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Last updated at 10:14 pm UTC on 26 January 2020


exobox was building a home internet terminal at the turn onf the millenium when the whole intertoobs thing was new and scary and expensive. The intent was to produce a safe, reliable waled-garden for non-techies.

From a post to the Squeak Mailing Lists on March 9, 2001:

Exobox was using Squeak to implement an extremely easy to use, Internet-savvy, user environment for deployment on Internet appliances. Some of you may be familiar with devices such as the i-Opener or Compaq MSN appliances, which have failed in the market for a number of reasons, one of which is poor software.

For all intents and purposes, we succeeded in that effort - we were pretty close (within six months) to completing the project, and had made some rather extraordinary advances in usability and overall look-and-feel. The use of Squeak gave us an edge in development that probably cut many many man-years off the development. In fact, we often encountered skepticism that what we were showing actually worked, rather than clever smoke and mirrors.

The ultimate demise of exobox had little to do with the project or the choice of technology - the crash of the dotcoms scared all sources of capital out of the tech sector. Those few remaining were chasing the next bubble - wireless, optical networking, etc - and the slowdown in PC sales made prices drop so far that the Internet appliance niche all but vanished.

Duane Maxwell

*(In response to the claim about poor software being a cause of the market failure of i-Opener/Compaq MSN internet appliances...) I disagree, I was ready to lease a couple of those appliances. The price was reasonable, those machines would have been a life-saver for me, and I wanted to put one in every room. But ultimately, those machines didn't allow direct access to my existing email accounts. In short, the companies making those things, wanted to make sure I could only check the email account they gave me, and that's not what I wanted. This was not a software problem and I'm afraid your slick-looking application would not have made a difference.

...which is why I said ONE of the problems. Yes, it is true that many of the distributors of the these devices built "walled gardens" that trapped you within their proprietary services. The business models of these companies were certainly a great part of their demise. Part of the reason for this was that to get a reasonable retail price, the rather expensive hardware had to be subsidized until the cost dropped, and to do so, these companies attempted to extract revenue from their customers in other ways - captive portal and shopping sites, paid services, long-term ISP contracts, and so on. I agree that's not a software problem and not one exobox could by itself solve. On the other hand, user testing showed that the conventional Windows-clone interfaces that some of these devices presented was a substantial problem for new users, just as it is for new PC users. – Duane


The initial desktop; this shot show both slide-out 'trays' open, which would never normally happen.