Free for all?
The “electronic superhighway” was the subject of so much mid-nineties hype that the idea of telephony, TV and the Internet “converging” to create a super do-everything network became a given. Anyone who didn’t believe that convergence was imminent just wasn’t cool—definitely a cappuccino short of a cybercafé. But pretty soon, telecoms and cable TV firms began to realise that, strangely, e-hype alone was not adding to their revenues. Distracted by outlandish movies-on-demand trials, for which the technology was far from ready, many bailed out of such projects. Having learnt the lessons of rushing headlong into ill-thought-out schemes, Net-related projects are now utterly sensible…not. The current vogue for making everything “free” is now being taken to extremes. It started quietly enough with ad-supported Web-based e-mail such as www.hotmail.com, and has progressed to free Internet providers such as www.screaming.net and www.freeserve.co.uk. These services, of course, cost you something—even if it’s well hidden. Now, just as Internet stocks are beginning to look green around the gills on Wall Street, comes an idea that will attempt to turn the economics of home computing, let alone Net access, on its head. Cheap and non-upgradable PCs, past their sell-by date, are already being thrown in with some free Net access services, but a new company in the US wants to give away a very decent computer indeed: the Apple iMac. FreeMac.com at (you’ve guessed it) www.freemac.com wants to give away a million iMacs, worth a cool $1200 apiece. In return, users in the US (the only place the offer is available) must sign up to a $20-a-month ISP deal for three years and—presumably—spend, spend, spend using the built-in, credit-card-ready home-shopping software. FreeMac.com is seeking investors and e-commerce partners—but one thing’s certain. If this scheme succeeds, it could kill one of the Web’s biggest e-commerce successes: buying computers online. Why buy them if they’re being given away? More on these topics: