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$200 Linux PCs On Sale At Wal-Mart 537

Posted by kdawson
from the testing-the-holiday-waters dept.
Placid sends in a Wired blog entry on Wal-Mart's new sub-$200 Linux-based PC. Wired calls it "a custom distribution of Ubuntu Linux," and the AP identifies the distro as gOS, made by a small company in Los Angeles. Wal-Mart began selling Linux PCs in 2002 but they have been out of stock for a while. From the Wired blog: "It has a 1.5 Ghz VIA C7 CPU embedded in a Mini-ITX motherboard, 512MB of RAM and an 80GB hard drive. Normally, this would simply mark it as unacceptably low-end for use with modern software. By using the fast Enlightenment desktop manager (instead of heavier-duty alternatives like Gnome or KDE), the makers say it's more responsive than Vista is, even on more powerful computers."
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$200 Linux PCs On Sale At Wal-Mart

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  • Interesting (Score:5, Interesting)

    by stoolpigeon (454276) * <bittercode@gmail> on Thursday November 01, 2007 @10:41AM (#21196523) Homepage Journal
    I saw this yesterday and was considering if it would as the next pc for my parents. I don't think so - for one reason, powerpoint. But my folks might be a little unusual with that requirement. I also wonder if my dad could sync his palm to it.
     
    Then we'd need to make sure that their printers are going to work all right. And I'd probably need to teach them how to use new software for printing photos. The more I think about it, as much as I hate to say it, the less I think it would work.
  • On the Contrary ... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by eldavojohn (898314) * <eldavojohn.gmail@com> on Thursday November 01, 2007 @10:44AM (#21196587) Journal

    Wow! Are we trying to convince people that Linux sucks?
    On the contrary, the article points out the hilarity that would ensue if someone would install Vista:

    If users want to install Windows on it, they can, though Everex cautions that Vista will not run well without a RAM upgrade. Recent games will not run well, if at all, on the gPC: the requirements of even humble titles like World of Warcraft exceed the system specifications.
    I think that people are soon going to realize something that speaks to their pocket books about Linux: it runs on the slowest of hardware. Sure, webpages and plugins will require more resources but that's the great advantage Linux will always have over Windows--that minimum requirements is nearly unbeatable. So keep tweaking that kernel and you'll start to see a $150 machine go on sale that will do nearly everything. Then a $100 machine. Then an $80 machine. And so on and so forth until you'd have to be a raving lunatic (or fat rich American) to pay the beefy cost of a premium machine just so you have the resources that the latest Windows needs to consume.

    How much precisely will you pay to have your UI look like glass and all your games run at the highest resolutions? I think we're approaching the point where only avid gamers & people with too much disposable income will support the ladened OS that is Windows.
  • Storage? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by kaellinn18 (707759) on Thursday November 01, 2007 @10:45AM (#21196595) Homepage Journal
    This seems like a great machine to use for backups and file storage on a home network. Just replace the 80GB hard drive with a bigger one (if necessary), and you have an extremely cheap file server.
  • by bagofcrap (260283) on Thursday November 01, 2007 @10:51AM (#21196671) Journal
    These computers are in cases that would fit a full-size ATX motherboard. Supposedly Wallmart did a survey, and found that most of their customers believe "Bigger is Better", even when it isn't. It is not a terrible deal given that it's a mini-ATX motherboard, but using that big a case for it is just wasting space.

    Even better than that, the computers being sold as 'green PC' meaning thats the mfr's product name, and has nothing to do with being enviromentally conscious.
  • by DamonHD (794830) <d@hd.org> on Thursday November 01, 2007 @10:51AM (#21196681) Homepage
    Probably quite power-efficient with that chipset so long as they have a recent (tickless) kernel in it, such as with Gutsy, though I would like a little more memory for one of my apps:

    http://www.earth.org.uk/low-power-laptop.html [earth.org.uk]

    Might also do nicely as an off-the-shelf monitoring device for networks, HVAC, etc...

    If they sell one at a similar price here I might buy one to play with.

    Rgds

    Damon
  • Re:Oh great! (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Marc Desrochers (606563) on Thursday November 01, 2007 @11:03AM (#21196895)
    Funny maybe, but that would be a good thing no? We want more people using Linux no? Isn't that what we're all pushing for all the time? Or are we now going to be elitist about it?
  • by mcmonkey (96054) on Thursday November 01, 2007 @11:06AM (#21196981) Homepage

    the makers say it's more responsive than Vista is, even on more powerful computers

    Not to go off on a rant but my #1 pet peeve with software, especially anything from Microsoft, is all the hardware gains of the past 20 years are lost of bad software. Whether due to bad design (feature bloat) or bad execution, Vista and MS Office on current consumer hardware aren't any more responsive than Win 3 and Word or AmiPRO or whatever was running back in the day.

    There was a /. story recently linking to a web log article about security analysis. The author, an employee of Microsoft, made a ridiculously inane comment about developers responding to users' requests. Really made me want to kick the guy in the nads. Does he really think users want to upgrade to faster CPUs and larger hard drives to benefit developers rather than themselves?

    When MS Office 2k7 was in beta and the PR push was on for the new menu system, I read an analysis by MS of MS Office apps and their menus over the years. The space taken up by menu bars was listed as number of pixels and as a percentage of the typical screen size. The message was, although menus had grown in absolute size, the percentage of the typical screen had stayed the same. Like that was a good thing.

    For the obligatory automotive analogy, would people take advantage of the improvements in engine design, lighter materials, etc. by buying large trucks rather than getting improved fuel efficiency with cars of the same size?

    Nevermind.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday November 01, 2007 @11:15AM (#21197125)
    Just want to tout the advantages of Enlightenment(DR16) as a window manager. It only uses 4M of ram, is very light on CPU, yet is very good at what it does. It also happens to be easily tweakable to fit your particular needs and preferences. No it's not a "Desktop Environment", but it's pretty close. Certainly a bit more featureful than your average window manager.

    Did I mention it was fast? Good.

    It comes to me as no surprise that a low-end machine running E can be more responsive than Vista and other heavy-weight software like Gnome or KDE.
  • by KWTm (808824) on Thursday November 01, 2007 @11:21AM (#21197217) Journal
    I ordered a Wal-Mart Linux PC. I'm using it for a backup server at home right now.

    This was back in 2002 or 2003. It was $200, only available by mail-order, and came with a CD-ROM drive and single hard disk (20GB?). I picked up a crummy CRT at the local second-hand computer store and started exploring Linux. I replaced the hard drive with a removable hard drive bracket.

    It took me a while to figure out that the CD reader had subtle errors (after 3 different distributions of Linux failed to install) and replaced that too. The thing was, the smaller box (is that called mini-ITX?) would only fit the very smallest CD drives, and both my new CD RW and the removable hard drive bracket protruded out the front in a rather ugly way.

    The thing came with Lindows (as it was called at the time). I tried it for 10 minutes and then replaced it with "Pink Tie" Linux, then Mandrake 8.1, then LibraNet Linux. (I tried Debian, too, but that "dselect" thing is way too cryptic.)

    Looks like Wal-Mart is back with more PC's for the people. That's great. It will bring more visibility to Ubuntu, and Linux in general. And that's the point of the whole thing: to let Linux have more visibility so that manufacturers, and people in general, won't say, "Hey, we don't have to make our video player compatible with Linux because nobody uses Linux."
  • by MsGeek (162936) on Thursday November 01, 2007 @11:23AM (#21197255) Homepage Journal
    I have you beat.

    I'm on an iMac 500MHz G3, running Panther. Performance is slower than, say, my MacBook, but it's acceptable. 750MB RAM helps, of course. Strangely enough, Photoshop Elements 4 runs faster on the iMac than my MacBook...freaking Rosetta...
  • Re:Interesting (Score:2, Interesting)

    by BrokenHalo (565198) on Thursday November 01, 2007 @11:40AM (#21197519)
    Another interesting thing is that these machines are being loaded with Enlightenment as a default "lightweight" environment. Time was (only 10 years ago) when Enlightenment was regarded as CPU and graphics-heavy and was only used as a window manager under Gnome (default option for RedHat 5.x and 6.x comes to mind). Just goes to show...
  • by Danathar (267989) on Thursday November 01, 2007 @11:44AM (#21197591) Journal
    Jack Tramail of Atari and Commodore used to say that $200 is a sweet spot for consumers

    "Computers for the Masses, not the classes"
  • A found PC (Score:2, Interesting)

    by mr micawber (803118) * on Thursday November 01, 2007 @12:03PM (#21197933)
    A couple of months ago, before my 2 ghz XP box went kaput, I would have judged this Wal Mart offering as anemic.

    The backstory:
    Trash in our neighborhood is picked up early Friday. I was out for a 'round the block smoke-walk late one Thu night and came upon an old HP Vectra VL on the curb with the other trash. I thought "what the hell and loaded the heavy PC and keyboard onto my shoulder. When I got home, I plugged it in and found it to be a 333 mhz box with Win98, and it worked. I played around with it a little and then put it in hallway, where it became the favorite perch of Ernie (my cat).

    A couple of months later the HD and mobo fried on my 2ghz XP box. I had everything replicated and backed up on a USB drive, so I saved my data. I put Ubuntu on the Vectra and it runs great for a machine with such out of date specs. Of course it is slower and less reponsive than my original PC, but there are some functions (changing the desktop resolution, for example) that are considerably snappier even on the outdated equipment.

    I have installed Linux/X on several machines through the years but the latest install from Ubuntu (7.04, now 7.1) was by far the smoothest. If I hadn't lost my XP box, I wouldn't have appreciated what can be accomplished on an older system with better software.

    Wal Mart is evil, but I might just have to go over to the dark side and grab that $200 PC.
  • Re:Interesting (Score:4, Interesting)

    by dintech (998802) on Thursday November 01, 2007 @12:27PM (#21198291)
    The only thing that worries me here is that this will be a lot of consumers first experiences with Linux. Does this really demonstrate modern Linux in the best possible light? From a visual and usability point of view I can't help but think that the average consumer will be disappointed even in comparison to older MS operating systems. But then what do you want for $200?
  • by HyperJ (940722) on Thursday November 01, 2007 @12:38PM (#21198417)
    PC's aren't generally that useful without a screen, maybe headline should have read 1/2 a pc for $200?
  • by evilviper (135110) on Thursday November 01, 2007 @12:55PM (#21198691) Journal

    If memory serves, it wasn't all that long ago (1970? 1971?) that 1.5GHz, 512MB, 80GB would have been the specs on a pretty high-end machine.

    Why is the MHz Myth still in force here on /. of all places? You'd think everyone would have learned after years and years of Pentium 4s.

    That isn't a 1.5GHz CPU, that's a 1.5GHz VIA CPU, which means it's much closer to the performance of a 750MHz PIII/Athlon CPU than any other 1.5GHz processor.

    Back in 1997 I bought a cheap system with a 300MHz Cyrix CPU. I found out very quickly that it couldn't perform remotely as well as Intel/AMD CPUs, with the most basic videos being unable to play in realtime at full-screen.

    Then, several years ago when Wal-Mart released their $200 system with an 800MHz VIA C3, I was still skeptical, but, in no uncertain terms on the product page it said that the C3 performed similarly to 800MHz Intel/AMD CPUs, so I bought two... You know something, the 750MHz Athlon it it was meant to replace absolutely RAN CIRCLES AROUND IT... Screw benchmarks. I pulled the HDD out of the Athlon system, put it in the VIA system, and everything dragged. It was painfully clear I was waiting twice as long for Mozilla to launch, for ghostscript to process a printed document, videos were now dropping frames... etc.

    It is absolutely astonishing to me that VIA CPUs remain popular. No doubt AMD at least sells some Semprons that are much faster, equally low power, and just as cheap. And it's far, far worse that the supposedly intelligent people on /. are so incredibly oblivious to the MHz Myth that they still get sucked in by this bullshit.
  • Re:Interesting (Score:5, Interesting)

    by oatworm (969674) on Thursday November 01, 2007 @12:56PM (#21198717) Homepage
    As I'm sure you're already aware, OEM pricing is very different from full retail, plus it's not like he's going to need Office Professional (the one that would cost $460) just to get Powerpoint. Looking at MS's product matrix [microsoft.com], he could get away with "Home & Student" and still get Powerpoint - that can be had from Newegg for $129 [newegg.com], and includes Word, Office, Powerpoint, and OneNote. Compare to StarOffice [sun.com], which is $70 - yes, you get most of the same functionality, but it's still not quite the same; the point, however, is that this is less than a third of the price you quoted.

    Windows licensing, meanwhile, is not $210 for OEM licensing. A NewEgg search [newegg.com] reveals that you can get OEM licensing in packs of three for roughly $410; that works out to under $140 per license. Obviously, mass-manufacturers of PCs get much more favorable licensing pricing than that, but, for the sake of argument, we'll say that the customer is paying $140. This is still $70 less than the number you pulled out.

    So, at this point, we've spent no more than $270 in software. Is this $270 you don't have to spend if you get the WalMart Linux PC? Of course, but if the WalMart Linux PC doesn't fit your needs, $270 is a reasonable number, and certainly much more reasonable than the hyperbole-screaming $2500 you came up with on a whim.

    DISCLAIMER: I run Ubuntu Linux on everything I have because it meets my needs and does so at a price point that I am quite content with (free!). I do think that, as far as Linux distros go, it's easily the most user-friendly one that I've ever run across, and would happily recommend it to anyone that has some basic technical acumen. That said, I do not run Ubuntu because of it's philosophy, nor do I do it because of any particular dislike of Microsoft's "monopoly practices". From where I'm sitting, Microsoft did precisely what Ubuntu is doing now - they offered a lower priced (compared to the competition of the time), mostly fully featured set of applications that met the needs of a vast majority of people. Think back to the late '80s - if you wanted a GUI, the only way it was going to happen was if you bought new hardware that was incompatible with your existing IBM hardware or if you paid through the nose for OS/2... until Windows 3.0 came out. Need a server operating system? No problem - your choices were Unix (required expensive hardware, had severe vendor lock-in at the time, licensing was atrociously expensive), Netware (a little better on all counts, but still pricey), or Windows NT (same interface as all your workstations and a little cheaper). If you're a 10 person operation, guess which one you're picking? Hey, it's 1994 and you need a small database. Microsoft Access costs $100. How much does everything else cost? Oh... I see. Access it is! How about an Internet browser? Remember when those weren't free-as-in-beer? How did they get free? That's right - Internet Explorer. Were any of those products perfect? Heck no. All of their products were functionally inferior to the competition - but they met the needs of 99% of the world and cost less than their competition. Sound familiar? What people seem to forget in their haste to hate Microsoft is that, for better or worse, they were better behaved than their competition of the time. Now, their time is passing, and look who's sneaking up on them...
  • by twitter (104583) * on Thursday November 01, 2007 @12:59PM (#21198771) Homepage Journal

    The Windoze monoculture makes the USA a sitting duck for criminals and terrorists. We pay the price every day in terms of spam, DoS attacks and other fraud. Criminals and terrorists alike have a tremendous platform which they can use as they please all thanks to the pathetic design of Windoze and M$'s coercive monopoly. Free software presents a diversity of platforms that will never be abused the same way. It also protects rights that are central to US law. There's nothing patriotic about giving your money to Bill Gates and there's a lot wrong with what he gives you in return.

  • by pappy97 (784268) on Thursday November 01, 2007 @03:22PM (#21200811)
    The real story is that five years after Wal-mart started selling linux PC's online...they are still selling them online, not in-store. That's the real story, and it still shows that linux isn't ready for general idiot consumer use, because well, wal-mart employees still don't know what linux is and hilarity would insue at most wal-marts when their employees try to explain that the computer doesn't have windows, but that the employee doesn't know if x game that specifically says it's for windows only will run on the $200 pc.
  • by paxmark1 (636441) on Thursday November 01, 2007 @03:27PM (#21200875)
    Hi, My via-itx Ubuddy in 2003 got changed to intel when vendor could not get the voltage regulator right. Over 12 weeks in RMA.

    Is it little-endian or big-endian? It was a problem with the first Mandrake install, but with the next version, install went well back in 2003.

    40 gb hard drive and 512 mb ram is suff quant for me with Kubuntu with a few bells (update notifier replaced by line in anacron 0 etc.) disabled. And open office works like a charm usually. I edited a 35 page thesis for a friend without a hiccup using openoffice. I still am satisfied with it.

    The key to newbies for this is - are they flexible. I have introduced people to linux from all over the world via their coming to L'arche, and many can adapt, and some can't. And the ones who can't are often inflexible about other items.

    So, it would be nice to hear more details about the onboard video, number processing with itx (was a little weak) and any snafus noted with big endian if it is big endian.

    The piece of mind alone from not getting sucked into all that spyware and viruses and gator that noobies often do (I see what 18 to 25 y.o. people from all over the world do to windows boxen), nice machines that crawl. It can't be any worse than what happens to window boxes.

    The other thing about a big box is that it allows a much cheaper dvd-rw. I am on third thin burner - and the APOS cheap crap that I bought does not work well with either. Quality thin dvd players of writer are not cheap.

Fools ignore complexity. Pragmatists suffer it. Some can avoid it. Geniuses remove it. -- Perlis's Programming Proverb #58, SIGPLAN Notices, Sept. 1982

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