is no more
expensive than a PC, you only have to buy one!) Requirements: Service
delivery agencies must move to fill the gap with applications servers
which fill customer demands : email, banking , games, video. Bottleneck:
For any graphics intensive app, higher-speed networking ...
When I first read about these things, I thought "Oh man! These things will
change everything!". Now I know a lot more about the Internet-related
computers. It is very HARD to make a computer like this. Especially if the
Internet continues to change like this. The first $1000 price will be
$2000 in the next year, because Java changed its face, therefore you need a little more memory or
something, so the prices will always increase. Just as the normal PC
market right now. It might be a hard time for small computer firms which
are making Internet-related PC's, but the market will return to them.
These Internet terminals don't have a chance.
I just don't see a huge market for that device.
Cube (because it's deeper than a box) or CUZ (short for Cousin
IT... Internet Terminal, get it?). Okay, that's a stretch. But Internet
Toaster is silly and Internet terminal is boring (and slightly
inaccurate). Put the marketing wizards on this one today.
With the onslaught of "cable-based" Internet access and the possibility of
the split of the `Net into multiple semi-discreet highways, a low-cost
entry-level (i.e., upgradeable to full-up PC) Internet terminal
would gain ground as the household front-end for those who do not yet
possess PC capability or for those desiring multiple Internet entry points
without the need to purchase a full-up PC/Mac initially. Make it so the TV
replaces the monitor; the keyboard is universal enough to transport to an
independent platform; the whole thing interfaces with current architecture
-- I'll take three!
The Internet toaster will succeed if it is most like a video game console.
Relatively inexpensive, trivial to hook up and operate, somewhat
insensitive to physical abuse. Additionally Internet access will need
similar features, as easy to buy as phone service, and as cheap.
The sub $1,000 price is probably too high to be really successful in the
home market. I would expect at $500 or less it will see more users from
home and schools. I see schools, K-12, being a big users in a teaching
mode (because they can more easily afford it). Bottom line, is the Internet
device must be much cheaper than a PC, and, be a plug-in-and-go device.
Where is the beef? Most people have PC at home. Whey they need buy another
box just for browser. I will buy Windows-based solution.
If the Internet is really going to take hold, a low-priced box will surely
be required. I don't see this as an attempt to try to hurt anyone
(manufacturers of hardware or software) but a smart attempt to fill a
niche that presently isn't being filled. HOW CAN I GET A COPY OF THE JAVA
(Go to http:java.sun.com, the Java home page, you'll be able to get it from that starting point. Editors.)
Why bring back the dumb terminal? Internet terminals may be useful in a
library setting. But that's about it. Chairman Lou should give up on trying
to be a prophet. Why doesn't the computer industry spend its time on
redesigning the PC?
Having been in this business for more than a decade, having marched
through the ranks of Inteldom, Commodore-AmigaDom, and Apple Macintosh-ington, I state with utter confidence that the Internet terminal will
never, ever replace local computer-dom.. :) Picture this... MIT abandons its
personal computer stations for dumb Internet terminals... a lightening
strike takes out the main communications trunk, and you suddenly have
a few hundred non-operational and truly "dumb" terminals sitting there
that no one can use... can you picture it? I can't.
Considering how long applet downloads take over 28K and even 64K links,
I think you'll need a multi-link ISDN (256K), cable-modem or DSS link to
make them attractive. I could see a combo DSS settop/WebTerminal as you
have the fast digital downlink, phone uplink and display generator already
in place. You also have SVHS output which is a bit more reasonable than
broadcast TV output. I can see it built under $500 if you use TV as
display and include a fast downlink. If you include a display and local
storage to allow use of slower downlink (i.e 28Kb modem) then you approach
You have failed to ask the big question: "What is the biggest restraining
factor in the emergence of Net Toasters today?" My opinion is that Net
Toasters will not be viable until available bandwidth is improved
radically not just on the backbones but to the home. I think the
chip and systems manufacturers will come out OK, but traditional software
houses and cloners may lose out as they will likely try to stake out their
traditional turf and may lose to the nimbler players.
They must be as cheap as possible, say less than $500.
With all the focus on Internet access and home use, there seems to be a
tendency to forget companies and their need to bring down the cost of
computing which has risen dramatically -- not least because of difficult-to- manage PC technology. Intranets and Web browser access to corporate
server-based applications is certainly very interesting.
Let's get them on the market now! It's the only way we will get the superhighway kicked off!.
The key issue for Internet terminals will be their PORTABILITY. If we are
going to use the Internet for many of our everyday activities, then we
need to make them pocket sized.
The very degree of the controversy suggests that the event is daunting.
While those of you in the industry are no strangers to radical changes-
this one may go beyond as it appears to be a change of major magnitude. As
a mere hacker, it appears to me that this item would open an enormous as-yet- untapped market of people who for whatever reason -- be it financial or
otherwise -- have not yet nibbled into the most exciting happening in eons.
This in turn would open some of their doors to later "upgrading" to more
complete machines (going from a model T to a Chevy, Avalon or Caddy).
Would some people go from an Apple 660 to one of these? -- perhaps...
The main problem with the `Internet terminal' idea is that it contradicts
the very idea of PC replacement. Most folks, in my experience, use home PC's
for two reasons: games, and reproduction of the work environ. Internet
terminals fulfill neither category. HOWEVER, if properly designed, a cheap
alternative PC could become popular as a downloading station for the home.
Sort of a set-top box with storage and local execution. It could have a
flash-ROM OS, and 8-16 megs memory. Use (hopefully, as we are talking
future) HDTV (NTSC is SO bad for multimedia) or a custom monitor, and
still be a game machine, Internet browser, and reproduce the work arena (it
could even be the SAME as that of work) all for...
practical in general unless someone wants to have their kids webbing on a
machine other than the main home computer. Unless you make the terminal
play some sort of video games (like Sega CD/carts, etc.) I don't think
most people would buy a dedicated Web term.
I think a Internet toaster can be very successful if you add expandability
with it, upgradeable. It can be done 90 days or less if there are enough
applets developed to date to use. It's a must for word processing and
spreadsheeting with Java applets to make the TOASTER a "must" consumer
not only with price but quality.
My wife would probably use an Internet terminal, she does not use any
computer except a Macintosh at work. She does not use our Intel-compatible
computer at home.
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