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Question: Could WebTV become obsolete?

Question: Could WebTV become obsolete? Beatrice Real <[email protected]> writes: "I’m considering purchasing a WebTV unit. Any idea how long it might be around? I bought a CD-Interactive player a couple of years ago and now I can’t find customer support or CD-I titles. I want to avoid the same thing with WebTV, but I do like the idea of being online in my living room."

Answer: None of us wants to be stuck with a beta videotape player, a floptical drive, or a Photo CD player, but fortunately, WebTV uses industry-standard protocols that could keep it useful even if companies stop driving the product. WebTV consists of a box containing the computer, modem, and related electronics, plus a set of services. All the electronics are standard: you can hook the unit up to any television and phone line.

<http://www.webtv.com/>

If you buy the plain vanilla box, the services include up to six email addresses, some content Web pages, and unlimited Internet access for $19.95 per month. The new WebTV Plus box and service also provide picture-in-a-picture tuning, where you can browse a page and view a television channel at the same time; some stations are linking their broadcasts and content, so a single click takes you to related pages. The Plus box also includes a hard drive, a tuner, and a 56K modem.

However, if WebTV services went away, the hardware would still work because the box uses standard PPP dial-up service. WebTV’s Web site explains how "rural" customers can connect to other ISPs – it just involves configuring PPP correctly. However, because Microsoft bought WebTV, and paid quite a lot of money for it proportionate to its current sales and customer base, it’s extremely unlikely that WebTV will disappear overnight.

The greater concern will be whether existing units will need to be upgraded or scrapped when new Internet software is introduced – like audio and video players or Java applets that work. [GF]


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