Indeed, WebTV/MSN TV has been very popular among people who did not want to learn about computers or get involved in all the technology. The service is super easy to use without a lot of training. Lots of people, computer experts and non-experts alike, have plugged in MSN TV boxes and been up and running on the Internet within minutes.
MSN TV is the current name of this service, which uses a small box that sits next to your television set. The television is used for display instead of a normal computer monitor. Inside the MSN TV box is a small computer that runs a proprietary operating system. However, the user never sees the internals of that operating system. All he or she ever sees is a user-friendly menu system that points to a web browser or an email program or to a few other functions. MSN TV connects to the Internet, either through a dial-up modem or by a broadband connection. It performs all its functions "in the cloud" with nothing stored in the local computer (except for a few administrative functions, such as the user's name and a few passwords).
The product and service was originally developed by WebTV Networks, Inc., a company later purchased by Microsoft Corporation and absorbed into MSN (the Microsoft Network).
WebTV/MSN TV always has been a user-friendly, but low-powered computer service. Perhaps the easiest way to describe MSN TV is to first tell what it is not designed to do. It is not aimed at the power user who wishes to manipulate large spreadsheets, create databases, edit photos in Photoshop or any similar photo image editing program, or run other computer-intensive or graphics-intensive programs. Instead, it is a quick, easy, and inexpensive method of getting online, surfing the web, reading and writing email, and accessing services "in the cloud." WebTV/MSN TV customers have always used the cloud although I suspect few of them ever realized that.
In addition to ease of use, WebTV/MSN TV has had numerous other advantages. For one, the system has always been impervious to viruses and most other malware (malevolent software). Nobody ever created an anti-virus program for MSN TV simply because there was no need for one. The other obvious advantage is price: usually $199 (plus a televsion set that probably everyone already owned).
Of course, there also have always been disadvantages associated with WebTV/MSN TV. For one, using a television set as a display monitor is an imperfect solution at best. Television sets are optimized for displaying full motion video, not for computer graphics. The other obvious drawback is the slow processor and the limited functionality: if a MSN TV customer wished to learn more and explore new and more powerful computer functions, he or she typically had to purchase a more powerful, general-purpose computer.
While WebTV/MSN TV does not allow as much functionality as a computer-based web browser, it has always been a low-cost alternative to a traditional computer connection to the Internet. Indeed, the company has thousands of customers. Now they all must look for replacements if they wish to stay online.
I have a suggestion for a WebTV/MSN TV replacement: Chromebook.
Chromebook computers are built by Acer, Samsung, and Hewlett-Packard. All of them run the Chrome operating system created by Google. A Chromebook computer looks like any normal laptop. It has a standard, built-in display, typically a 12- or 13-inch screen. It is battery powered although, like all laptops, can also be used for hours by leaving the battery charger plugged into a wall outlet. It typically weighs 3 or 4 pounds. It also has a full laptop-style keyboard. In short, a Chromebook looks like and acts very much like any other laptop you have seen, except that Chromebooks never get viruses, malware, or other nasties. No extra software (or worrying) is required. Even the commonly-used applications, such as a web browser, email program, word processing, spreadsheet program, a program to create presentations, an instant messaging program, Google Plus, Facebook, Twitter, and lots of games are all included at no extra charge.
Chromebooks have occasionally been described as "Like an iPad, but with a keyboard." I would also point out that the Chromebook's built-in video screen is also larger and easier to read than that of the iPad. Most Chromebooks are also much cheaper than an iPad.
NOTE: Samsung also sells a desktop computer called a "Chromebox." It runs the same operating system as the Chromebooks but looks like a normal desktop computer. It only operates from commercial power, not from batteries. It also requires a separate computer monitor (not a television set) in much the same manner as the majority of desktop computers. You can read more about the Chromebox at http://goo.gl/UGt4T.
For the remainder of this article, I will use the word "Chromebook" to refer to both Chromebook laptop computers and Chromebox desktop systems. They all operate in the same manner and have essentially the same functionality.
Like MSN TV, a Chromebook computer has a super easy-to-use menu system. Using a Chromebook is a bit different from using MSN TV, but it is still very easy to learn. I suspect that anyone who has used MSN TV as their only computer can easily adjust to a Chromebook within minutes. (Click on the image to the right to see a larger screen shot.)
Most Chromebooks connect to the Internet via either a wi-fi wireless connection or by a plug-in ethernet cable, such as the cables supplied by almost all broadband providers. You take the Chromebook out of the box, connect it to your broadband connection, and start using it. I don't think any Chromebooks offer dial-up modems, however. Then again, neither do many other computers these days.
I have an older Chromebook and love it. It is an inexpensive computer that performs about 95% of the things I need to do with a computer. It handles all my email, almost all my web browsing needs, and all my needs for word processing and spreadsheets. It is a simple computer that runs a web browser and always requires an Internet connection. I can also make the case that it is a sophisticated device available at a very low price ($220 to $350), is easy for non-experts to use, never gets viruses, and meets the needs of probably 99% of the Internet users worldwide. Not bad for a cheap laptop!
With a Chromebook, anyone can do everything an MSN TV device can do plus much more: use word processing documents and spreadsheets (on Google Drive), store gigabytes of information (using Google Drive or any of several other cloud-based file storage services), make free telephone calls (with Google Voice), participate in online chats, play Angry Birds or hundreds of other computer games, read the latest news, and much more.
You can learn more about all the capabilities of a Chromebook at http://www.google.com/intl/en/chrome/devices/features-learnmore.html. I think you will be surprised at how much more a Chromebook can do than does MSN TV. As stated on the Chromebook web site at http://www.google.com/intl/en/chrome/devices/features-learnmore.html: "Chromebooks have multiple layers of security to keep you safe from viruses and malware. With Google Drive, all your files are backed up online, safely and securely, even if your Chromebook accidentally takes a swim."
All in all, a Chromebook strikes me as an excellent replacement for WebTV/MSN TV. It is just as easy to use, is equally protected from viruses and similar nasties, has more functionality, is portable, has a better display screen, and has a better choice of available programs.
I have seen Chromebooks for sale at BestBuy and on Amazon’s website. I suspect you may find them at other computer retailers as well. Prices range from $220 to $350 for most models.
Samsung does offer an option for both wi-fi and 3G wide-area wireless service from cell companies. That option will add wireless Internet connectivity almost anywhere, but does so at a higher price: $528.99.
To find Chromebook laptop computers for sale, look at BestBuy at http://goo.gl/Kf5mx and at Amazon at http://goo.gl/Fh3hJ, and at other computer retailers.
The only place I have ever seen a Chromebox desktop computer for sale is on Amazon for $249.99 at http://goo.gl/UGt4T.
You can learn more about Chromebooks by reading my earlier articles. You can find an index to those articles at: http://goo.gl/YTdmW.
Enjoy your new computer!