Bob and Joy
     By Bob and Joy Schwabach

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June 2001, Week 2 -- Internet Appliances


   It's clear that many people are interested in the computer primarily as a tool for connecting to the Internet and using e-mail.


 iPAQ 1A-1


   Why not have devices just for that purpose? The answer so far has been muted because so-called "net appliances," confined to Internet use, had little price advantage over full computers, and a big disadvantage in what you could do with them. But what if the net appliance were free?

That's just the proposition from Compaq and a few other makers. The catch is that you have to sign up for a three-year contract with an Internet service provider, in this case the Microsoft Network, and no other.

   Compaq offers two machines, the iPAQ 1A-1  for $499 and the the iPAQ 1A-2  for $599. Rebates from Compaq and Microsoft cut that price to zero on the cheaper unit, and to $99 on the more expensive one. Curiously, the cheaper unit, which is free after rebates, has a much larger viewing screen. But it's a CRT (cathode ray tube) which is like a television set and occupies more desk space.


   The real problem is the required Internet service contract. The cost is $20 a month, which works out to $720 for 36 months, and there is a stiff penalty if you cancel early. Now we're back to the price of a low end full computer. Most computer owners still have to pay charges for Internet service from somebody, though that may not be true for long, as the number of free services, like NetZero  and Juno  keep increasing.


   Internet appliances have little software, of course, and if you want to use Microsoft Word or play Tomb Raider you can forget it. This will probably change in the relatively near future, however, as office applications, games and most other computer programs are made available online. It seems likely that almost all programs will be online eventually, so make your choice of appliance, whether for business or home, accordingly. Personally I would still rather go with a full computer and own my software applications, rather than lease them from online services.


More hard copy


   Color inkjet printer prices are collapsing and there is little chance of recovery. We have been running a new Lexmark Z53, which sells for $140. This is the top of their low-priced "Z" series; the bottom of the line is $49, and there are few differences in quality or features for most users. There are also sites that unload discontinued printers: Hewlett Packard is selling color inkjets as low as $49 at their web site

   This has become a very tough business and the only profit to be seen is selling replacement ink cartridges. You can save a bundle on those, though, if you use unauthorized refill services. Refill offers come in frequently through e-mail promotions and you can also find them in ads in newspapers and the back of computer magazines. Buying unauthorized refills voids the printer warranties, but at these prices who cares about the warranty?


   Finally, I think the best deals are the multi-purpose machines that combine color printer, scanner and copier in one unit and are now selling for under $200 from Hewlett Packard and Canon. The copies are in color.





--  A "Titan Arum," the world's largest, smelliest flower is about to bloom at the University of Wisconsin. It blooms only three or four times in its 40 year life span and you can watch it on the Internet through the University's web cam. The flower is eight feet high and four feet across. It is native to the island of Sumatra, where it is known as the "corpse flower" because it smells like a rotting corpse. You get no smell with web cam.

--  Excellent vitamin information site from the Linus Pauling Institute at Oregon State University. Lots of lists of foods and their vitamin composition.

--  Instant information, including bids, on moving to and from any place in the U.S.

-- A guide to U.S. immigration, visas, U.S. customs, U.S. consulates abroad and foreign consulates in the U.S., college study and much more. This is a commercial site so it also covers hotels, airlines, vacation rentals, etc., and can book these.


-- Another among the many web sites that let you tune in radio stations around the world, but this one with a significant difference: it covers only public radio (government stations) and best of all, it tells you what's being broadcast right now on each station.


--  Have your own web site, in the form of a study or library where the books are labeled "messages," "photos" and the like. and contain your uploaded information. All appears to be free, including the web hosting, which reminds us of the earlier mega-site host: "" Looks nice, but what is unclear, and we received no response to our e-mailed question, is whether they will place ads on your site. My guess would be that it's likely.

 Disney's Atlantis


Games: glub, glub

   Am I the last person alive who knows that Atlantis never was an island that sank into the Atlantic Ocean? Because the underwater myth still holds sway. The latest manifestation is Disney's "Atlantis: the lost empire," based on their recent animated movie of the same name. Still, it's a fun game of action and suspense; don't myth it. For Windows 95 and up.

NOTE: Readers can search more than four years of columns at the "On Computers" web site: You can e-mail Bob Schwabach at  or