Q: I have an aunt that would just like to e-mail people and do really light web surfing. She doesn’t have any Internet of any kind and currently has a basic cell phone without a data plan. Do services like WEBtv (MSNtv) still exist? If not, what are the best options available out there for people in this situation? Thanks in advance for the suggestions! – Tracy from northeastern Wisconsin

A: Well Tracy, I did some digging around the Internet after reading your question and I have to tell you, there’s not a lot of good alternatives out there.

MSN TVWeb TV, now MSN TV, still exists but is no longer available for purchase. Microsoft’s only role in it is to support the subscription service for existing customers.

Someone on a forum I was reading suggested a service called Zonbu which appears to be a simplified, low-cost PC running all cloud-based applications. But you still need your own Internet service and, if you want the premium features, you have to pay a monthly fee to Zonbu as well.

Not longer viable

I think the reason it’s so hard to find an alternative to MSN TV is that the concept is no longer viable. Why hook a device that acts like a computer up to your television when you can have a standalone computer or laptop for the same price?

The only real difference with a standalone computer or laptop is that instead of paying a monthly fee to Microsoft, you pay a monthly fee to your local Internet Service Provider (ISP).

So here’s what I would recommend. Buy your aunt a low cost laptop (or even a lower cost netbook) and teach her how to do just the basics, like web surfing and email. For the Internet connection, go with another low-cost, not-the-highest-speed option like AT&T’s DSL for around $15-20/month.

Forget the laptop, get the tablet

Another option would be to get a tablet-based computer like the iPad 2. If you get the 3G version there’s no need for your aunt to worry about an additional Internet connection. But someone will have to pony up the $25/month for the 3G service.

Finally, I throw this question to my readers. Do you have any alternatives to MSN TV (Web TV) that I may have missed?

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Patric Welch

Patric Welch founded Noobie, Inc. in 2006 to help others effectively choose and use technologies to enhance their work and lives. The catchy company name earned Welch the name of Mr. Noobie®, but, in reality, Welch is an experienced and professional techie. Unlike most techies, Welch evaluates emerging technologies from a noobie’s perspective and provides technology education for all skill levels in a friendly, non-threatening way.
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