Wal Mart and Schadenfreude

amcpherson's picture

(Never in my wildest dreams did I envision myself putting those two words into one headline, but leave it to the world of open source technology. . .) Much has been made of Wal Mart’s move of the Linux $199 notebook from in store Wal Mart to online sales. At first I was shocked by the attention, wondering how the story was placed in the first place. (I can guarantee Wal Mart didn’t call the AP or write a press release on this change. They’d have to employ an army of thousands to keep track of their stock changes day by day.)

But the more I thought about it, the more it made sense. A lot was made in the press that Wal Mart was selling the Linux-based PC in the first place. Then a ton of noise was made when it was said that the PC had sold out. Much rejoicing throughout the FOSS community! People love a fall after hubris. So is this a big story? What’s the truth behind it?

David Liu, CEO of gOS, does a great job explaining the story here. Obviously there is a market for these computers. But just like any new product, you have to target the right market. Is someone running into the supermarket (Wal Mart, I think, is the US’s largest food retailer now (scary)) the right target for a Linux-based desktop right now? Based on the comments on Wal Mart’s site, I would say no. For people who don’t understand what an OS is or what software does, this may not be the right product. For someone who wants a second computer to access the Internet and online documents/mail/calendar that I use everday, the $199 pc makes a lot of sense, but that’s certainly not everyone and certainly not yet.

Regardless of where or how it’s sold, these new sub $400 PCs are revolutionary — for the right market and at the right time. Is it disappointing you can’t walk into a Wal Mart and buy a Linux-based PC? Definitely. (Even though to be honest it doesn’t break my heart to pass Wal Mart by.)

But in a related story, I find this column from a ZD Net blogger puzzling. His headline: “Windows-based Eee PC to outsell Linux version - Another blow for Linux”

ASUS expects to ship in the region of 5 million Eee units this year, but the fact that the company expects 3 million of these to be XP-based must come as a poke in the eye to all the Linux enthusiasts who saw the Eee as bringing Linux to the masses.

First of all, I would hardly count a 3 - 2 ratio when Windows has close to 90 percent market share a “blow.” Let’s be realistic: Adoption of Linux on the desktop is hardly as threatening to Microsoft as it has been on the server. For Linux these numbers are unbelievable good. Apple, with greater desktop share than Linux but a few points, would be thrilled with these ratios.
I also wonder why he doesn’t make much of the fact that these computers have XP on them and not Vista. Are customers really going to be thrilled with buying a new computer with an old OS that is not going to be sold or supported in only 108 days? These $400 machines ($280 if you’re running Linux) are not capable of running Vista. The memory and components required are far too expensive and stringent. These computers are already Vista Orphans.

He also makes the following strange conclusion: “Adding Windows is a good way to puff out the price and scrape a little more profit.” It certainly costs consumers a lot more to buy the XP computer versus the Linux one, but I would hazard a guess that there is only one entity making more profit on that machine and that entity is not Asus. Just ask them. They and many of these new UMPC and low cost PC vendors will be on hand at our Linux Foundation Collaboration Summit in Austin on April 8.