Why help Netpliance for FREE develop a hacker proof box.
First let me introduce myself. My Name Is John Rohner
In March of 1999 I joined the forming company now called Netpliance as their
"one and only" Hardware and Firmware design engineer. The I Opener is the product
of my design efforts. So I know this machine very well.
Once production was set, via a Taiwanese company, and I had put 8 man months work,
in 3.5 calendar, into it. I was called in on a Sunday afternoon, I was down with a flu so
was home for the first time in months, handed a paycheck to the previous Friday and
told I "didn't meet Company expectations".
Two weeks later I copyrighted, applied for patent and published my "Wireless Hub
and pad" and Netpliance Threatened to sue unless I "turn over all rights to them"
and unless "I provide, FREE, my time to ensure they are "given this patent". Not me.
I told them to go ahead as they could explain how I was good enough to use free but
not pay. They are still considering it.
So much for history.
The I Opener is a simple x86 based "cut down" PC with a DSTN type LCD, not even a
good one, and a flash drive for storing the Operating system and current e-mail. It
uses a standard Award BIOS. That you all know.
What you may not know is that there is a way, built in the system, to
upgrade both the BIOS and system software from a remote site (their ISP servers).
Note, I said BOTH BIOS and OS. The "upgrade" software is in the OS code. A review
of the OS Drive will find it. Once found, and disassembled, a simple program to initiate
the download and "update" the codes could be done. Were one to look closely at the
Flash drive structure you will see there is more there than you think, a good place to
start unraveling this puzzle.
Blowing a new BIOS is easy, replacing a couple pins for the additional Hard Drive
or the replacing of the onboard Flash IDE Drive are failrly easy. But both require time
and some hardware expertise. Setting up a site to "upgrade" the BIOS and OS to Linux
might be easier.
Each unit also has a key code provided at time of manufacturer, serial and model
number, and gets a "User Key" when it first signs on the Netpliance network. This is how
they track the unit back to a user, for security and user statistics and demographics.
Also let me correct something you have wrong.
The price of each I-Opener from their Taiwanese manufacturer is $403. Units
are shipped to ORDER from there, not shipped from the Company in Austin. This was
why they initially came out at $399 (under $400 for marketing).
They dropped this because of the $400 REAL PCs available (350 or 400 mhz)
which made their 200 mhz $399 not look so good to any of gra ma's kids.
Then personalpc or peoplespc came along with their REAL PC for $22 a month
with a 3 year contract and the offer to provide a new one at the end of 3 years. This
forced them to look at other ways to sell product. Thus, the "SUB $100" pricing and
fixed 3 year @22 monthly rate.
As you know the machine is LOCKED into their s*ervice. So they make $900,
per user, in 3 years this way. OR $900 - $400 = $500 / 36 months = $13.80 per month
after the cost of the BOX for ISP only.
They planned to make money, from the very beginning, by selling advertising
space in the browser window, which you had no control of. And to that end they were
"profiling" everything you did on the machine, as they watched you surf they collected
your "pattern" and a program looked to see what "ads" to present to you. This program
also created a User Profile document that sales could use to give "prospective"
advertisers. I think they call that demographics. As a user, this was invisible to you.
You were told they were doing some tracing to provide the "most visited" sites on
your desktop. There are other things built into this "you must use me" system that
provide Saleable information for them as well. But I think you can understand that
in this service NOTHING is secret nor can it be, even if they disclaim it, the fact is
the fact. Everything you do they see and can collect. They even will offer Sites that you
have never visited based on this information, "AS SUGGESTIONS". How much they get
paid to suggest is anyones guess......
Now as to their "willingness" to go "Open". The Linux OS was the choice of
most of us from the start. Most of the software was developed under LINUX and moved
to the Proprietory QNX. Even I have no Idea why they went with QNX, EXCEPT that it
was NOT easy to switch away from. Let's face it Linux and a Mozzilla based Browser
would have been a thiusand times easier to use and implement than the QNX and it's
proprietary browser. The embedded Linux kernal is actually smaller than the QNX and all
the drivers, needed, existed. We had to write many for QNX. The Word, Excel etc viewers
and JAVA were all ready, and available, for the LINUX. NOT the QNX. Real Audio was a
snap with LINUX, we had to port it to QNX. Given all the advantages of the "FREE" Linux
you have to ask yourself: why would they PAY a royalty to QNX and go to all the trouble
to write drivers etc??. Does not look like they are interested in any "non proprietary"
software to me, nor have they ever been. My personal opinion is it is all hype for the
I hear they might sell "development" units for $350 each. Why not. Good
advertising and they only lose $50 or so. BUT, they tap into every trick that can be
used to "change" their machine. There is NO commitment to use any "ideas" in any way
but they do wish to control the "publication" of anything.
In my opinion they are looking for a free way to get ideas and block them. The
"next" generation "Wireless" pad will most probably be based on a strong ARM chip, that
was my design and I believe they will steal it". This machine is due to be "no longer"
produced in about 8 months. So they need to control the "techies" somehow while they
get the next one, version 2, ready. Y'all can help them, immensly, to design around
the "Problems", if they continue this box, by telling them all about it. And for FREE too.
Or if they sell the box you can PAY to help them out.
As for me, I am building $500 Athalon 700 mhz machines and enjoying myself.
I am supplying my friends with these and turning them on to FREE ISP services where
they can go anywhere and do anything on the web. The $400 they save can be used for
Big monitors, Printers, Big Hard drives or whatever. So they get a banner, so does or will
the I-Opener. But they have a real PC and are capable of the freedom it provides them.
I have taught people to use the Browser in a couple minutes, NO TECHIES.
Later these same people want IPhone and music and ....... And they figure it out.