Core Competence, Inc. Internet @ppliance Industry Report:
A Guide to Technology,
Products, and Deployment
David Strom, Inc.

e.go Commerce Webstation

eCommerce web server offers instant web presence and a turn-key storefront for small businesses wishing to sell products on the Internet.

Price:
Model tested $1295 + $69.95/month for InstantConnect; basic e.go starts at $995 + $49.95/mo; ISDN option $1395 +$ 75.95/month

Contact:
Encanto Networks, Inc.
2953 Bunker Hill Lane, Suite 400
Santa Clara, CA 95054
Phone: (800) 888-Encanto
Fax: (408) 919-9158
Web: www.encanto.com

Reviewed:
September 1998

Encanto e.go Commerce Webstation

The Encanto e.go Commerce Webstation is quite literally an Internet "storefront in a box". This unique appliance arrives with essentially everything a small business owner needs to sell products on the web, only hours after unpacking the carton.

What's inside?

The e.go bundles a Java Virtual Machine and real-time operating system, a four-port Ethernet hub, 56 Kbps or ISDN modem, and backup battery into a case that's slightly smaller than a PC minitower. Packed inside the entry-level e.go, you'll find a Java web server that supports secure transactions, a template-based Web site builder, and Internet services (email, news, file transfer, naming, addressing) for users connected to the e.go's hub. The advanced e.go Commerce adds a storefront builder, on-line sales processing, a relational database to record purchases, and additional RAM and disk. We tested an e.go Commerce with a 56Kbps modem.

Setting up the e.go

To configure the e.go, connect a PC using the supplied cables and your choice of Ethernet, dial-up, or serial port connection. The e.go arrives with a fixed private address; all PCs connected to the e.go's built-in hub are dynamically assigned addresses in that network. If you already have a LAN and wish to preserve your PC's address, use the serial port to configure the e.go instead.

The e.go is best managed with Netscape Navigator 4.0.4, supplied on the enclosed CD-ROM. Even if you already have Netscape, you'll need to (re)install the included patch. Launch your new browser at least once, then run the e.go's PC Setup Wizard to complete installation. This wizard configures your browser to redirect (proxy) all Internet traffic through the e.go, and to automatically launch e.go's password-protected administration interface.

The first time you log into this interface, the e.go places a toll-free call to Encanto to complete setup. After entering your name and address, you'll be asked to choose an InstantConnect service plan and supply your credit card number to pay for it. Click here to view a larger image
Click on this image to view a larger one

InstantConnect enrolls your e.go in Encanto.Net's domain by assigning your own subdomain name (for example, corecom.encanto.net) and a public IP address. Or use your own domain name, mapped to this IP address. To run a successful on-line business, your e.go must be accessible 24 hours a day. To accomplish this, you must dedicate a phone line to the e.go -- traffic in either direction automatically connects the e.go to the Internet through Encanto.Net. $49.95 per month includes 2 on-line hours per day, plus $1.49 for each additional hour. On-line fees are only charged when your site is actively in use. Or spend $69.95 for unlimited access. Either option offers a quick, simple, and economical alternative to spending several hundred dollars per month for leased-line Internet access to your web server. The only significant limitation of this approach is the delay experienced by users hitting your web site after periods of inactivity; you may need to adjust the e.go's call timeout to keep it on-line longer.

Web and File Sharing Services
It took less than two hours to connect our e.go to the Internet and create a new web site. We used e.go's WebSite Builder to pick a site type, select a template, and enter content by answering the questions posed by a short series of forms. We created an Internet site, accessible to anyone on the web. Alternatively, you may create an Intranet site, accessible to your own LAN, or an Extranet site, accessible to a specified set of users. Click here to view a larger image
Click on this image to view a larger one

Over 30 built-in templates and forms-driven data entry make it simple to create an attractive but basic web site composed of Home, About, Products, General, Events, and Contact pages. Graphics can be included by transferring image files to the e.go with FTP or the included Archivist PC program. If you want to customize text placement, fonts, or colors, you'll need to edit the auto-generated pages or use your own desktop web authoring program, then FTP your site files to the e.go. The e.go can store up to 25,000 text pages, including product literature linked to your site with the included Interleaf IxtremePE PC program. The ability to share files (e.g., through Network Neighborhood) would be a nice addition to this otherwise easy-to-use web site wizard.

eCommerce Features

If you plan to sell products on the Internet but don't quite know where to start, you'll love the e.go Commerce StoreFront Builder. This wizard uses site templates and forms to create a searchable on-line catalog of products, linked to your web site, capable of processing both traditional (phone or fax) and secure electronic transactions. Your generated storefront site includes all the scripts necessary to fill a shopping basket, calculate charges (with shipping and tax), and complete on-line sales processing. With e.go, you don't need to write or understand a single line of code to accomplish these common eCommerce tasks.

You will, however, need to learn a thing or two about electronic payment processing. The e.go's Payment Manager includes illustrated, step-by-step instructions that simplify this somewhat daunting task. You'll start by obtaining a digital certificate from VeriSign and importing it -- this allows your e.go to prove its identity during subsequent electronic transactions. You'll also need to establish a merchant bank account in which to deposit payments made to you by credit card. Finally, you'll register with a payment service like CyberCash to process on-line transactions, the cyber-equivalent of hiring a checkout cashier.

Once you've completed this payment setup process, Encanto remotely reconfigures your e.go to enable Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) transactions. Your store is now open for business. Departments and products can be added, modified, or deleted from your catalog at anytime; you must have at least one of each to open your store. The e.go records every sales transaction in its database. A Sales Order Manager is available to query and display purchases (for example, to view today's sales) and to void or modify orders. The ability to print these transaction reports would be a welcome addition.

Other Notable Features

Maintenance features available to administer your e.go, including the essential ability to backup and restore your configuration, transaction database, and web site files, add/delete/modify user profiles, and view/change your InstantConnect service parameters. For example, if you move your e.go to a new location, you'll need to re-register it to assign a new dedicated telephone number. The backup battery keeps the e.go running without AC power; use the shutdown command if you want to power down permanently. A Status panel provides limited information about the health and connectivity of your e.go; a persistent log would be even better.

e.go Payment Setup

In addition to web and eCommerce services, the e.go also provides Internet services to the small private subnetwork of systems cabled to the e.go's integrated four-port hub. The e.go acts as a proxy server for web, news, and FTP requests originated by LAN users, destined for the public Internet. It also provides a local SMTP/POP server for up to four username@subdomain.encanto.net email accounts included with the InstantConnect service. The e.go prevents any other traffic from entering or leaving your LAN through its Internet connection, and is thus not a general-purpose communications appliance.

The e.go comes with a basic 30-day service plan that includes "push" software upgrades, sent by Encanto to your e.go using Marimba's Castanet technology. For $79, this support can be extended for a year. We contacted Encanto's customer service center and were impressed to find that they fixed our problem (an expired certificate) remotely, without requiring any action at our end to diagnose or correct the problem. If you've spent less-than-satisfying time on the phone with customer support, you will appreciate what a time-saver Encanto's approach can be.

User account permissions can be configured at several levels: e.go administrator, web site content manager, insider (Intranet access with email), partner (Extranet access, no email), and news reader only. Although it's possible to use the e.go as an Intranet appliance without subscribing to InstantConnect, we believe this application is the exception, not the rule. The e.go's most distinctive features -- its "virtual constant-on" web presence and turn-key eCommerce support -- are clearly slated for public Internet use.

Final Word

The e.go Commerce offers a unique set of features unlike those we've found in any other appliance. It is a cost-effective, easy-to-use alternative to setting up your own NT/UNIX web server with leased-line connectivity, or to purchasing commercial web hosting services from an Internet Service Provider. Small businesses will find that the e.go Commerce conquers the obstacles most often encountered when setting up an affordable on-line business.

Copyright © 2000 Core Competence, Inc. and David Strom, Inc.
All Rights Reserved

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