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Updated What's going on at controversial budget PC supplier Microworkz? Earlier this month, company founder Rick Latman told PC World magazine that Microworkz had become just a software company, but now it appears that it's not even that.

The company's website now sports nothing but a Microworkz logo - the page doesn't even have a title. In fact, the site is there but it's hidden behind a CGI script that sends vistors into the logo page cul-de-sac. And CNEQT has apparently received an email from Latman stating plainly: "Microworkz has closed."

The closure - if it is such - comes on the heels of a lawsuit brought against the company by Washington State alleging flagrant disregard of consumer protection law in regard to Microworkz' handling of its ill-fated Webzter Jr. Internet access appliance.

The suit alleged Microworkz failed to deliver equipment, honour warranties, issue refunds and respond to customer inquiries about its Webzter computers. According to CNET, Microworkz is also under investigation by the Federal Trade Commission. Whether the lawsuit prompted Microworkz' closure isn't clear.

It could well be because the company has failed to find the executive team to take over from Latman - back in August he announced he would be stepping down as president on 15 November. Early November, Latman said: "We are now a software company and have had nothing to do with hardware for the last 42 days."

At the time we thought this odd, given the company's focus on supplying its iToaster (the successor to Webzter) Net appliance. The company's previously announced shift away from direct sales to supplying ISPs and retailers made a lot of sense - Microworkz was too small to provide the level of support a direct vendor needs to offer. But a second shift, away from hardware altogether, seemed odd.

iToaster was originally based on the BeOS, but, according to an email sent by Latman to The Register, the company had recently shifted over to Linux, presumably for the cost benefits in doing so. But since iToaster (with either OS) was little more than a PC, there can't be much extra software in there on which to base a company.

Mind you, Latman also said that his company had developed all the software in the iToaster, which must come as some surprise to Linus Torvalds. Whatever, the iToaster remains a good idea, even if Microworkz appears to have failed in its execution or as a business. Still, with similarly priced games consoles like Sega's Dreamcast and the upcoming Sony PlayStation 2 offering equally easy Net access, it's hard to see a future for products like iToaster, whether they come from a revived Microworkz or a rival operation. ®

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