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$200 Linux PCs On Sale At Wal-Mart 537

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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  • Re:Interesting (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Silver Sloth ( 770927 ) on Thursday November 01, 2007 @10:44AM (#21196571)

    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.
    As someone who got Vista with a new PC I can assure you these problems are not limited to *nix.
  • by coyote-san ( 38515 ) on Thursday November 01, 2007 @10:57AM (#21196795)
    Unacceptably low-end for modern software? Huh? I do some development at home, but other than that nearly all of my time is spent either reading email or surfing the web. Neither is particularly heavy.

    And I'm happy with my bottom-end MicroCenter PCs that cost under $300, even with the development work. I did double the memory to 1GB, but that was the only change for two years. (Last week I decided to add a low-end NVIDIA card.)

    I'll grant you that it's not a great choice for playing movies, and would undoubtably suck as a game platform, but for a lot of people that system would easily satisfy their needs and is far more affordable than the crap I've seen pushed at the same market -- get a 'name brand' pc for only $19.99/week for a year!

    So is it for everyone? No. Is it a good choice for a lot of people? Yes.
  • by Zombie Ryushu ( 803103 ) on Thursday November 01, 2007 @11:04AM (#21196909)
    Will the hardware makers do what they have to to make sure the project fails by installing the worst software Linux has to offer and a broken configuration like they usually do?
  • by MBGMorden ( 803437 ) on Thursday November 01, 2007 @11:09AM (#21197017)
    Despite being a big Linux advocate, the same can really be said of capable versions of Windows. My parents use an AMD K6-2 350mhz machine with an 8GB hard drive and 256mb of RAM. It's running Windows 2000 with the latest Firefox installed, and an upgrade is not anywhere on the horizon for them. My mom checks email and browses eBay. My dad checks email and keeps track of his Fantasy Football teams. That machine running that software performs those functions just fine, despite being horribly outdated. My brothers machine: a Celeron 566mhz with a 40GB hard drive and 512mb of RAM, running XP. He surfs the web, uses AIM, and does his Fantasy Football thing on it. He's also not looking at upgrading anytime soon.

    The simple fact is most normal people don't know the difference between a fast computer and a slow one. The only time they normally buy a new one is when their computer gets enough spyware on it that it no longer works properly. They buy that new system because the old one was "broken", not really slow. For people with free tech support (see above), that generally doesn't happen.
  • Re:Interesting (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Albanach ( 527650 ) on Thursday November 01, 2007 @11:12AM (#21197077) Homepage

    And ideologies suck.
    Not nearly as much as monopolies.

    If you can afford Office 2007 go ahead and buy it, but as already discussed, this machine isn't going to be very good at running windows, so you'll need a different PC too.

    Be aware though, that as OpenOffice continues to develop and becomes more of a competitor, you as a MS user will benefit, through more money being spent on R&D to bring you new features, as MS try to maintain their lead, as well as lower costs as MS try remain competitive.

    Without competition, you'll see MS continue to develop their software like they did between 1999 and 2006 where windows saw only an incremental improvement between Windows 2K and Windows XP and Office changed even less.
  • Marketing Madness (Score:5, Insightful)

    by rueger ( 210566 ) on Thursday November 01, 2007 @11:20AM (#21197207) Homepage
    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.

    You're taking an underpowered machine, with a non-standard desktop, OS and software, and selling it to what is likely the least tech knowledgeable market that you can find.

    a) Sell crappy Linux box to unsupecting mark.
    b) Mark can't figure out why it isn't like every other computer
    c) Mark can't make $9.99 computer game install
    d) Mark can't make MS Word document open.
    e) Profit?

    Ever consider that there was a reason why Wal-Mart's last cheapo Linux PC has been "out of stock" for so long? It's because they can't sell them without having them returned.
  • by glavenoid ( 636808 ) on Thursday November 01, 2007 @11:36AM (#21197447) Journal
    How was this modded insightful? In 1990 or 1991, a 386DX 50 mhz with 8 meg ram and a 200 MB hdd would have been a high end pc, probably costing around $3,000. This walmart pc would have been completely unheard of back then. Perhaps you meant 2000 or 2001.
  • by walt-sjc ( 145127 ) on Thursday November 01, 2007 @11:49AM (#21197675)
    Yeah, but don't try and run Open Office on that machine. Gonna suck. Not that MS Office 2007 would run great either, but for a modern machine, it's still pretty pathetic. It's about at the year 2001 level.

    For simple Web browsing / email, such a machine works fine. If they sold it as an email / web appliance, that would be better, but to sell it as a general purpose home PC is a little disingenuous especially as it won't run any other software that Walmart sells.
  • Re:No, really? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Chandon Seldon ( 43083 ) on Thursday November 01, 2007 @11:49AM (#21197681) Homepage

    Wait, what?

    The desktop that they're showing in the screenshots (Enlightenment + Some File Manager + Some Dock App) is as full featured as any common desktop system today, and it should be able to compete at bling as well. Going with XFCE probably would have been better-integrated, but to noob users this system will look as good as a Mac (and thus *look* better than Vista).

  • by AvitarX ( 172628 ) <me AT brandywinehundred DOT org> on Thursday November 01, 2007 @11:53AM (#21197755) Journal
    They should really have used Ubuntu and XFCE.

    I like Enlightenment, but it is VERY different than Windows, and not completely intuitive. For example the icon bar (like a task list) defaults to being able to go under things (in Ubuntu anyway). Also, no start button and no files on the desktop.

    XFCE works very close to gnome or Windows and looks great. Stuff saves to the Desktop, it has a start button and a task bar. No autoflip on screen edge (by default) no multi-view ports (by default at least). Using enlightenment almost to me sounds like designed failure. I would think a slightly sluggish Gnome or KDE would give a better impression.

    I also think the biggest thing would be a lighter-weight (than Firefox) but still highly site compatible (like Firefox) web browser would help. On my system (that uses Gnome) Firefox is the biggest memmorey hog. I also have a Celeron 3.4GHz with 512 MB of ram. I installed Xubuntu, but also some Gnome and KDE apps. Firefox is using 125MB of RAM. My SWAP is at 400MB used of 800MB. I am using XFCE and as long as no super Flash site comes up things run fairly well, though there is definite lag in the Google Apps, they are functional.

    I like Enlightenment, but it is just too unixy for the complete novice I think.
  • Re:Interesting (Score:5, Insightful)

    by walt-sjc ( 145127 ) on Thursday November 01, 2007 @12:06PM (#21197991)
    Neither of these can yet (YET) hold a candle to Office.

    I beg to differ.

    So you would buy MS Office at $460 for a $200 PC? And of course that also needs a windows license for another $210 so you are up to $670 worth of software for a $200 PC. Then of course you would need the commercial equivalents for all the other software that comes with that machine which would probably run around a total of $2500+ for a $200 PC. Yeah - that makes a lot of sense for home users (the target market.)

    Say what you will about Open (Star) Office but it handles 95% of the business documents I deal with perfectly on a daily basis. It should handle 99.999% of the home needs just fine. The only reason it can't handle the remaining 5% is due to Microsoft's refusal to fully document and release specifications to the MS Office file formats. It's not OK to support a company that illegally abuses it's monopoly status to damage competition.

  • by Nullav ( 1053766 ) < .ta. .com.> on Thursday November 01, 2007 @12:14PM (#21198091)
    And you're saying that it wouldn't be possible to make an office suite that focused on efficiency? As I recall, there weren't any problems running with a 300MHz P2 just a decade ago. It wouldn't necessarily be less functional, just less shiny and a bit slower.
    I'm sure there'd be quite a market for it if people actually noticed these $200 machines floating around.
  • by Kadin2048 ( 468275 ) * <slashdot.kadin@x[ ].net ['oxy' in gap]> on Thursday November 01, 2007 @12:16PM (#21198131) Homepage Journal
    In 1990 or 91 it would have been a supercomputer, too.

    1991 was pre-Pentium; hot stuff then would have been a 68040 if you were a Mac user, and some sort of 486 if you used PCs.

    I don't get what people's problem is with the performance of this thing. Granted, I don't upgrade very quickly (I have a dual-1GHz machine and an ancient headless Pentium-133 box under my desk, and the dual-GHz box only replaced a 400MHz one last year), but that's more than enough power for everything except gaming.

    Frankly I'd like to see consumer hardware plateau so we can get off of the upgrade treadmill, and the software people can start groveling around retirement communities to find someone who knows what 'optimization' means. It's absolutely ridiculous that people think you can't do typical productivity tasks on a 1.5GHz machine.
  • by thisissilly ( 676875 ) on Thursday November 01, 2007 @12:19PM (#21198165)
    I agree, to an extent. The difference is that Microsoft won't sell you Windows 2000 any more, and next year starting in July they won't sell you XP either, whereas I'm typing this on an old Compaq Armada with a P-III 550 and 320MB of ram, running the latest Xubuntu. Sure, the old versions of windows are still capable, but how long do you want to keep supporting them, when you can run current versions of linux?

    Personal disclaimer: I used to have my parents running on a linux box, and it was fine, especially since I could ssh in remotely if something needed doing. Then my dad was given a newer machine running XP which they've had for 2 years now, and while it's worked, it hasn't been quite as nice an experience. Next time I'm home for the holidays, I am planning on bringing an extra hard drive, and setting the system up to dual boot, and get them back to linux by default.
  • by the_womble ( 580291 ) on Thursday November 01, 2007 @12:24PM (#21198251) Homepage Journal

    a) Sell crappy Linux box to unsupecting mark.
    Yes,because the buyers are really going to be expecting the best hardware avaiable for $200. They will expect something that works reasonably and is good value for a bottom end price.

    b) Mark can't figure out why it isn't like every other computer
    Given how pretty Enlightenment looks, and given the public's liking for eye-candy, most buyers are going to think"hey, this is cool". Screenshot of this PC's default theme here [].

    c) Mark can't make $9.99 computer game install
    $200 hardware is obviously aimed at gamers

    d) Mark can't make MS Word document open.
    Why not? I have never had a problem opening and MS Word document on any Linux distro I have tried, click on it in the file manager. You do not even have to install any additional software, what you need is in the default install [] - unlike a good many cheap Windows PCs.

    e) Profit?
    At that price, very likely. Margins will be very low given the volumes Wal-Mart could potentially shift they do not need to be high.
  • by sootman ( 158191 ) on Thursday November 01, 2007 @01:00PM (#21198777) Homepage Journal
    Recommended Usage Home / Home Office
    Processor Intel Celeron D 356(3.33GHz)
    Processor Main Features 64 bit Processor
    Cache Per Processor 512KB L2 Cache
    Memory 512MB DDR2 533
    Hard Drive 120GB SATA 7200rpm

    It always kills me to read the specs on a site like and see all these machines described as "suitable for web browsing, email..." When I went to Siggraph in 1998, PII/400s were the new hotness and all the kickass machines that ran all the 3D apps had MAYBE 16 MB video cards. Today, they make it sound like a 3 GHz machine is usable only if you're a complete simpleton and will never have more than 2 apps open at once. Unbelievable.
  • by DragonWriter ( 970822 ) on Thursday November 01, 2007 @01:26PM (#21199251)

    I said this all along: The OLPC might be okay as a giveaway in third-world countries who don't have any choice and will accept anything that might be useful technology.

    The OLPC is not mainly a giveaway, anywhere. It's an enterprise device designed to meet the neds of a particular industry, i.e., national education systems in the developing world. There are some "giveaway" projects, and some investigation of one government buying them for another, but the principal focus is selling them directly to the governments that would integrate them into their national education system.

    But OLPC is STUPID to compete in America with the low-end power of Wal-Mart.

    OLPC, despite the cries of some (including numerous slashdotters) who would like it to, is not competing in the American retail market. Sure, there is a limited fundraising effort in direct sales in the U.S. loosely analogous to, say, a PBS pledge drive that offers a gift with a specified donation, but no effort at mass retail sale of the XO in the U.S.

    Just look at how Wal-Mart has found someone to make them a cheap, under $200 PC -- and remember Wal-Mart is making cheaper PCs all the time while the OLPC ones get more expensive -- that run a real version of Linux, not a strange non-standard operating system.

    The XO has not gotten more expensive. The XO ended up more expensive than it was hoped to be. There is a difference. You can't get more expensive before you have an actual price, rather than a price goal.

    The operating system of the XO is an equally real version of Linux.

    What OLPC ought to do is just call off their project for a year, and then go talk to the same suppliers Wal-Mart is using and buy from them.

    Why? What Wal*Mart is selling is more expensive than the XO and lacks many of the key features that were identified as essential to the XO project. Why does the existence of a product that is both more expensive and doesn't meet the goals of the XO project indicate that the OLPC project should abandon the suppliers it has and the highly specialized machine that it has developed?

    Free enterprise has won this battle, while Negroponte is going around telling people that companies are "pissing on" him and trying to run Windows on the OLPC.

    Your comments suggest that you imagine that there is a battle between OLPC and for-profit groups to make sub-$200 PCs that meet a need in the first-world retail market. There is not. While some of the technologies advanced through the OLPC project may eventually have some effect on the first world retail market (and, indeed, the project itself may have played a role in spurring the very demand that Wal*Mart and others are now meeting in that market), the market the OLPC project is addressing and the market this Wal*Mart product is targeting are completely different markets.

    There are certainly efforts by for-profit companies to fight the OLPC for the kind of large-scale sales to public educational institutions in the developing world that the OLPC is targeting, particularly from hardware and software vendors for whom large-scale adoption of the XO in education might, in the long-run, pose a threat to their present market dominance. But those are completely unrelated to this Wal*Mart product.
  • Re:Interesting (Score:5, Insightful)

    by xappax ( 876447 ) on Thursday November 01, 2007 @01:57PM (#21199695)
    feel free to use what you want. Only don't preach, please...

    This comes up a lot, this idea of "preaching". How is advising - even demanding - people to make ethical decisions "preaching"? Simply put: Technical superiority and cost aren't the only considerations that should be made when you decide which product to purchase and use.

    Microsoft is an unethical business. They use monopolistic practices to distort the market to their advantage, and they lobby for and exploit restrictive laws to prevent threatening innovation in software development. Because they are such a huge business, the impact and severity of this behavior is similarly huge. It's very important as an ethical human being not to give them money or other forms of support, because if you do, you're actively aiding in their activities which harm the rest of us.

    It seems to me "don't preach" is a slightly obfuscated way of saying "Don't tell me what to do". Nobody here can make you do anything, but that doesn't give you an excuse to do whatever you like, without regard to ethical considerations. And offering advice and commentary on what seems like an unethical action is far from preaching, unless "offering an analysis which takes into consideration right and wrong" falls under your definition of preaching.
  • by hey! ( 33014 ) on Thursday November 01, 2007 @03:27PM (#21200885) Homepage Journal

    If you know the way WalMart works, you know that it's silly to speculate that they have some magical marketing formula for selling these things. These things aren't meant to be bought; it's just an unfortunate side effect of their true function: to bring people in to gawk at the $200 computer before they decide they really want to buy something more expensive (and it turns out priced about the same as the competition). That's what WalMart is about: low price point stunts to rope you in, settle for something that looks priced about the same as the competition, but is really a special cheapo SKU that looks like the real thing.

    As for this thing, nothing says "sex appeal" like a mid-tower case. That is nothing says "sex appeal" in such an unconvincing way. But fair enough: it's a cheap computer, not small enough to be cute, just big enough to be dowdy. But did I mention it's cheap?

    If they wanted to sell a gazillion of these, then a small, cute case would be an asset well worth investing in. Personally, I'd do something like make a case with a veneer of sustainably harvested bamboo, and market it as a "green" pc.

    But really they intend to lose money on this, just as little as possible. I wouldn't count on using the space in the case for expanding, unless you replace the incredibly crappy power supply the thing probably has.
  • by significants ( 1140213 ) on Thursday November 01, 2007 @11:27PM (#21206849)
    "But then what do you want for $200?"

    A problem too is that consumers who are unfamiliar with *nix will not jump in and think, "Oh, well, this distribution and hardware is alright and decent for $200, I wonder what a more feature-filled distribution with better hardware would be like?" Rather, they'll think, "this Linux thing is adequate for $200, but it's in no way a competitor to Windows."

    Maybe a comparison could be made between Linux distributions, and different versions of Windows... except then my parents would ask, "well, what's the latest one?" The confusion to my parents arises with such different distributions all being under the "Linux" umbrella.

We gave you an atomic bomb, what do you want, mermaids? -- I. I. Rabi to the Atomic Energy Commission