A Montreal area firm is offering a novel twist on Wi-Fi hotspots to independent businesses around the city:it’s providing the computers as well.  "If you’re a café and you desire our service, we’ll install a Wi-Fi router and our location server and WebPads in your location, and then people can either access the Internet over their laptops, or...with the WebPads," says Greg Adelstein, president of iGotcha Media Corp. In exchange for providing that connectivity, iGotcha Media charges business owners either a monthly fee or an upfront installation charge. "There has to be a small barrier to entry, to make sure they’re going to take care of the machines and make sure they don’t disappear and...they’re put back on the stands," says Adelstein. "We want to make sure they have just a little skin in the game, so to speak." In exchange, the businesses get to offer their patrons free Internet access, with no need to bring their own equipment. Adelstein says the service should appeal to independent coffee houses looking to counter the clout of Bell Canada’s partnership with Starbucks, in which the telco will have its for-fee service exclusively promoted within the Seattle-based firm’s Canadian locations. "As opposed to going to Starbucks and paying for the service, you might decide to walk across the street where you can use it for free," he notes. In addition to the revenue generated by customer contracts, iGotcha Media sells advertising in the form of looping animated commercials that play when the WebPads are in their charging cradles or in standby mode. The hotspots and hardware are now installed in more than 40 locations around Montreal, and Adelstein plans to start looking for partners outside of the city, followed by other provinces. A push into the U.S. is also in the works once a sizeable Canadian presence has been attained. "We’re looking to raise financing and also partner with a company that can help us roll this out aggressively," he says. IGotcha’s WebPads are ruggedized PCs from Toshiba running on Linux. The open source operating system means iGotcha doesn’t have to pass along the cost of software licenses to customers, as well as providing some measure of security from viruses and other malicious programs, the overwhelming majority of which are designed for Windows-based systems. In fact, says Adelstein, the system was designed with privacy and security in mind. For instance, the browser’s cache automatically clears every 120 seconds. "If you picked it up after me and hit the back button there’s nothing there," he says. The lack of an external keyboard or an internal hard drive means the device has no moving parts, and hence minimal maintenance costs – the only piece that is readily breakable or removable is the stylus attached to the WebPad by a tether. "Imagine how easy it is to spill a coffee on a keyboard, or for somebody to break the ‘return’ key by pressing it too hard," Adelstein says. He was mulling adding a fold-out foot at the back of the device, similar to those that help picture frames stand up, but reconsidered after realizing "that’s one more piece of plastic that can break off." He says that research has shown the devices are likely to be used for 15 to 20 minutes at a time, perfect for establishments that want to discourage people spending a few dollars on coffee and then hanging out all day. "Some cafés are happy to have students in there for a long period of time, but the majority of them really want to have turnover," he says. "Our computers are perfect for somebody to check their email, browse the Internet, check the weather, see what kind of movies are playing, check on your stock quotes, and it’s great to write a three-sentence e-mail, kind of like you would on a Blackberry. But just like a Blackberry, you wouldn’t want to write a term paper on it.