As others see us

The real problem with the Everex gPC at Walmart was that it attempted to sell Linux in a cheap box where what the market wants is a cheap box that works - and whether it runs Linux or ElifOS is a matter of vast indifference to most of those making the buying decision.

Last week's Walmart announcement about dropping the Linux PC from store shelves drew a lot of comments. One of those, by the Forbes editor who writes the fake Steve Jobs blog is worth a closer look for two reasons: a nice sentence summarizing a lot of outsider reaction to the whole Lintel vs. Wintel argument, and an apparently gratuitous attack on groklaw.

The report, under the title "Wal-Mart yanks Linux PC, cites lack of childlike wonder", is dressed up as a comment on a March 11/08 Information Week piece by Serdar Yegulalp discussing Walmart's failure to make money selling a $199 Linux desktop and concludes with this bit:

Nonetheless freetard hack boy says, "I don't think this is the end of the road for retail Linux PCs -- not by a long shot," though he concedes that "selling Linux to the masses is going to require more than just a low price tag -- since, when you get down to it, Linux already has that."

Um, yeah. Put it this way. When you're giving something away free, and people still don't want it, and in fact would rather spend money on something else, you've got a problem.

As insights go, that one's hard to argue with - although what caused the failure was packaging rather than Linux: a no brand, monitor less, box aimed at selling Linux to pretend and wanna be geeks just isn't going to find love among "Wal-Tards" -as fake Steve calls Walmart's customers. In contrast a Lintel box dressed like an iMac and aimed at people who just want an email and web access appliance would, I believe, sell quite well to those same Walmart customers because that's what they want.

The attack on groklaw is more interesting. Here it is:

Nonetheless, I expect that soon the extreme freetards at Groklaw will suggest a Microsoft conspiracy. Like, um, after doing some heavy-duty investigative work it turns out that some mid-level executive who joined Wal-Mart last month is the same guy who back in the 1980s worked at an investment bank that managed money for a prince from Saudi Arabia and strangely enough records show that in 2003 Bill Gates visited Saudi Arabia and met with a cousin of that very same prince and they talked about creating a company to bring more tech to the Middle East. Pretty easy to connect the dots, right? Soon, Steven J. Vaughan-Cut-and-Paste of eWeek will pick up the meme and after repeating it once or twice will shorten it to "the well-known close ties between Microsoft and Wal-Mart, which led to Wal-Mart removing all Linux machines from its stores."

On the surface what's wrong with this parody is that the Forbes editor writing it missed groklaw's signature "So there's Waldo" schtick, but what made it interesting to me was the thought that this probably represents a majority opinion among Forbes readers - including many of our bosses.

It's easy when you're inside something to lose track of its relative importance in the greater whole - and what this suggests is that while groklaw looms large for the general Linux community, outsiders tend to see it with something akin to amused contempt.

It's that same inability to see ourselves as others see us that really underlies the gPC's failure to sell at Walmart - it wasn't a bad box and the price was right, but the focus on selling Linux by wrapping it in a cheap computer was fundamentally out of step with a market which clearly did not want that - and may, I think, really be looking for something that's simple, cheap, and complete enough to just work.

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