Dirt Cheap GNU/Linux PCs

Matt Barton's picture

There's some buzz at some of my other blog haunts about two dirt cheap GNU/Linux PCs: Wal-Mart's Everex TC2502 Green PC and the XO Laptop. This last option is especially interesting: buy a laptop for $400 and you get a laptop and "give one" to a needy child in a developing country--AND can deduct $200 of that from your taxes. I am strongly tempted to invest some money in one or both of these, if just to have one of these units to play around with. The Everex actually looks pretty impressive under the hood, and runs a special flavor of Ubuntu called gOS.

It seems to me that if you've had any desire whatsoever to try Linux on a dedicated machine, now is the time to spring. Heck, if nothing else you could buy one for a "basic needs" family member for Christmas. As I've said many times on this site, I doubt the bulk of casual computer users will even notice it's not Windows or Mac. The XO Laptop would be perfect for kids, and you wouldn't have to worry about buying a monitor.

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Matt Barton
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OLPC on Fox News

I actually saw a commercial for the OLPC thing on Fox News of all things. They're really getting the word out about these; I can't remember EVER seeing a commercial for Linux before--though Linux isn't mentioned in the commercial.

Still, if enough people start using it...I'm very interested to see what will happen even if Linux is able to capture a 10% share of the market.

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Bill Loguidice
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Linux - I support it, but it still will never hit it big...
Matt Barton wrote:

I actually saw a commercial for the OLPC thing on Fox News of all things. They're really getting the word out about these; I can't remember EVER seeing a commercial for Linux before--though Linux isn't mentioned in the commercial.

Still, if enough people start using it...I'm very interested to see what will happen even if Linux is able to capture a 10% share of the market.

Isn't Windows at around 96% of the market, with Mac at around 3% and Linux at around 1% and miscellaneous making up the rest? I don't recall the latest figures, but I would imagine the first goal of Linux would be to overtake Mac. And frankly, with the Mac line being "in" and having the benefit of the iPod bump and other Apple shiekness (and all that goes along with being known in the mainstream), I can't ever see Linux going to anything more than a blip. 10% would be a downright revolution - the "peasants" would have revolted and sent a clear message to BOTH Apple and Microsoft. Again, I don't see it, as both those companies would take dramatic action long before Linux ever reached even 5% market share. At the same time, Linux's best strategy (and that's treating it like it's one product or OS when it's not) is to simply start appearing in lots of different cheap devices and "just being there", with these lower cost desktops and laptops (as well as things like Amazon's e-book reader) a start. It's not going to get in through the front door.



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Matt Barton
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Linux deployment
Bill Loguidice wrote:

At the same time, Linux's best strategy (and that's treating it like it's one product or OS when it's not) is to simply start appearing in lots of different cheap devices and "just being there", with these lower cost desktops and laptops (as well as things like Amazon's e-book reader) a start. It's not going to get in through the front door.

Well, that's certainly a good point. As I've said before, the key is to get to the average consumer and ask, "I can get you Windows or Mac OS on this box instead of Linux, but it's going to cost $300 extra." I don't think we're at that point yet, because (a) there's still the reigning assumption that Linux is too difficult or limited in terms of compatibility, and (b) most people aren't asked.

What I'm curious about is why Mac is still hanging on. I can understand why graphics designers and the like would choose the platform, but it's hard (for me, at least) to explain the relatively high percentage of average people wanting them. Is it sheer chic factor alone? Just a desire to be different? I certainly don't think the iMac looks better than, say, the Gateway One. I would've thought that Mac would have long ago disappeared, but it's hung on.

Meanwhile, Linux seems to have at least one decisive advantage in that it's free. I can't believe it hasn't caught on like wildfire (again with the average consumer, not gamers or power users who demand Windows/Mac OS). The only thing I can figure is that Microsoft and Apple have excellent marketing departments that are able to deal successfully with the threat. Mac has done a great job of portraying themselves as the only alternative to MS, but their ads seem to assume (correctly, I guess) that MS is your first choice; but why not consider Mac instead? It'd be as though every commercial for Burger King was about McDonalds.

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Bill Loguidice
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Comparisons
Matt Barton wrote:
Bill Loguidice wrote:

At the same time, Linux's best strategy (and that's treating it like it's one product or OS when it's not) is to simply start appearing in lots of different cheap devices and "just being there", with these lower cost desktops and laptops (as well as things like Amazon's e-book reader) a start. It's not going to get in through the front door.

Well, that's certainly a good point. As I've said before, the key is to get to the average consumer and ask, "I can get you Windows or Mac OS on this box instead of Linux, but it's going to cost $300 extra." I don't think we're at that point yet, because (a) there's still the reigning assumption that Linux is too difficult or limited in terms of compatibility, and (b) most people aren't asked.

Even then though, the difference is not that huge. You're talking maybe a $100 premium for Windows over Linux. The problem Linux will always have is the perception of software and hardware availability and function, meaning that anyone can walk into any non-Apple store that sells computer stuff and be assured that what they buy will work with their Windows PC, be it software or hardware. That's a powerful thought. You can cut that down to about 90% with the Mac for all except the software (not bootcamp), which is always a tinier comparitive section in a store. For hardware, you're probably looking at 2% of all on-shelf hardware products having Linux drivers and maybe a few percentage points more having official drivers on a manufacturer's Website if someone is savvy enough to go looking for it. Sure, Linux has some generic drivers and someone may make one, but it's not the official or "best" driver. That's not good no matter how you slice it. The fact of the matter is, you either get a Linux box and leave it as-is and it will work fine, particularly if it has an automated installer, or you need to make yourself savvy or be savvy to track down stuff on your own. The former is fine, but the latter can be quite tricky.

Matt Barton wrote:

What I'm curious about is why Mac is still hanging on. I can understand why graphics designers and the like would choose the platform, but it's hard (for me, at least) to explain the relatively high percentage of average people wanting them. Is it sheer chic factor alone? Just a desire to be different? I certainly don't think the iMac looks better than, say, the Gateway One. I would've thought that Mac would have long ago disappeared, but it's hung on.

Well, in many opinions and mine too, the Mac line still looks better than anything else out there, which counts for a surprising amount. Pricing has become much more competitive over the years too, which also helps. It hangs on because it's a mainstream and unified alternative to Windows, something Linux is not and something Linux will likely never achieve. You can't rally around dozens of Linux companies like you can around the single entity of Apple. They're functional machines and systems and mainstream enough, while still being outside the whole Windows paradigm for that to be enough for most people. People like to be associated with something, always like to root for the underdog, but only to a point. Linux may be too far off.

Matt Barton wrote:

Meanwhile, Linux seems to have at least one decisive advantage in that it's free. I can't believe it hasn't caught on like wildfire (again with the average consumer, not gamers or power users who demand Windows/Mac OS). The only thing I can figure is that Microsoft and Apple have excellent marketing departments that are able to deal successfully with the threat. Mac has done a great job of portraying themselves as the only alternative to MS, but their ads seem to assume (correctly, I guess) that MS is your first choice; but why not consider Mac instead? It'd be as though every commercial for Burger King was about McDonalds.

True, but as we've seen before, being the cheapest or the best or any other single factor does not necessarily mean anything, be it operating systems, computers or videogames. There are too many unknown factors that goes into what catches on and what doesn't. Once something hits a critical mass, like Microsoft products did over 15 years go, it takes a dramatic series of events to make a dent in that and that still hasn't happened. Interestingly, Internet Explorer did take serious damage from FireFox, so perhaps Mac/Linux can take a page from that. Nevertheless, a single application (no matter how important) is very different from a core product.



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Mark Vergeer
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Mac, Linux and Windows-tm

Why Mac is hanging on is just plain and simple. A lot of people who've been exposed to a Mac at one time in their life are 'hooked'. The interface is consistent and the whole system is easy to use. Use it for a longer period of time and you'll notice that it doesn't tend to slow down like Windows invariably does because of the registry growing and growing and all sorts of TSR programs that faul-up the Windows system tray. Another big plus is the fact that a Mac doesn't seem to be infected with spyware/browser hijacks as much as Windows machines are.

Then the most important part - programs and the way they integrate into the system and manage to work or screw-up system operation. There's tons of easy to install and to use programs out for OSX a lot of them freeware - since OSX there's been a huge upsurge in freely available software. Before OSX most software was payware of shareware. Most software adheres to a unified interface and pretty much works the same. If you can operate one program - you'll be able to navigate your way around another pretty quickly. What is striking is that software that uses the 'Apple interface' is more popular than the X11 interface enabling ported Linux/Unix applications to be used with the X11 windowing system. There's even a lot of alternatives to run Windows applications on OSX and even the Windows OS can be installed within OSX with help of freeware virtual machines or payware alternatives - that offer a better integration.

With Linux there are tons of programs out there - most of them developed as homebrew - but there are just too many standards like various Windowing systems (KDE, Gnome and tons more) and a lot of different libraries needed to make the programs run. A similar thing is going on with Windows and the use of dll's. Both Linux and Windows have solved the library-problems by using more or less unified installers and the Linux distro's often have some sort of package/library dependency check. But on Linux it does unfortunately happen that working programs break when the installation of another program screws up the libraries present on the system. On Windows this is less the case and on OSX most programs come with their own libraries contained within a resource fork inside the program icon - which is actually a set of directories and files containing the program and it's resources. So installing and deinstalling on the Mac often is just a matter of dragging the program icon to the hard drive and the program will creat preferences-files etc. De-installing on the Mac often is just a matter of dragging the program icon to the trash bin and deleting the preference files. Sometimes a little script is included. OSX doesn't seem to be fauled-up as much by all sorts of dll's and libaries that reside inside the OS-folder and if it is the case they can easily be spotted and deleted because of the naming conventions used making identification of those files -kexts and frameworks- very easy.

I use all three OS'es on a regular basis but OSX is my favourite because of the ease of use and stability. Leopard runs beautifully on my G4 and with a fresh install - only importing settings from the previous Tiger installation - I managed to get it running even a little faster than Tiger. So Apple manages to pull through by making yet another OS that runs faster on my systems than the predecessors.



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Bill Loguidice
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Wal-Mart Removing Linux PC from Store Shelves

http://news.yahoo.com/s/infoworld/20080312/tc_infoworld/95916



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