Wal-Mart's $200 PC - sold out

Wal-Mart's $200 PC - sold out

Summary: About two weeks ago, Wal-Mart began selling $200 Linux-based PC. The initial run was around 10,000 units. Now Wal-Mart is sold out. Has Linux now found a niche?

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About two weeks ago, Wal-Mart began selling $200 Linux-based PC.  The initial run was around 10,000 units.  Now Wal-Mart is sold out.  Has Linux now found a niche?

Wal-MartÂ’s $200 PC - sold outThe system sold by Wal-Mart was an Everex's TC2502 gPC and is the first mass-market $200 desktop PC.  The spec of the system is very low - 1.5 GHz VIA C7 CPU embedded onto a Mini-ITX motherboard, 512MB of RAM and an 80GB Maybe a more relevant question is not whether Linux has found a niche, but whether Windows has outgrown the average user?hard drive - but this doesn't matter because the system does pretty much everything that your average PC users wants.  With the gPC you can surf the web, send and receive email, work with word processor and spreadsheet documents, chat with friends, keep a blog updated, edit photos and pictures, even burn DVDs CDs thanks to the built-in DVD CD burner.  About the only thing that your average home user won't be able to do with this PC is play games on it.

One thing that interested me about this PC is that it is shipped in a tower case when the components would fit into a much smaller case.  I wondered why this was the case until I came across a write-up on Wired:

Even at the low end, however, image is everything. The gPC is built using tiny components, but put inside a full-size case because research indicates that Wal-Mart shoppers are so unsophisticated they equate physical size with capability.

That "Wal-Mart shoppers are so unsophisticated" bit is a tad worrying because I do wonder whether someone who equates case size with capability should be put in charge of a Linux system.  The reviews seem pretty positive though.  Maybe Wired have underestimate the kind of person who shops at Wal-Mart.  Positive reviews far outweigh negative ones.  However, the comment that stood out was this:

when you want to jazz it up, just spend 10 bucks for a new linux distro

Interesting comment, eh?

Now here's what's interesting about this PC.  It doesn't have what it takes to run Windows Vista, but it has more than enough power to do pretty much everything that users want from a PC.  As hardware costs have plummeted, and the power that can be squeezed from components increased, the cost of having Windows installed on such a PC becomes too high a proportion of the cost of components.  For example, if you wanted to load Windows Vista Home Basic onto this system (not that I'd suggest that you tried - the PC just couldn't cope with Vista), you're adding between $60 and $90 to the cost of the PC (depending on what the vendor pays for an OEM license, if you do it yourself, expect to pay the higher price in this spectrum).  In fact, Wal-Mart do sell a similar system with Home Basic pre-installed (this system has an extra 512MB of RAM, a SATA 150 drive instead of an ATA 150 hard drive, and comes with a keyboard and mouse) for $298.  Add Microsoft Office to that cost and the price of software doubles the price of the hardware.  By installing Linux and OpenOffice, the total cost of the PC is kept as low as possible.  While the price of hardware has fallen dramatically, the price of Windows hasn't.  This could be Microsoft's Achilles' Heel.  This low price point will appeal to many.

Has Linux finally found a niche in which it can compete against Windows or will the interest in these kinds of systems be limited?  I think that Linux might well have found a good niche.  Sure, these low-end systems will never appeal to those who want power at any cost (and who don't mind if their systems belch black smoke to achieve that power) but for people looking for a very cheap PC at a rock bottom price (this system is so cheap that I doubt you could build one for as good a price if you added shipping charges for the components into the deal), this must be a pretty irresistible deal.

Maybe a more relevant question is not whether Linux has found a niche, but whether Windows has outgrown the average user?

Thoughts?

Topics: Windows, Hardware, Linux, Open Source, Operating Systems, Software

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287 comments
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  • Windows today is like a modern cellphone

    Full of neat gadgets, IM tools, web browsers, snazzy ringtones and wallpapers, PTT, you name it.

    But some people just want a phone.

    Linux fills this niche nicely. Windows unfortunately cannot.

    This will also be a test of how well Linux can keep... well... Linux, behind the scenes.
    Sabz5150
    • One of the many reasons I won't use Windows.

      The computing equivalent of a hammer with sequins.
      Henrik Moller
      • My Sides Hurt...

        As a Windows AND Linux user, the "hammer with sequins" line is going to make me giggle for at least another day-and-a-half... ;)
        GuyAlanDye
      • M$ buys Walmart and Google

        WMT : Mkt Cap. $188.10B
        GOOG.O : Mkt Cap. $205.40B

        MSFT.O : Mkt Cap. $316.80B
        Less ($400,000 / 17,000 = $23.53) "African cost of sales"
        Less (unknown) "chair repairs costs"
        Less (unknown) "cost of advertising FUD on Linux sites"
        Less (unknown) "cost of making their online stuff Linux compatible"

        Phew, they couldn't afford it.

        Wait it gets [better/worse] (delete as applicable)
        http://blogs.cnet.com/8301-13505_1-9815015-16.html

        World party here we come .... whilst all the "me-too" techies get their little brains around Open Source :P
        fr0thy
        • M$ couldn't buy WalMart fer sure

          One thing for sure is that Market Cap is no mark of what a company can buy. That is just the make believe value of the stock owned by stockholders that can change overnight.

          But folks love to compare company size by that imaginary number. I recall once people saying M$ was bigger than IBM at the point in history when IBM's real estate holdings were worth more than the M$ total gross value (not market cap!!!) Market capitalization is sometimes useful in guessing where the stock price can go. But not much more!

          About that time M$ had a total net worth of about $30 BN. And IBM had over $10BN cash on hand!!!! So IBM bought Lotus.
          Weldon@...
        • Me_Too ?

          [i]whilst all the "me-too" techies [/i]

          Why are you using my user name in your post. ;)
          Me_too
          • Me too

            Nothing personal you understand ;-)
            fr0thy
      • Hammer with sequins?

        Yes but let's extend this metaphor.

        Your plain old hammer will not hammer 99% of the nails sold. Even if it will or if you can find special nails for your hammer those nails won't correctly fasten most plywood or 2x4's.

        Sure you can make your own nails, or buy some glue and get some wood chips and sawdust and make your own plywood, or even chop down the trees in your yard and try to make some 2x4's.

        You can let people from all over the world into the office you are building for your business. Let them look at your blueprints and make whatever changes they want because they think they know better than you. You can let them rip any wall or support beam out they want because, well, they know better. You can let them change the tumblers in the locks of you doors, wire your outlets, punch down your CAT5, buy your building materials. You can let them do that over and over and over and over again as each new person rips out your work and thinks they have something better to add. And that is all beyond the potential code violations and jobsite hazards.
        In the end it might work, sort of.

        You know what? Most of those people have no idea what business you are in, what your needs are; they have almost no real world experience in your business, or for that matter, in theirs. But (let?s step outside the metaphor for this one) they have spent a couple years in the tutelage of a professor who has never earned a dollar (or what ever your local currency) outside of Academia (unless it was to get a grant by tweaking some numbers) or has spent a couple of weeks with a C++ in 21 days book.

        Now (back to our metaphor), you will find problems with your building for years, get cited for code violate after violation, have work redone, and lose good employees to health hazards or unorganized work spaces, until you finally tear it down and start over, most likely with a company proven to deliver construction project and has the business respect of most other homeowners or business owners. You will get out of their way and let them build it too.

        Theoretically, your office would eventually be the picture of safety, efficiency and modern accoutrements, but we all know what will really happen. And if, by CHANCE, it does get there it will be there long after, and at greater total cost than the option of having a real construction company build it.

        That is the reason (outside out metaphor) that for practical use purposes Linux is barely the equivalent of a hybrid of Win98Se and WinNT4.0 SP6a. Yes, there are some aspects that are superior to Win XP and definitely to Vista, but we have to be practical here. It is only at the usability level of maybe Win95-98SE.

        And as for security, Win and Lin are based on different security models. IT?s easier to hack a Winbox from an application or user session regardless of permissions, but it is easier to hack a Linbox remotely and gain root access, unless you strip it down and make it practically useless.
        _Shayde_
        • I take it that you don't care for Linux.

          Okay, your choice. But there are a lot of us who haven't experienced the problems you describe--and I've been using Linux for at least 15 years, exclusively for at least ten.
          Henrik Moller
        • Let's adjust your metaphor

          If people paid through the nose for years to a single large convicted monopoly house building company, and suffered endless break-ins, leaks from the roof, raw sewage leaking into the garden, cracked walls and were charged per-call to fix each of these issues and they didn't even get fixed, they'd be pleased to move to a new village where the houses were well built, fairly priced, the air was fresh and everyone mucked in together to keep the communal gardens "just so."
          fr0thy
          • Metaphor??

            So what you're saying is, Windows was built in the black section of town and Linux in the white??? :(
            jr1203
          • Why would you stay for years in a place like this?

            It seems like anyone could compete against your fictional monopoly with ease and steal business away from them. The only way this wouldnt happen is if govt stepped in to prevent competition.

            Likewise, if windows is so bad, why have you stayed with it? There was never only ONE choice. I have friends that have been with Apple since day one and would never think of using anything else.

            You need a better analogy.
            otaddy
          • Why would you stay for years in a place like this?

            Because the "single large convicted monopoly house building company" has bought up all the available properties, pre-installed their kinds of crummy houses on them, and left buyers with no place to go? Sure, good builders <i>could</i> compete with the fictional monopoly, but there's no place left to put their better houses. Sure buyers could go ahead and buy the property, crummy house and all, and then rip down the crummy house and have a good one built, but that's a big waste of money.
            Henry Miller
          • "if windows is so bad, why have you stayed with it?"

            I haven't used Windows for years, got fed up with fixing non-problems. Read my posts :P
            fr0thy
          • Why stay with Windows?

            Up until XP came along I kind of enjoyed the challenge of getting my computers running the way I wanted them. With the bloat of XP I have found my limit. No more Windows for me. The only thing that kept me with it this far has been the hassle of installing Linux, and the lack of a Quicken version for Linux.

            I just installed Ubuntu, the first version that didn't display messages during the installation that seemed to imply I needed to know how Linux was installed back in the 90s. I also just found some alternatives to Quicken, so I am through with Windows as soon as I get my neo-quicken setup.
            mach37
        • Shouldn't a metaphor have real-life application?

          I have nothing against commercial software. In fact, I think commercial development is a better model for many fast-moving (and profit-driven) portions of the market (such as game development). Having said that, I use Linux every day as my primary workstation for software development (because it works better for what I do) and I follow OSS developments in the news quite faithfully and I have to say that your comments show that you have not the slightest clue what you are talking about. In fact, changes to core portions of the Linux operating system are strictly controlled by a configuration control board. Ditto that for any of the major projects that ordinary users would think of as "part of the OS" (X11, KDE, gnome, glibc, etc.) I have worked in commercial development environments that don't have a tenth of the process and oversight that the Linux kernel development is subjected to. You are totally wrong as well in your "analysis" of the Linux and Windows security models. Windows has security holes due to its integration of a browser into the core OS that make it much easier to hack remotely than a typical UNIX box. Do us all a favor and refrain from running your mouth (er, mouse) without doing a little research, first.
          dshawk
        • What?

          Two questions: What planet are you living on? And when did you last try Linux?
          Either you are employed by Microsoft or you are totally clueless, or could you perhaps explain why you think Linux "is only at the usability level of maybe Win95-98SE."?
          Please, I'd love to hear you try to put some facts behind that statement....

          If your metaphor really reflects your understanding of how Linux is built and working you should take a look around and count the mission-critical systems running Linux all over the world, take a look at the top 500 supercomputers list, keep in mind that Nasa and US DOD is running a lot of Linux....
          But I guess you're the one who have understood, and all those guys are clueless, eh?
          Limpalot
        • Apples and Oranges

          As someone who grew up in the construction industry, I can fix your metaphor for you. The flaw in your metaphor is the presumption that you build a building for your use and allow everyone to modify it regardless of qualifications. The confusion you make is suggesting that the operating system you use you create for your own purpose, just as you build the building for your own purpose.

          In fact, using a home-construction metaphor, Windows would be more like pre-fabricated housing. Cheap, flexible, inefficient, common, ugly, and not what people with money buy. People with money have custom-built homes. They bring in experts to design what they want, but ultimately *they choose* what they want in the design of their home.
          hiraghm@...
          • Close

            Using the home-construction metaphor, OS X would be the custom-built home costing far more than it's worth, and the only customization you can do is the paint color.

            Remember, you can think differently, as long as you think the same as Job's and the rest of the iSheep.
            rtk
          • re close

            Well there are so many well known scientists, so many well known artists out there
            using osx, people whose value is recognized, and you, who are you to address to osx
            users as isheep ? apparently nobody....
            ∞Dilemma