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Wal-Mart shoves Linux PCs off store shelves, not web site


everex_gpc.jpgWal-Mart’s experiment with selling cheap Linux-based PCs in its stores has apparently come to a close. Starting last October, the retail giant stocked desktops from the Green PC line manufactured by Everex. That stock ultimately sold out, but Wal-Mart has apparently decided not to refresh it. The Associated Press quotes a company spokesperson, referring to the machines, as saying, “This really wasn’t what our customers were looking for.” The news isn’t all bad for Everex, however, as Wal-Mart’s online store will continue to carry the current Green PC desktop and the company’s compact, Linux-based laptop, the Cloudbook.

It’s tempting to try to read something about the public acceptance of desktop Linux here, but there are so many variables that enter the equation that a clear conclusion is going to be difficult to reach. Wal-Mart is notoriously tight-lipped about its internal sales planning or figures, so it’s impossible to know how the Everex machines fared compared to their Windows counterparts. In-store sales are influenced by everything from product placement to staff familiarity, a fact that ultimately induced Apple to sell its own wares.

Meanwhile, from a retail perspective, factors like rate of turnover, profit margin, and shelf and warehouse space have a large influence on business decisions. Linux PCs wouldn’t run much of the boxed Windows software that Wal-Mart caries, meaning that they may have brought in less total revenue than equivalent Microsoft-driven machines. It’s entirely possible that the Everex machines did okay by some of these measures, but weren’t compelling in the overall picture.

An unfamiliarity with Linux may have hurt these machines at retail, but that’s hardly the only thing about them that might have struck an average consumer as odd. The gPC’s CPU and graphics chip both are made by VIA, rather than Intel or AMD. And unfamiliar software doesn’t end with the operating system, as the software bundle features items such as the GIMP, OpenOffice, and Xing. Beyond a few bundled applications, most of the featured “software” simply involves links to popular sites like gMail and YouTube. Overall, it’s easy to see how, in the absence of a well-maintained display model, new or casual computer users could find the basic stats of the Everex machines bewildering.

The fact that Wal-Mart is continuing to sell these machines online is also telling. Here, many of the retail factors mentioned above are not involved in determining a product’s “success,” and online sales are more likely to be comprised of people targeting the machine because they know exactly what they are getting. Although it’s hard to construe this as good news for desktop Linux, it’s also not necessarily the bad news that some will proclaim it to be.

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