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PCs for the masses.

By Tezcatlipoca in News
Fri Feb 22, 2002 at 12:45:32 PM EST
Tags: Hardware (all tags)

Wal-Mart is selling PCs with no operating system installed (as reported in this article in the Register amongst other places).

I believe this is very good news for the industry, although many of those PCs will surely receive a Microsoft operating system (in many instances illegal copies) I hope many people will try free operating systems with the help of technicaly savy relatives and friends.

This is a very interesting move that comes from one place that very few pundits would have expected. Wal-Mart does not have the entagled conflict of interests between keeping happy its costumers and keeping happy Microsoft, Wal-Mart has its hands free to try anything that could please its consumers even if that means annoying other parties.

Could have Dell, HP, Gateway or any other big PC manufacturer have done the same and get away with it? I don't think so. I hope that Wal-Mart succeeds with this idea and shows the path to other companies.


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Would you buy an OSless PC in Walmart?
o Yes 59%
o No 40%

Votes: 81
Results | Other Polls

Related Links
o this article
o Also by Tezcatlipoca

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PCs for the masses. | 35 comments (29 topical, 6 editorial, 0 hidden)
Step in the right direction (4.66 / 6) (#2)
by jabber on Fri Feb 22, 2002 at 10:14:42 AM EST

I think this is a great development.. The people that would buy a computer from Walmart in the first place are the same people who think that AOL == Internet == WWW == Microsoft.. Having the sheep faced with the dilemma of a PC that won't boot (You smart.. You make things GO!) might cause enough cognitive dissonance to unseat MS from their perch.

[TINK5C] |"Is K5 my kapusta intellectual teddy bear?"| "Yes"

Backfire (none / 0) (#32)
by Cro Magnon on Fri Feb 22, 2002 at 11:53:14 PM EST

If Walmart sells the "sheep" a PC that won't boot, they won't be PO'd at Microsoft, they'll be PO'd at Walmart for selling them "junk". The only way this will be positive is if Walmart's computers work with Linux (no crappy winmodems), and Walmart makes sure that everyone who buys a PC also buys an easy-install OS or knows what an OS is and how to install one.
Information wants to be beer.
[ Parent ]
One thing to listen for.... (3.30 / 10) (#4)
by Elkor on Fri Feb 22, 2002 at 10:22:04 AM EST

Is all the anguished screams of the sheeple as they have to deal with the install process for a Microsoft OS.

"Driver disk? What the hell is a driver disk? This isn't a fricken CAR! It's a computer!"

"Networking? You mean like TV? I'm not hooking this up to my cable box. This monitor is way too small to watch Survivor on."


"I won't tell you how to love God if you don't tell me how to love myself."
-Margo Eve
BWAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHahahahah... Fuck You. (2.00 / 15) (#11)
by Electric Angst on Fri Feb 22, 2002 at 11:48:03 AM EST

"Hey, some people aren't aware of a minute set of technical details to which I am privy! I am thusly a superior human being, and shall mock them in their ignorance!"

You wonder why "geeks" are hated.

"He who fights with monsters might take care lest he thereby become a monster." - Nietzsche
The Parent ]
I didn't take it that way... (4.85 / 7) (#13)
by ubernostrum on Fri Feb 22, 2002 at 11:58:48 AM EST

I read that comment as making the humorous point of "oh my God, people are going to find out what installing an OS is actually like, since it won't come all shiny and pre-installed" and drew the conclusion that some people's arguments for MS being more user-friendly or accessible than alternative OSes might go flying out the window at the first request for driver disks or CAB files.

But I guess you could take it as elitist geek looking down his/her nose at the unenlightened masses if you wanted to...

You cooin' with my bird?
[ Parent ]

You are right.... (none / 0) (#21)
by Elkor on Fri Feb 22, 2002 at 01:14:04 PM EST

That is how I meant it. I like to think I am not elitist. No, I take that back, I am an elitist, but not about computers. I like to think I am not a vindictive computer snob.

When I was first thrust into the role of corporate computer geek (being the youngest person there, of COURSE I had to know the most about computers) many of the thoughts I expressed in my post were the same thoughts going through my own head.


"I won't tell you how to love God if you don't tell me how to love myself."
-Margo Eve
[ Parent ]
haahhaahhahaahhaah (1.50 / 2) (#18)
by m0rzo on Fri Feb 22, 2002 at 12:42:13 PM EST

so true...

My last sig was just plain offensive.
[ Parent ]

BWAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHahahahah... Fuck You. (3.66 / 3) (#29)
by CodeWright on Fri Feb 22, 2002 at 04:16:21 PM EST

"Hey, I make fun of people because I can't do what they can do, but I happened to whine my way through a liberal arts education! I am thusly a superior human being, and shall mock them in their ignorance!"

You wonder why "Electric Angst" is hated.

[ Parent ]
Ah, the elite. (4.00 / 4) (#30)
by majcher on Fri Feb 22, 2002 at 05:42:35 PM EST

Since when is "networking" an obscure technical detail? I'm guessing that 99% of the computers sold, at Walmart or elsewhere, are going to be connecting to the Internet one way or another, and whoever buys it had damn well either know how to plug it in, or know someone who knows how to make the durn thing work.

"Oil light? Why should I care about the oil light? My car runs on gas, not oil!"

"What do you mean, do I check the air pressure in my tires? What do I look like, a dirigible pilot?"

"Brake fluid? What the hell are you talking about? I just press it, and it stops. Well, I mean, except for this one time, officer..."

Ignorance is ignorance - if you're using a technical system, you should have at least a basic idea of how it works. Maybe knowing how to reinstall drivers or something is just over the line, but many of the stories you hear from the tech support front are valid. How is someone who doesn't know that their monitor has to be plugged in that much different from someone who doesn't know how to pump their own gas, and is confused when the car stops working? The only difference is that automobiles have been around for about a century, and home computers have only been around for the last 20-25 years or so. People will learn, slowly, but in 50 years, Aunt Tillie will be installing drivers with the best of 'em. Until then, well, mocking 'em keeps us off the streets, at least.
Wrestling pigs since 1988!
[ Parent ]

Put on _some_ OS (4.66 / 3) (#5)
by ahsyed on Fri Feb 22, 2002 at 10:49:34 AM EST

Why didn't they put OpenBSD, GNU/Linux, etc. on the PCs? If they were just trying to lower the costs of the PC and/or avoid MS license fees, the costs of that install would be marginal (only the cost of duplicating the HDs).

I just think the "Which icon do I click in X to go to the Internet?" type of calls would be much shorter than the "Driver disk, what's an OS?" type of calls. But who knows, maybe the hardware on the machine is too propriatary for non-MS drivers. That would be too funny.

Support (5.00 / 3) (#8)
by ucblockhead on Fri Feb 22, 2002 at 11:09:23 AM EST

Because if they put no OS on it at all, they don't have to support any OS.

The second they put something like OpenBSD or Linux on a PC, they have to deal with explaining to customers how to use those things. This way, they just say "sorry, we no do software".
This is k5. We're all tools - duxup
[ Parent ]

Yes and no (none / 0) (#10)
by ahsyed on Fri Feb 22, 2002 at 11:47:28 AM EST

Sure they can say they don't support any OS and be relieved of that. But people that buy a computer from Wal-Mart won't necessarily just be able to install an OS. So Wal-Mart will get tons of calls where the support person would have to go on about differences with hardware and software, and what an OS is, why Wal-Mart didn't provide it, and then probably then the return hassles.

I think it would be simpler to say "We don't support any software, but here's how to get online and check email". That way you come off as helping, even when you don't have to, and you hopefully won't get as bad PR. But I'm not as smart as the execs at wal-Mart (not being sarcastic), so I guess they have their reasons.

[ Parent ]
What's the plan? (4.75 / 4) (#7)
by Otter on Fri Feb 22, 2002 at 11:02:55 AM EST

I'm wondering who Walmart is targeting here. Do they expect to get a significant number of Linux or BSD users? Are these boxes even known to run Linux?

My theory, like the Register's, is that they're targeting the pirate market. (Or at least the Bring A CD Home From Work Or Borrow One From A Friend market.) Otherwise, why not strike a deal with a Linux distributor?

What Wal-Mart may be up to... (4.75 / 4) (#15)
by ubernostrum on Fri Feb 22, 2002 at 12:25:33 PM EST

First, their claim on the matter, from the page where they're selling these computers:

These computers ship to you completly assembled but without the operating system or any other software loaded on the hard drive. The perfect solution for those who want to load alternative operating systems or have already purchased a licensed copy of Windows for this computer.
Granted, it's a little fishy, and this seems ripe for exploitation by anyone with a cracked/warez copy of Windows, but this is also coming from a store that sells Linux and computer monitors. Just stop for a moment and imagine Eric Raymond's infmous Aunt Tillie is computer-shopping at Wal-Mart:

Aunt Tillie: Excuse me, young man, I'm looking to buy a computer. Could you help me pick out a nice one?
Wal-Mart Employee: Why certainly, Ma'am. If you'll just come over here and take a look at our bargain computers, you'll see we have a fine selection of them, all at rock-bottom prices!
Aunt Tillie: Oh, how lovely! I like this one (points to a 1.4 GHz Athlon system). Now, does this come with everything I'll need to use it?
Wal-Mart Employee: Well, Ma'am, this is your basic computer. You'll want some software for it and a monitor, too, so why don't we go look at this nice package we've got over here? All the programs you need to run your computer, only $29.99 (takes a copy of Mandrake Linux off the shelf)! And right here on these shelves you can see our fine selection of monitors - maybe you'd like to try a nice 19" model?

You get the idea. This could be a great marketing move for Wal-Mart, and kind of reminds me of their CD pricing scheme (which they were being sued over a while back, I never saw how it turned out) - they lure you into their clutches with rock-bottom prices on one item, and then they've got you in the store and they can sell you all sorts of other stuff...sounds like a good plan to me. Granted, they seem to only be selling these computers online, but note that they link to their "PC Buying Guide", which mentions that you should be sure to buy any "perpherals" you need, and what do you want to bet Wal-Mart sells just those particular peripherals you need to go with your system? It's the same plan, implemented online.

You cooin' with my bird?
[ Parent ]

Might work (5.00 / 1) (#31)
by Cro Magnon on Fri Feb 22, 2002 at 11:46:07 PM EST

But only if the computers actually work with Linux. I could just see getting an off-the-rack computer to use with Linux and finding out it has a winmodem!
Information wants to be beer.
[ Parent ]
Could Walmart be counting on piracy? (4.50 / 2) (#16)
by mattw on Fri Feb 22, 2002 at 12:25:44 PM EST

What are the odds that Walmart figures most of their customers will either realize before or after they buy, that they "know someone with a Windows disk". Sure, they can't get XP, but maybe their brother across town will let them borrow WinME or such. I can envision this spawning massive piracy.

On the other hand, this is the hugest opportunity ever for a nimble OSS distributor. Wal-mart will have a limited (possibly large, but nonetheless limited) number of in stock hardware configurations, and a distro can tailor their stuff towards a beginner user on that particular hardware, and sell an upgrade with more support for a little extra. (I'd figure you'd sell a decent manual and the distro for $35-40, and then upgrade to full support for $X, or maybe just run a 900 number)

No need to worry about the advanced techies, they can handle it themselves, but this would be a chance to hear this among computer newbies:

WinUser: So, you got this at Walmart? What version of Windows is this?
WalmartBuyer: It's not. It's called Red Hat. Or Gnome. Or both. It's weird. But it's cool, and its easy, and it was only $35.

And moreover, Wal-mart is such a HUGE market that if sales were good it would change the landscape of PC sales forever. Imagine a target market for another 500,000 retail linux buyers who might now buy linux games, for example. The implications are staggering.

[Scrapbooking Supplies]
Uhm... (none / 0) (#17)
by m0rzo on Fri Feb 22, 2002 at 12:40:26 PM EST

Why, exactly, can they not get Windows XP?

My last sig was just plain offensive.
[ Parent ]

WinXP Product Activation (none / 0) (#19)
by mattw on Fri Feb 22, 2002 at 12:57:17 PM EST

WinXP Product Activation does some hashing with your hardware component ids, such as your volume serial ID, and you have to call to mix your cd key with some XP data to get an "activation key". It was cracked recently, but you can't just share, you'd have to download a key generator, and even that assumes M$ doesn't have a database of valid keys. There's also other trickery, as I understand it, such as moving/editting the files intalled after you get a valid product activation code that might let you pirate, but none of them are easy for the end user, not like handing someone a WinME disk and just telling them to go ahead and lie at the license agreement.

[Scrapbooking Supplies]
[ Parent ]
Well... (none / 0) (#20)
by m0rzo on Fri Feb 22, 2002 at 01:05:10 PM EST

Windows XP Professional has absolutely no product activation or anything like that. I can personally verify that.

Just whack the cd in and install - like every other Windows version to date.

My last sig was just plain offensive.
[ Parent ]

On a laptop or desktop? (none / 0) (#22)
by mattw on Fri Feb 22, 2002 at 01:16:16 PM EST

Is that on a laptop or a desktop? I have a dell inspiron with XP home, and it didn't require any such thing on a reinstall either, but I assumed that's because the install CDs were generated in partnership with Dell and tied to the hardware when pressed onto CD.

I haven't tried (and don't really care -- only have XP on the dell because it was refurb and came with it, so it was very non optional) XP on a desktop. However, there have been a ton of threads going around about 'beating' XP product activation, as a google search for 'XP production activation' or such will show. Why all the fanfare if you can just stick the CD in normally? That can't be the case.

[Scrapbooking Supplies]
[ Parent ]
I'm talking about WinXP Pro. (none / 0) (#24)
by m0rzo on Fri Feb 22, 2002 at 01:49:01 PM EST

I'm not sure about Windows Home Edition but Pro definately has no product activation. I have built my PC myself; all the parts were bought individually. I had Windows XP and put it on straight away without having to verify.

Maybe Home has activation but not Pro. Maybe someone can tell me that.

Regardless, how hard is it for *anyone* to use a key generator that's supplied with a pirated cd-rom?

My last sig was just plain offensive.
[ Parent ]

pirating XP (none / 0) (#25)
by mattw on Fri Feb 22, 2002 at 02:03:29 PM EST

I was reading about XP when the product activation was first announced, and the whole point behind it was to stop people from 'sharing' one copy of windows in a household or small office. Already, people buy a new windows with a new pc, and then retro install it on an old pc in the same house, or share it with their neighbor, etc. This was supposedly to stop that. Also, although there was a cd key generator, it was theorized that WPA codes validly generated might be kept in a database and that Microsoft would not give out valid keys unless they generated the WPA code, so when you call them they would just say, "That's not valid."

[Scrapbooking Supplies]
[ Parent ]
Activation (none / 0) (#34)
by Bad Harmony on Sat Feb 23, 2002 at 09:02:54 AM EST

My retail copy of XP Pro has the same product activation "features" as the XP Home version.

5440' or Fight!
[ Parent ]

Just a minor issue left (3.00 / 2) (#23)
by hbw on Fri Feb 22, 2002 at 01:39:58 PM EST

There is no fair competition among all the operating systems until Wal-Mart makes the other operating systems as easily bought in the store as Microsoft Windows.

No one will bother with Linux if the only way to get it is via a "tech-savvy friend".

I have discovered a truly marvelous signature, which unfortunately the margin is not large enough to contain.

Huh? (4.50 / 2) (#28)
by ubernostrum on Fri Feb 22, 2002 at 04:05:18 PM EST

There is no fair competition among all the operating systems until Wal-Mart makes the other operating systems as easily bought in the store as Microsoft Windows.
I'm afraid I don't understand that...isn't Wal-Mart the place that actually sells Linux in its software department? I know I bought a copy of Mandrake there once. I suppose you can make an argument that it shouldn't count because it's only one distro of one *nix system, but I think I like that in this situation - anyone with actual experience/knowledge will know how to acquire Red Hat/Slackware/Debian/Suse/*BSD etc. elsewhere, and people just migrating from Windows or buying their first computer will be OK with Mandrake, which targets newbies, and will be happy to avoid (for now - once they've used Mandrake for a while they may happily choose to learn more about their system and/or go with a different distro/*nix flavor) the bewildering choice of dstributions.

You cooin' with my bird?
[ Parent ]
Not quite correct (5.00 / 1) (#33)
by trekman47 on Sat Feb 23, 2002 at 01:44:12 AM EST

I work at a Wal-Mart store in Minnesota, and we do carry Mandrake 8.1 on the shelf, and we have carried some form of the Mandrake distro for some time. And, much to my own surprise, we do sell quite a few of them.

[ Parent ]
Good idea, bad execution (4.00 / 2) (#26)
by bADlOGIN on Fri Feb 22, 2002 at 02:11:16 PM EST

There's not enough info on the web pages about the video card, modem, sound, or networking card to let me know if it's supported by Linux, *BSD, or whatever. If I knew that the video, audio, and networking/dialup were fully supported and tested in the latest Linux kernel series I'd be all over one of these (I'm seriously in the market for an upgrade as it is). How the hell do they expect to sell these w/o a preconfigured OS if they don't identify the components so that you can correctly install your own? Great idea here, but w/o enough info for a knowlegable consumer it's a wasted effort. Seems like somebody didn't do their homework.
Sigs are stupid and waste bandwidth.
Not a bad idea... (5.00 / 1) (#27)
by broken77 on Fri Feb 22, 2002 at 02:20:32 PM EST

...but there is just no way I can support Wal-Mart.

I'm starting to doubt all this happy propaganda about Islam being a religion of peace. Heck, it's just as bad as Christianity. -- Dphitz

They're Cheaper (none / 0) (#35)
by Khedak on Mon Feb 25, 2002 at 09:05:47 PM EST

Regardless of whether this will encourage piracy, or is meant to target users who want to use non-windows OS's, probably the main reason is that they can sell the PC's cheaper. Having your system listed at $100 cheaper in advertisements is advantageous, even if that's only because there's no operating system. The average Wal-Mart shopper simply boggles at how cheap computers have become.

PCs for the masses. | 35 comments (29 topical, 6 editorial, 0 hidden)
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