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Intel wins 250k unit deal for Linux Web appliance

AOL and Spains's Banco Santander Central Hispano to flog it to home bankers

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Intel will supply Spain's Banco Santander Central Hispano with 250,000 of its Linux-based Dot.Station information appliances.

Chipzilla announced the device at the Consumer Electronic Show in January 2000. By the summer, it had signed up all of three customers, including, we noted at the time, an unnamed Spanish operation. Intel can't - or won't - say if it's signed up anyone else since.

It now turns out that the Spanish company in question is BSCH, which last October announced a deal with AOL to co-develop a Net access terminal for home banking. At the time, neither party would say who would be producing the hardware.

Dot.Station is a Celeron-based machine with a built-in 15in CRT display, 4.3GB hard drive, a single USB port for the keyboard and a phone handset. Designed by Intel's home products group and manufactured by Tatung, the device has always been aimed at ISPs keen to sell cheap access hardware to new, non-PC-owning subscribers.

That distances Chipzilla's box from consumer-oriented appliances, almost all of which have singularly failed to set the market alight, contrary to all those extravagant predictions we heard from market analysts and senior industry figures last year. Earlier this week, 3Com canned its Audrey information appliance less than six months after it launched the device. Audrey cost $500 - roughly the same as the Dot.Station.

Intel's advantage is that it's selling to the sellers, so it makes money on the 250,000 boxes no matter how few BSCH customers choose to buy one. That said, BSCH's original order ran to 500,000 units, so it's clearly becoming rather more cautious now that launch is approaching. And if it doesn't sell many of those, it won't be coming back to Intel for more.

Intel Home Group marketing chief Greg Welch pointed out one other difference between Dot.Station and Audrey. Unlike the 3Com box, he told Reuters, the BSCH/AOL machine will come with special Intel-written code to automatically update its access software. He clearly doesn't know that AOL's software already does this, downloading the fixes whenever you try to sign off.

"Our software stack builds on that idea," an Intel spokesman told us. The software allows the provider to remotely manage and maintain the entire system, including diagnostics, he added. That's one of the advantages of basing your system on Linux, we guess...

AOL's choice of Dot.Station is interesting since it already has an AOL-oriented appliance, developed by Gateway, dubbed the TouchPad. Gateway recently cut the device's price by $100 to $499 in a bid to shift more units. ®

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