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A Replacement for the i-Opener?

Cliff posted more than 8 years ago | from the a-no-hassle-internet-appliance dept.

98

kenh writes "For years my father has gotten along the Information Superhighway with just an i-Opener and an Earthlink account. However, the internet has moved too far ahead for his burned-in-ROM browser to be useful to him anymore, and dial-up is a bit slow these days. While investigating various options (Apple Macintosh, Knoppix Linux/Ubuntu Linux with USB key file storage, WebTV) I didn't find any that were very appealing, for a variety of reasons. Right now, I'm looking for something that has: dial-up support, no update/anti-virus/etc pop-ups, and no software 'update' downloads, support for PDFs, Flash, Javascript, and other features necessary to accommodate more modern websites. The i-Opener was 'foolproof', and if things went wrong, you could just shut it off and try again, Everything I see today lacks that ability (to varying extents)." What decent i-Opener replacements, if any, exist today?

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try a-Opener (-1, Troll)

larry bagina (561269) | more than 8 years ago | (#16075003)

a-Opener [ragingfist.net] is a real eye-Opener.

Re:try a-Opener (5, Funny)

Grey Ninja (739021) | more than 8 years ago | (#16075020)

I was hoping to see Goatse when I clicked on that link, and wasn't disappointed. (I didn't bother to read the url until after I clicked). Never seen such a call for Goatse than this story. ;) Kudos.

replacement? (1)

slack-fu (940017) | more than 8 years ago | (#16075015)

go to best buy and buy their cheapest laptop. nowadays they are more than enough for someones Pop who just surfs a few sites and exchanges emails.

Re:replacement? (1)

belmolis (702863) | more than 8 years ago | (#16075025)

I think the poster wants something more foolproof than a regular PC. A cheap laptop will still be prone to viruses, adware, etc. Maybe something running Linux or one of the BSDs could be set up to minimize the likelihood of his father getting in trouble.

Re:replacement? (1)

hey! (33014) | more than 8 years ago | (#16075186)

You probably hit it right on the head.

However, it shouldn't be hard to configure Ubuntu or some other Linux distro to do everything he needs. Or more to the point, not to do everything he doesn't need it to do. Have it log in automatically and launch SeaMonkey or something like that.

Re:replacement? (1)

kenh (9056) | more than 8 years ago | (#16075469)

To run a Ubuntu/Linux on a laptop I'd have the following problems:

My folks like a mouse, not a trackpoint/touchpad, so add a USB mouse
No built-in modem support, so I have to add an external one
USB storage key occupies another USB port
Add a USB Printer, and now I'm out of USB ports - here comes a USB hub

Whew, compare that to the i-opener - what a desk full of stuff... Kinda defeats the whole point of a laptop IMHO.

Good idea, but reality gets in the way...

Thanks,

Ken

Re:replacement? (1)

MustardMan (52102) | more than 8 years ago | (#16075534)

If you want similar desktop usage to the i-opener, there's really only one easily available answer - an imac. You can pick up the g4 lampshade imacs for a pretty reasonable price.

Then again, I have an i-opener sitting right here next to me, and it only has a single USB port - so you still need a USB hub to attach a printer and usb key.

Re:replacement? (1)

Simon80 (874052) | more than 8 years ago | (#16076293)

What do you mean by no built in modem support? If you already own the hardware you speak of, either you already have an external modem for use with windows, or the laptop has a modem built in, but you have reason to believe that it won't be supported under Linux. And does your i-opener have a mouse and printer built into its small footprint? if not, then it is unfair to say that a laptop isn't a good replacement for the appliance just because it will no longer have a small footprint with a mouse and printer hooked up. The i-opener isn't any better here. Another thing, if you use the latest release of Ubuntu, it's gonna be supported for 3 years, the only updates are security related, and the update utility is pretty easy to use (to the point where parents can use it). So if that were set up and working, it wouldn't be a bad internet appliance, although you'd need more than 64 MB of RAM to pull it off. The only thing I don't feel comfortable doing with people who need tech support is putting them on Windows.

No builtin modem support? (1)

Deoxyribose (997674) | more than 8 years ago | (#16078919)

Although most laptops today have builtin winmodems (with what would normally be hardware implemented in the software drivers themselves) that don't usually work with most linux distros out of the box, there is still support for winmodems running as "linmodems" avaliable. Using the "scanmodem" tool (http://linmodems.technion.ac.il/#scanmodem [technion.ac.il] read more here) I quickly found out what drivers I required and installing them was a painless process.

Re:replacement? (1)

kenh (9056) | more than 8 years ago | (#16075446)

Exactly, the laptop I got them has sufferred some horrible update/infection, and now it barely runs (minutes to boot, hard to power-off, and various issues) - I posted this request since I realized by re-installing WinXP I am fated to the same result.

Ken

Re:replacement? (1)

michrech (468134) | more than 8 years ago | (#16075570)

Exactly, the laptop I got them has sufferred some horrible update/infection, and now it barely runs (minutes to boot, hard to power-off, and various issues) - I posted this request since I realized by re-installing WinXP I am fated to the same result.

Don't know how often you will be checking replies here, but see my reply to someone earlier in the thread about Deep Freeze from Faronics. I think it will help you with your current issue. I provided a link to it in my previous post (before I saw your post to which I'm currently responding. :) )

Re:replacement? (1)

empaler (130732) | more than 8 years ago | (#16075667)

The exact reason I've sent my parents, my sister *and* my girlfriend out to buy Apple computers. I don't have time to be their computer technician, and they feel bad every time I have to help them save their computers from them.

Re:replacement? (1)

kalidasa (577403) | more than 8 years ago | (#16075726)

I'd go with a 17-in. iMac Core Duo with an Ubuntu Live CD distro and the new USB modem (if Ubuntu can handle that USB Modem, that is).

Re:replacement? (2, Insightful)

Joe The Dragon (967727) | more than 8 years ago | (#16075795)

Why pay more for a mac and not run mac osx on it?

Re:replacement? (1)

jessecurry (820286) | more than 8 years ago | (#16076197)

yeah, realistically OS X is easier to use that Ubuntu. I've been in charge of supporting up to 5500 PCs at a time and after all that tech support I didn't want to have to do that at home so I run Mac OS here. OS X has been the only OS I could just put my grandmother in front of and get her to run.
You may also want to try and steer your parents towards web based solutions such as gmail so that the next time their computer changes the interfaces that they're used to do change.

Re:replacement? (1)

kalidasa (577403) | more than 8 years ago | (#16076215)

Because for his requirements, an iMac is the best form factor, and a live cd is the best way to run the software; and because despite all the moaning and groaning about MacBook Pros overheating, MacBooks shutting down and random, etc., Apple still makes the most reliable hardware with the longest average useful life. OS X is not all things to all people (and I'm posting this from a G5 PowerMac under Safari, so I know whereof I speak). In this case, the user wants to be able to reset the whole system to its original configuration every time he uses it, without any hassles, and it is just possible to totally screw up a Mac OS X installation and make it unusuable (it's tough, but I've met users who could do it - not fould up the applications or system themselves without admin privileges, but screw up their user configuration, bookmarks, etc.). With a live CD, your OS configuration is fixed, and nothing is going to change that. Ideally, someone should come up with a nice stripped-down BSD or Linux specifically designed to mimic an internet appliance. Mind you, you wouldn't *have* a user profile to save bookmarks, etc., but you could think of that as one less thing to screw up.

Re:replacement? (1)

Marxist Hacker 42 (638312) | more than 8 years ago | (#16082431)

Have you considered a good 3G cell phone? OS in ROM, more advanced browser, does everything the i-Opener used to do, and most are Bluetooth/EDGE/Wi-Fi compatible.

Re:replacement? (2, Informative)

michrech (468134) | more than 8 years ago | (#16075552)

I happen to think what the submitter wants is a Windows PC (if he's familiar with Windows, that is) with Deep Freeze [faronics.com] . This way, the submitter could set the PC up the "way it should be" for pop, pop can play around on 'teh intartubes', and upon reboot, the machine is back "to normal", no matter what pop does to it.

You can even set up what DF calls a "thawed space", where pop could store the .PDF's he needs access to, any documents he creates, etc.

When the PC needs updates, son can come over, thaw the machine, update the software, and freeze the PC again.

We use it in my place of work for several laptops that get checked out to students. They complain about losing doucments they create, but if they'd read the freakin' desktop background (which warns them to use a USB key, a CD-R, or the thawed space), they wouldn't have that problem.

I don't know how much this software would cost for an individual (heck, I don't even know how much my employer paid for it), but it would do what he is wanting. There should even be a demo available at the linked page so the submitter (or anyone else, for that matter) can test it out before they buy.

Re:replacement? (1)

One Intention (671320) | more than 8 years ago | (#16080100)

Mod parent up. Deep Freeze has been a life-saver for my company. We routinely suggest it and install it for corporations. It's basically like using Norton/Symantec Ghost to image the PC back to it's original image on every boot (only it happens instantly). We found the thaw space to be too much trouble, so instead we just partition out the primary drive and only freeze the Windows Installation partition. Then we map their "My Document's" folder to the other partition. We have had ZERO problems with any of those computers. Hopefully we won't put ourselves out of a job! And Yes, users that can't read still wonder why their desktop backgrounds and things they saved to their desktops, and internet explorer favorites are "missing" every time they turn the computer back off and back on again. Silly users ;-)

Re:replacement? (1)

Sloppy (14984) | more than 8 years ago | (#16075559)

go to best buy and buy their cheapest laptop.

Did you read what he said? His dad wants to access The Internet.

Best Buy's cheapest laptop almost certainly comes with Microsoft Windows preloaded. Windows and Internet don't go together, unless the user is a security-expert computer-guru.

Linux on LiveCD/DVD fixes that (1)

billstewart (78916) | more than 8 years ago | (#16078461)

You don't need to run Windows on it - any popular LiveCD Linux version should do fine, and as other people have commented, you can partition the hard drive and run a read-only version from that to make it faster and more reliable, or even boot from a flash memory stick if the laptop BIOS is new enough (though you'd want to find a flash with a read-only switch, which a number of brands have these days.)

Don't forget to add.. (1)

ModernGeek (601932) | more than 8 years ago | (#16105442)

..browzar to the machine so that it will be simple to use and secure.

Why buy a new one? (2, Informative)

WebCrapper (667046) | more than 8 years ago | (#16075026)

Why not hack the i-opener? Linux-Hacker [linux-hacker.net] is the first link on Google for hacking i-openers.

There are generally a few on eBay that are sold as hacked if you don't want to go through it yourself. Buy a hacked one, sell the old one for someone else to hack.

I use to support these things while working for Earthlink/MindSpring. They're not that bad after you put Linux on them. I've thought of buying one myself just to throw in the corner for a stats setup for my network, computers and hosting servers - just don't have the time.

Re:Why buy a new one? (3, Informative)

couchslug (175151) | more than 8 years ago | (#16079356)

A natural hack would be to add an IDE/CF adapter and run a "frugal install" (see the Damn Small Linux forums for how to do those) of a modern distro like Kanotix from a Compact Flash card. You get the benefits of a live CD without the live CD, and persistent storage (if you want that) on a second partition, USB key, or any other media.

2 solutions (1)

eagl (86459) | more than 8 years ago | (#16075038)

Two possible solutions. First, part together a basic system using old/cheap parts, and run a live cd version of linux on it. knoppix comes to mind immediately, but if you're technically inclined you could probably find a customized solution that would fit on a cheapish USB flash drive so you wouldn't even need the cdrom drive. If you pick slower/cooler components, you can go with a small and quiet case that wouldn't even have many (if any) fans to go bad over time.

Second solution is to bite the bullet and go with an imac or mac mini. There are plenty of cheap LCD displays on sale "out there", so the cheapest mac mini plus the cheapest 17" LCD you could find would give you a rather usable system for not a whole lot of cash. If you pay out a bit more money, you'd even have the benefit of the apple service plan in case things go sour.

I won't even go into the wide variety of custom boards or even the epia series, because you seem to have ruled out pretty much everything on the market so I don't see you being willing to do the work that would go into a customized boot-cd style linux installation that would run on an epia or other small form factor board using a flash drive image. If you are, then it's just a matter of picking the parts, shelling out your cash, and following the howtos/faqs/readmes. Otherwise, the two solutions above are probably the easiest way to get a usable system at a reasonable price while spending only a limited amount of time getting it working and stable.

Re:2 solutions (2, Informative)

empaler (130732) | more than 8 years ago | (#16075717)

Damn Small Linux (wonderful distro) has a small shop selling ready-built diskless Mini-ITX systems - just add a USB key with DSL on it and you're good to go. Of course, at $281 for systems like this [damnsmalllinux.org] you could go buy the parts yourself and have a surplus amount of cash for Wasabi nuts, but meh, if you don't have the time...
They even have a completely fanless computer [damnsmalllinux.org] .

(I am in no way affiliated with the DSL team unless you count recurring donations)

Bleh, forgot to add (1)

empaler (130732) | more than 8 years ago | (#16075733)

1. DSL runs off of a CD or USB key
2. They have a simple system for customizing and even remastering the DSL package so you can just make the changes and a new CD *easily*.

Too Expensive (1)

chriso11 (254041) | more than 8 years ago | (#16076731)

I don't see why the small systems are so expensive. I can go to frys and buy a AMD 64 3200 with a MB for $99, while the 800MHz via CPU and MB are $118. The only thing they have going for them is that they are small and low power. I am looking for a low power solution with gigabit and SATA raid to use as a NAS, but nothing looks good. The low power is important because I don't want to have fans running all the time. Pentium III system have low power, but no gigabit and no SATA.

Re:Too Expensive (1)

kenh (9056) | more than 8 years ago | (#16078724)

Small systems are expensive because they are not mass-market items. They cost more per piece to recover development cost.

Conversely, AMD 3200 CPUs & MB (which I can get for $59 After Rebate at microcenter.com) are mass-market items.

To make a server box full of disks and not have "fans running all the time" will not happen - no matter what the CPU is, a box with four drives will most likely require fans to keep the HDs cool.

Ken

Modified Xbox with a usb modem? (3, Interesting)

antifoidulus (807088) | more than 8 years ago | (#16075045)

You can find them on ebay for usually less than $200, they hook up to a tv, and aren't really prone to viruses. You can get Firefox and you should be good. However, I don't know if they support USB modems.

Re:Modified Xbox with a usb modem? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#16075250)

You might as well get an old laptop and do the same thing. It would be more functional and easier to use as a regular computer than an XBox in any case, plus it's portable and comes with a display.

Re:Modified Xbox with a usb modem? (1)

DDLKermit007 (911046) | more than 8 years ago | (#16076164)

Yet you and most of the other posters didn't even bther to read the summary. He wants something that isn't needing updates, error prone, etc. Laptops running Windows fail in this respect miserably. This is more of a solution for a person over 70 with little understanding of the underlieing concepts of a computer hes looking for. If the system can't pass that test you fail to understand the concept. A moded Xbox? Works beautifully. Failure? Restart the Xbox or worst case pop a disk in and reimage the software image in under 5min.

Re:Modified Xbox with a usb modem? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#16077423)

Just keep in mind that Standard TVs have poor resolution.

Quick fix (2, Insightful)

Sigma 7 (266129) | more than 8 years ago | (#16075057)

Right now, I'm looking for something that has: dial-up support, no update/anti-virus/etc pop-ups, and no software 'update' downloads, support for PDFs, Flash, Javascript, and other features necessary to accommodate more modern websites.


What you want to get is a minimal PC and install either Firefox, Opera or early versions of Netscape. Then, you configure the browsers to load minimal information (i.e. text only) and retrieves the extras only when required (i.e. clicking on an "Images" button.)

The greatest reason why modern sites load slowly on Dial-up is because of the large quantity of images - cutting them out (especially the advertisements) significantly speeds up loading time.

Any updates (other than the initial download of Flash and Java) that are available for your system are not needed to be installed as long as you keep a firewall enabled, and don't blindingly auto-execute any files from the web.

Re:Quick fix (2, Informative)

TheZorch (925979) | more than 8 years ago | (#16075485)

Get a Mac Mini or iMac. With a small dongle attachment the Mac Mini can be attached to any television with S-Video. You'd get one hell of a Internet Browsing computer along with a top quality Media Center at the same time by using Front Row (comes with every Mac). The iMac has its onw built-in screne.

Appliances for browsing the web like i-Opener and MSN-TV (formerly WebTV) are basically dead.

Re:Quick fix (1)

DDLKermit007 (911046) | more than 8 years ago | (#16076300)

The submitter wants good, fast, cheap. Unfortionately you can only have two of those. The i-Openers really were not cheap. It's just the company that made them footed the bill. The poster is really looking for a free lunch he doesn't have to work for. Of which Macs do NOT fit the cheap respect very well.

To kenh... (1)

KokorHekkus (986906) | more than 8 years ago | (#16075058)

To get as good help as possible, please post a more detailed account of "various reasons" that the mentioned alternatives wouldn't work for you.

Might not only be helpful for you but also to others looking for a similar solution.

Damn Small (1)

enharmonix (988983) | more than 8 years ago | (#16075060)

I dunno, I ran Damn Small in a VM to try it out and it's that: small, fast, simple. Might work for what you're doing. It boots from 2 x 1.44 MB floppies, CD, USB pen drive, etc., and it requires no HDD and very little RAM. It includes a web browser (sorry, don't recall which one), supports PPP, and I'd guess you shouldn't have much trouble installing any extra apps you need. Only bad things I can think of are that the version I tried out didn't include mkfs (not too difficult to work around) and I think you have to jump through a few hoops to get the source code (stuff five bucks in an envelope, tho I didn't search very hard for the source :). damnsmalllinux.org [damnsmalllinux.org]

Re:Damn Small (1)

hey! (33014) | more than 8 years ago | (#16075204)

DSL has come a long way. However, it does too much on one hand, and not enough on the other.

Too much in that it is not a newbie operating system. What the guy needs is an appliance that does a few things in a completely consistent way.

Not enough in that Dillo, while impressive in its resource efficiency, sacrifices standards implementation to achieve it: no ECMAScript, no CSS, no frames. Among other things this means no Google Maps. It means being a second class citizen on many ecommerce sites, as they move with the times and become AJAXy.

In a different post, I suggested SeaMonkey running on a Linx distro. SeaMonkey is too big for DSL, but I think it is available for DSL-N. Configure DSL-N to log in automatically, launch SeaMonkey with a default home page you build for gramps, and I think you may have recreated the net appliance.

Puppy Linux? (1)

Zx-man (759966) | more than 8 years ago | (#16075259)

Puppy Linux [puppyos.com] is a newbie-friendly alternate to DSL. Although (in my opinion) less suitable for hacking, it is a decent mini-desktop solution. Plus it comes in different flavors.

Re:Puppy Linux? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#16076084)

OMG PUPPiES!!! ! ! how cuite!~

Re:Damn Small (1)

enharmonix (988983) | more than 8 years ago | (#16075939)

Heh, yeah, esp. considering I was talking about a different distro :) I downloaded several "tiny" distros, including a micro distro that was most likely descended from muLinux (which I think I'll probably end up using for my own purposes). Do you think DSL-N is even necessary for the OP's purposes tho? DSL should suffice, maybe even something smaller, as long as it has PPP?

Re:Damn Small (1)

enharmonix (988983) | more than 8 years ago | (#16075265)

Oops, I'm describing one of the many micro distros out there (I forget which one, but I have a feeling it was derived from muLinux [dotsrc.org] ). Damn Small Linux (DSL) is a step above these micro distros - a little more robust and a little heftier (weighing in at a whopping 50 MB and 128 MR RAM I think). For your case, I think just about any stable tiny (or micro) distribution that supports PPP should do. Some more tiny linux distros here [dmoz.org] .

Another one (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#16076264)

I tend to like Austrumi linux [latgola.lv] (same deal, 50 megs), but it really needs someone who knows what they are doing to do an english language version. I would call it a half english distro at this point, but if you can live with some of the menus/apps being not english (such as mplayer, the default media player), it is very nice and functional and fast. I tried but I fail it on making one, perhaps I'll try again. But dialup and ethernet connection work great, the browser is fine, etc. It's wicked fast once it is booted, much faster than any installed to harddrive version of any OS on any machine that I have ever tried.

Modded x-box w/ Dyne:Bolic (1)

flyneye (84093) | more than 8 years ago | (#16075076)

modded xbox with dynebolic distro 1.4.1 should provide a fairly foolproof environment.
unfortunatly it isn't dialup.Perhaps you could network it to a server/firewall that will dial up ISP.That would be safer anyway.
dunno,just a thot.

Cheap/old x86 with Fedora? (3, Interesting)

nukem996 (624036) | more than 8 years ago | (#16075082)

I put my grandparents on Fedora after they had tons of trouble with Windows 98 and Windows XP and they couldn't be happier. It meets all of your requirments and you could get any cheap or old machine to run it. I had it running on a p3 733mhz with 256megs of RAM. After the install all I did was turn automatic updates on and turned off a few unneeded services(ssh, bluetooth etc) It took about an hour or so to do. As for modem support just make sure that the modem is supported under Linux before you buy it. In our area its actually cheaper to get DSL(only $20 a month) then dail-up, if you do that pretty much any ethernet card works.

Re:Cheap/old x86 with Fedora? (1)

KeithIrwin (243301) | more than 8 years ago | (#16086301)

You can actually get dialup for much less than $20 per month. 650 dialup, for instance, sells unlimited nation-wide dial-up for $6.50 per month (hence the name). There are several other services reselling access to UUnet's nation-wide dial-up network for prices around that range. The fact that some people are still paying $20+ for dial-up just means that they have not bothered to shop around. That said, I would certainly agree that DSL for $20 per month is worth buying.

Keith

somewhat off-topic (-1, Offtopic)

sinner0423 (687266) | more than 8 years ago | (#16075088)

To the submitter : Get a laptop. Seriously, they've never been so cheap as they are today. You can get a *FULL FEATURED* laptop for around $500, if that. A Mac mini or a used Powerbook are two other good suggestions, and both require a lot less maintenance / tweaking.

-----SHAMELESS PLUG WARNING-----

Speaking of I-openers, I have a V1 I-opener for sale if anyones interested in it.

$50 and it's yours, seriously take it off my hands. We'll set up something on Paypal or Ebay, I'll UPS it out the minute I get payment. I can't seem to get rid of the thing. If you're in the greater Chicagoland area, I'll even come gladly deliver & power it up for you myself.

The screen is a tad yellowed from being so old, but I really only booted it up once or twice, with the intention of modding it, and never got around to it. It still boots to this very day. It's a V1 without the gooped up bios, so you can pretty much go to town with it.

Not trolling, or bullshitting. E-mail me, we'll talk price. I'm more than willing to go the extra mile to ship this thing out to someone who will actually use it.

Thanks for your time.

MOD PARENT DOWN!!! (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#16075139)

What a fucking whore!

Re:somewhat off-topic (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#16075173)

very off-topic. mod down please. i didn't come here to read classifieds, i came here to read about natalie portman and hot grits.

What's wrong with a Live CD? (4, Interesting)

moonbender (547943) | more than 8 years ago | (#16075172)

The i-Opener was 'foolproof', and if things went wrong, you could just shut it off and try again, Everything I see today lacks that ability (to varying extents).

You can do just that with any Live CD Linux. Something not working as it should? Reboot. The only downside is the longer boot time. Install to a HD to make it faster (mounted as RO to keep it tamper-proof). I'm sure there are special live CD distributions that come with a fool proof GUI, ie. a big friendly button labeled "INTARWEB".

DSL linux (1)

goombah99 (560566) | more than 8 years ago | (#16075583)

DSL linux boots screaminly fast on old hardware. While it loses some of it's advantage on faster hardware, it really can extend the useful life of older hardware. I put it on my wife's old P2 233mhz 196MB laptop and it boots faster than my new Xeon on Fedora running off the disk. (DSL boot time is 90 seconds). And the lightweight tools like the browser Dillo launch literally in a second, again much faster than firefox on my Xeon. (It does run firefox too )

I've tried a lot of Live CDs and I really like the simplicity of the way DSL can be customized and then the customizations stored on a USB or even on a web server. They make it so easy to do--almost no linux skills needed. So when you take your CD and boot any computer anywhere your personal configuration is loaded from remote server or USB stick.

One thing that will be really nice for your day is the nifty way the primary interface is simply icons on the desktop. No start menus to fuss with. just click to desktop icon. Yes I know other operating systems have desktop aliases. But they take on a greater role in DSL than in other OS. And setting up your dad with the few applications he needs is a snap. Even the package manager is the simplest I've used--no questions, just a few clicks.

DSL also is very parsimonious with screen real estate consumed by the desktop so that it can work well on small laptop screens.

The only thing about DSL that makes is hard to use for some people is that it it's folder navigation in the open and save dialogs is pretty dated. Much like windows 95. So you have to remember how to walk up and down directories in that old style. (I'd forgotten how awful that interface was by modern standards).

If that bothers you, you might want to step up to DSL's big brother "DSL-Not" which has a newer kernel and the apps use a more modern gnome style file browser. The downside is that on older hardware it boots slower.

Re:What's wrong with a Live CD? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#16075836)

Alternatively he should be able to make a read only user account on osx or any of the *nix's. This lets you customize everything before locking it in, which is nice. Neither is going to have large problems with malware, so you shouldn't have a problem with lack of updates. You could even set the mail and browser cache folders as write-able, and so keep that functionality, so this may be better than a CD distro...

VMWare (5, Informative)

Laurentiu (830504) | more than 8 years ago | (#16075175)

How about the Browser Appliance [vmware.com] from VMWare? It sounds like everything you need; you can have it started automatically when the machine is started, and everything should be good. You can have anything you want underneath; set it once and never touch it again.

Re:VMWare (1)

kenh (9056) | more than 8 years ago | (#16075436)

The Browser appliance is a good idea, but the problem becomes the underlying OS (Win, Linux, etc.) - Others have mentioned live CDs (and Ubuntu Live supports a USB filesystem for settings, files), but I would prefer a less "geeky" solution (personal preference).

Ken

Re:VMWare (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#16076229)

If you don't want a geeky solution, what the #$*! are you doing asking Slashdot?

Re:VMWare (1)

chriso11 (254041) | more than 8 years ago | (#16076765)

I don't reall understand what the problem with the underlying OS is. You could put it on top of a lightweight linux. If you are really worried, keep a ghost image of the underlying OS available, set it up as an auto-restore cd, and if they ever have problems with the system, they just restore from cd.

Re:VMWare (1)

LWATCDR (28044) | more than 8 years ago | (#16077543)

Well first this is slashdot so you will only get "geeky" answers
second is there isn't any iOpener like solutions available because it really wasn't a great solution for most people. Notice that they are no longer around. MSNTV is probably the closest you will get off the shelf.
A mac is probably the next closest off the shelf solution.
I would recommend the live cd or a properly installed or configured full Linux box.
Unbuntu is easy to use and you can configure it however you want.
Another good solution is a modded iOpener running DSL+Firefox.
When you say less geeky what you really mean is off the self.

Cheap and easy solution... (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#16075213)

1) Build a machine from Newegg or buy one from eBay. I build to full computer (including 17" LCD monitor) for under $500.

2) Install Kubuntu and set KDE into kiosk mode.

iMac G3 (5, Informative)

tverbeek (457094) | more than 8 years ago | (#16075257)

The "internet appliance" market has been a bust. Many have tried it but WebTV was the only one to have any success. It's because full-featured computers (even running Windows) aren't that much harder to use than the single-function machines. There's probably also some stigma to using an appliance because it implies that you're too stupid to use a "real" computer. And ultimately, because all the appliances have crashed and burned in the market, you have to give up on them get "real".

At the college where I do tech support we have a number of instructors (especially the older ones) who are not technologically inclined, but they need to do their grading on our web site, so they need a device that runs a modern web browser supported by our portal software. We're an art school, so we have a bunch of old G3-powered iMacs sitting around, and that's what we give them. Install OS X on them (they'll all run Panther; the oldest ones can install Tiger using a utility called XPostFacto), set it to auto-run Safari or Firefox when the machine starts, and voila: a generally trouble-free web browsing system in a friendly-looking package. Even a leisurely 233MHz G3 is fast enough and 128-256MB RAM should be plenty for web browsing. (Bump it to 320 or more if you want to also install NeoOffice.)

You didn't say why you'd eliminated a Mac as an option, and this pretty much meets your requirements. Yes, OS X does have a Software Update app that periodically prompts the user to install the latest security fixes and requires him to click some license agreements for them, but if you have to disable that to avoid confusing/annoying Dad or because he's on a slow dial-up line, it'll probably be OK (certainly moreso than an un-updated Windows machine). Firefox's updates might be annoying but they're quick and easy. An iMac isn't instant-on (especially not a G3), but if you let it Sleep instead of shutting it down it will be.

Re:iMac G3 (1)

thelost (808451) | more than 8 years ago | (#16075417)

I would recommend this too, my experience has been the same as tverbeek. I have some old friends who are not at all technologically inclined but they feel entirely comfortable on their old imacs (running system 9 actually!) and there is absolutely no reason for them to upgrade. I always find the simplest solution introduces the least possible problematic outcomes.

Re:iMac G3 (1)

tverbeek (457094) | more than 8 years ago | (#16076372)

The main problem with OS 9 as a web appliance is the same one his i-Opener has: the software's getting out of date. The only web browser for OS 9 that's been updated in recent memory is iCab, and the Flash and Acrobat plug-ins for OS 9 are stalled a couple versions back.

Re:iMac G3 (1)

thelost (808451) | more than 8 years ago | (#16076430)

that's true, but I wasn't actually suggesting that he use system 9 just that people still used it because they were so comfortable with it. OS X would be better, as you suggest it has better support.

Re:iMac G3 (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#16077170)

Once you go Mac OS X, you never go back. The essential difference is real multitasking vs. fakey "cooperative" multitasking. When a piece of software freezes, in Mac OS X you can shut down the balky program and go along with your business. In Mac OS 9 and below, the OS usually freezes up too.

Aside from playing games that require ATI Rave Acceleration, or oddball programs that don't gracefully run in Classic, there's no reason to boot into 9.

Re:iMac G3 (1)

Stormwatch (703920) | more than 8 years ago | (#16075454)

Why a G3? Unless your budget is really tight, it's better to avoid that. Flash and high quality videos CRAWL on a G3/500. An eMac, or a G4 or G5 iMac, would be much better. Or even a brand-new high-end Mac mini, $799 is not that much. But most importantly, a Mac is the way to go, because a Windows machine gives headaches even to the pros!

Other than that, I agree with you that the submitter should consider a full computer. But not because it can be made as simple as a web appliance; instead, because it is more than one.

I mean, rather than dumb down things for dad, maybe he should ask: "can't dad handle something slightly more complex?" Who knows, maybe he would like to take photos, organize and print them, or even make his own photoblog? Edit videos of family meetings, then send the DVDs to relatives? Draw and paint? Do music? There's so much you can do with a computer, why stick to the basic "use this to get on teh internets"?

Of course, maybe his old man really can't handle something slightly more complex. But consider the possibility.

Re:iMac G3 (1)

tverbeek (457094) | more than 8 years ago | (#16076324)

Why a G3?
Because they're adequate, and they're dirt cheap. I thought it was self-evident that something faster and newer might work also.

...There's so much you can do with a computer, why stick to the basic "use this to get on teh internets"?
Because that's what he asked for? Just because you get all hot and moist about all the great things you can do with a computer doesn't mean everyone does, and this kind of unable-to-listen gadget shoving is really obnoxious. The poster asked for something for a guy who's otherwise happy with an internet appliance. So give Dad what he wants, not what you think he should have. If the poster wants advice for how to turn Dad into podcast-aggregating DVD-authoring vlogger, I'll give him tips for that, but it's not what he asked for.

Re:iMac G3 (1)

kenh (9056) | more than 8 years ago | (#16078780)

I'm leaning towards a Mac (based mainlyon others advice - my conern was more generic about the state of current PC O/Ss and their frailty). My dad only wants to go on the internet, access financial information from stocks he either owns or is considering/researching (which may be a PDF), and get off. He has been happy with his broker's phone system for real-time stock quotes for YEARS, but now he has gotten used to the in-depth info in these PDFs).

I can occasionally find a G4 Mac at a local university surplus sale for less than $50 (but hate the size) - a Mac Mini is my most likely purchase (I can get a PowerPC Mac Mini pretty reasonably these days, and current models are fairly reasonable as well).

The real web stumbling blocks are security processes to access documents on web sites and viewing PDFs on a screen with better resolution than 800x600 (as the i-opener display is).

As guessed by others, my dad isn't interested in email, uploading or viewing photos, or other uses of a PC...

Ken

Re:iMac G3 (1)

schon (31600) | more than 8 years ago | (#16088250)

My dad only wants to go on the internet, access financial information from stocks he either owns or is considering/researching, and get off.

And this didn't make you go "EEEEWWWWWW"?!?!?

Re:iMac G3 (1)

Jeff DeMaagd (2015) | more than 8 years ago | (#16075594)

You can turn off the update checks in OS X and Firefox, so the user doesn't have to deal with that.

Personally, I would choose the iMac G4. i-Opener is a flat panel unit and I think the G4 version would be a better successor, not only will it take more memory, run faster, it's more compact and I think looks a lot nicer than the G3.

A G3??!! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#16077195)

I'm sorry but it wasn't until the G5 that certain things like scrolling etc started to "feel" smooth on OS X. Your suggesting using a G3 with 128-256? Even for just getting the web browser open its gonna crawl bad. Hope you don't ever want to go to a site that has multimedia embedded.

Re:A G3??!! (1)

ksheff (2406) | more than 8 years ago | (#16083359)

I have a G3-450 running Tiger and it's not too bad. It's certainly enough for what this guy wants to do. My kids use it to watch DVDs and other animations. It works fine for that.

iMac ( LCD version, not older CRT) (1)

tji (74570) | more than 8 years ago | (#16075282)

It'll cost you.. but a nice upgrade would be an iMac. The form factor will be similar for him, and it will be a hell of a lot more powserful, while remaining simple to use.

I'm sure a larger screen with better resolution will be a welcome change, and he may even get into some of the new features, like digital picture management or music with iTunes, etc.

The older G4 iMac, which looks a bit like a lamp, would be okay and not too expensive. A newer G5 iMac is a lot like the iOpener (all in one monitor unit), but will cost more.

Or, if form factor is not as important, do like I did with my parents, set him up with a Mac Mini and an LCD monitor. It's still small and quiet, and an older G4 mini should be pretty cheap.

Re:iMac ( LCD version, not older CRT) (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#16075471)

One of the LCD-screen iMacs [wikipedia.org] is definitely a good idea. Ideally some extra RAM and a copy of Tiger (Mac OS X 10.4) put on it make for great computing. Otherwise, throw an open source OS such as FreeBSD [freebsd.org] or Linux [dmoz.org] on there.

Re:iMac ( LCD version, not older CRT) (1)

Jeff DeMaagd (2015) | more than 8 years ago | (#16075674)

The older G4 iMacs are cheaper now, I think they can be had for $200 on eBay.

Unlikely to find your Holeless Grail (3, Insightful)

rjamestaylor (117847) | more than 8 years ago | (#16075369)

and no software 'update' downloads
Right there I realized that you're out of luck in 2006. That requirement nixes Windows (any), Linux (any), Mac OS X, Qnx, (any)BSD, or any other modern OS. The advances in OS vulnerability mitigation has been to
  1. lock down the OS as much as possible and
  2. provide for an easy, painless-as-possible method for downloading and installing updates/fixes/patches.

Instead of "and no software 'update' downloads" I suggest aiming for "fast, effective, automatic, unobtrusive-to-simple-usage software update downloads."

Look to well-supported OSes for meeting this revised requirement. I like Apple, personally, and have regard for several Linux distributions' efforts in this area. I even appreciate Microsoft's work in regard to software updates, although the quickest fixes are related to protecting Hollywood and not their OS users (however, my biggest gripe with Winodws is the fact that #1 above has not occured w/r/t Windows).


People find innovative ways to cause havoc everyday. Therefore a system designed for common users without built-in automated patching must be rejected. ROM-based systems are fine, unless, as you have found out, that new stuff is needed for features required to surf the modern web. Once you open that 'hole' you are in need of patching.

Re:Unlikely to find your Holeless Grail (1)

SanityInAnarchy (655584) | more than 8 years ago | (#16076468)

Therefore a system designed for common users without built-in automated patching must be rejected.

Linux, then. You want to be able to patch not only the OS and core apps, but any app you have to install. Neither Windows nor OS X has anything like this that is at all easy to use or up-to-date.

Re:Unlikely to find your Holeless Grail (1)

foniksonik (573572) | more than 8 years ago | (#16077287)

Hmm sorry but there are many many people running 2 year old OS X on their Macs... nothing about OS X requires and update unless you're running newer hardware or need to connect to a newer peripheral. With ebay there is an easy way to find older peripherals for cheap.

OS X is update neutral for many many situations. Linux is actually fairly similar but really only the newer distros are suitable for average users anyways so that's a strike against... and Windows, well you hit it on the mark there, required updates are the norm.

Pepper Pad (5, Informative)

smagoun (546733) | more than 8 years ago | (#16075426)

Have you looked at the Pepper Pad [pepper.com] ? Unlike the i-Opener it's portable (2.2lbs, built-in Wi-Fi so you can use it on your couch). Our third version, the Pepper Pad 3, has an x86 chip + runs a variant of Fedora Core. The software is based on Firefox 1.5. It includes Flash and Acrobat plugins, and has a popup blocker. It starts shipping this month.

We've designed the Pad and its software to be an appliance. The user never needs to interact with the underlying OS, although it is an option for those who want to. While we do provide software updates on a regular basis, the Pad can be configured not to get them.

Disclaimer: I work for Pepper.

Re:Pepper Pad HAHAHAHA (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#16075641)

Read the reviews on Amazon, you won't want one.

Re:Pepper Pad (2, Insightful)

DDLKermit007 (911046) | more than 8 years ago | (#16076235)

Your kidding right? The price v. funcionality of that thing is abysmal. It's appeal is more for people that really should use a full featured laptop & early adopters that are about one-upsmanship. I like what they are doing, but it'll likely be version 6 or 7 before they finally get a product thats worth it. This is at least if they are still around by some great miracle.

Re:Pepper Pad (2, Insightful)

Zzootnik (179922) | more than 8 years ago | (#16076524)

Actually, Even though I've been waiting to blow my hard earned cash on one of these, I have to admit-- you can buy a brand new laptop for a cheaper price, so I'm a bit torn...I suppose you just pay for the convenient small size and all the engineering that went into building the darn thing. From what I've read, it is a very nice little package. You can still hook up external displays and keyboard/mouse if you really want to, but its still dinky enough to be really really portable.
--Just stop pushing back the release date, eh? ;-)

Nokia 770 ? (1)

da5idnetlimit.com (410908) | more than 8 years ago | (#16079737)

Should do the trick... Small factor, linux based, luggable, has internet acces and can connect with WiFi or RJ45...

369Eu, should be cheaper in the US...

Deal ?

Re:Pepper Pad (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#16076679)

I am pretty sure he did not want to purchase some expensive handheld toy. Thanks for promoting your website.

Reveal the secret requirement (2, Insightful)

Sloppy (14984) | more than 8 years ago | (#16075491)

While investigating various options (Apple Macintosh, Knoppix Linux/Ubuntu Linux with USB key file storage, WebTV) I didn't find any that were very appealing, for a variety of reasons. Right now, I'm looking for something that has: dial-up support, no update/anti-virus/etc pop-ups, and no software 'update' downloads, support for PDFs, Flash, Javascript, and other features necessary to accommodate more modern websites.

You list requirements, and then list some computers that meet those requirements. If they're not good enough, then either say why a Mac or flash-Linux box isn't good enough, or else list the secret requirements that ruled them out.

Is fast booting from ROM one of the requirements? Is it the simplicity and efficiency of QNX?

Several years ago, many Amiga refugees were looking for somewhere to go, and QNX Neutrino was a very appealing candidate, because it matched AmigaOS' speed/efficiency/elegance. Alas, I ended up not going that way (didn't want to risk getting burned again by depending on proprietary software), and didn't keep up with what happened to that group. I wonder how well things went for them. A cheap x86 box that boots Neutrino and runs Firefox on top of that, might be what you're asking for.

AMD Personal Internet Communicator (2, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#16075659)

Seems to fit all your requirements.

http://www.amd.com/us-en/ConnectivitySolutions/Pro ductInformation/0,,50_2330_12264_12262,00.html [amd.com]

There's at least one on ebay for $150.

Re:AMD Personal Internet Communicator (1)

foniksonik (573572) | more than 8 years ago | (#16077272)

Why not just get one of these:

G4 Mac Mini on ebay for under $150 used but in great working condition.. not my item just a search result. [ebay.com]

No viruses, runs a great OS... has a combo CD burner DVD drive, etc. etc.

Re:AMD Personal Internet Communicator (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#16077978)

that one sold for $290. The AMD unit is $150 buy-it-now.

Live CD (1)

zogger (617870) | more than 8 years ago | (#16075748)

Really, just use a simple computer with a lot of RAM, no hard drive, an optical drive, and any of the live cd distros out there. That's as close and as cheap and functional and secure as you can get without a lot of hoop jumping. The mini distros are perfect, they run entirely in the RAM and get ejected after booting, freeing up the drive to put other disks in if you want to. You could also just skip the optical drive and use a USB flash drive and keep it locked to read only if you wanted to.

Get a mac (1)

Joe The Dragon (967727) | more than 8 years ago | (#16075882)

If you want to get a new one the $1,199 one is a good one as the $999 has half the ram, no SuperDrive, and shared ram.

Also most dsl, or cable internet is as cheap as dial up and most isp are shipping modems with build in nat some even have firewalls.

If only QNX had marketing (1)

Animats (122034) | more than 8 years ago | (#16076082)

Actually, if you rebuilt the i-Opener software in QNX with QNX 6.3, the current version, you'd get a new browser that supports more modern web sites. You just have to build a distro with the pieces you need, use "mkifs" to build a ROMable image with the components needed, and burn a new ROM.

It would cost about $8000 to buy a QNX development seat, but you could distribute the resulting software. You can get a free 30 day trial version [qnx.com] , and after 30 days, the Eclipse IDE turns off, as does "QCC", the front end to gcc that makes it take POSIX command line options. Everything else still works.

Sadly, QNX backed away from their "open QNX" effort of 2002, and the system is now more proprietary and more expensive.

MSN TV internet appliance (1)

CaptKilljoy (687808) | more than 8 years ago | (#16076673)

The closest thing I can think of is a MSN TV device. Apparently, they still make them(!).

http://www.msntv.com/pc/ [msntv.com]

Not likely to find any... (1)

Svartalf (2997) | more than 8 years ago | (#16076775)

Nobody was really interested in that sort of thing. The prices were too close
to a real PC to make it compelling except with people looking for a locked down
appliance type configuration- and I know for a fact there weren't any takers
because I'd not have experienced the downturn from the dot-bomb and 9/11 quite
so severely otherwise.

The closest thing would be to snag something like DSL (DamnSmallLinux), Knoppix,
or similar, add a smallish USB or IDE flash disk to the CHEAPEST computer you
can find.

iMac or Mac Mini in Kiosk mode (1)

Qbertino (265505) | more than 8 years ago | (#16077093)

Get an iMac or a Mac Mini and set it up to run in Kiosk mode.
Cheap, Zero fuss, available anywhere and it's cool.

linux on a mac? why bother (4, Insightful)

nuggetman (242645) | more than 8 years ago | (#16077345)

Why is everyone telling him to buy his dad a Mac and put Linux on it? that makes no sense at all.

Buy a mac mini and cheap LCD or an iMac.
Get OS X updated and ready to go.
Create a new account with "Simple Finder" enabled. Give your dad access to Safari, Mail, Text Edit, QuickTime, and maybe Chess. Plus any other apps you feel would be useful.
Keep the administrator account on there, and when it needs updating come over and do it.

Re:linux on a mac? why bother (1)

Ster (556540) | more than 8 years ago | (#16078539)

Keep the administrator account on there, and when it needs updating come over and do it.

Better still, update it remotely. /usr/sbin/softwareupdate is your friend. man softwareupdate for more info.

-Ster

Your best bet (1)

Pacifist Brawler (987348) | more than 8 years ago | (#16101341)

Maybe you could tell us what else you're looking for? If you set Linux so a user can't write to the HD then it's pretty close. Maybe add a script to run on boot-up to dial up and then launch firefox? Yes, you're theoretically vulnerable to a small number of hacks that gain super-user access, but unless you want to re-image or modify a live CD you're going to be in for a hard time.
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