Why Linux Failed at Walmart -- And What to Do About It

Why do companies selling Linux products live in such an information vacuum? Joe Public will buy a Linux desktop – but only if it’s presented properly.
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Over the past few years, various distributions have worked to make a name for themselves by selling their Linux PCs over retail Websites provided by Walmart, Sears and so on. Yet in nearly every instance, there has been a sudden stopping point where the big box retailer drops the provided Linux PCs like a rock.

Is it because of the distribution's lack of compatibility with the Windows audience, or is it an issue with the hardware and the target base of users?

If you guessed both reasons, you would be spot on.

Stop selling junk to those who don’t want it in the first place.

From Xandros to Linspire, even more recently gOS: In each instance, I have watched in amazement as otherwise perfectly good Linux distributions were bundled with extremely low-end hardware and sold to people who honestly were not in the market for what was being offered. To be fair, Linspire has made improvements by working with Mirus and selling PCs that have improved specifications. Yet there is another issue – qualifying their customers.

Why do companies selling Linux products live in such an information vacuum? Obviously targeting people who are looking for Windows alternatives is the right place to start from, yet totally failing to mention any hint of what they are actually buying in comparison to a Windows PC is a recipe for a disaster.

How Linux desktops should be presented to typical shoppers.

The entire process of selling newbie ready Linux PCs through Walmart and other outlets could have been met with great success. But in order for that to happen, there has to be some basic areas that must be covered first.

To start with, present a first rate operating system with hardware specs that do not make people want to pitch the machine in the trash after bringing it home! Anyone selling PCs with less that a 1.5Ghz processor and a gigabyte of RAM ought to be ashamed. Just because Linux PCs do not have to match with Vista requirements does not mean that the OEMs selling a PC with a selected retailer should be providing the bare minimum. It's absurd.

Some of the lesser known Linux computer vendors: Emperor Linux, Linux Certified, System76 get this right without having it pointed out to them. And yet you will never see these machines introduced in your big-box stores. Go figure!

Targeting the common user.

When Joe Q. Shopper ends up on the big box store Web site staring at a Linux box, this event can generally be attributed to a couple basic reasons.

• The shopper has had their fill of Microsoft's ever-expensive operating cost just to run a PC.

• The shopper ended up on that Web page by accident, often looking for a Windows PC.

These events present both an opportunity and a challenge. The challenges: First, qualifying that person to ensure that they’re a good match for a Linux PC in the first place. Even if they weren’t looking for it, consumers can spot a deal if the value is well stated. Second, ensuring that the shopper's existing peripherals are not going to present a challenge after being lassoed in by the seemly great price for the Linux box.

Both of these issues tend to go unaddressed. So it would be safe to say the smart money is with the Linux distribution provider that gives away a Windows tool that checks the user's existing Windows setup and provides them with a simple Linux compatibility report.

For example, let's say the user is running with an HP all-in-one printer, USB mouse and a USB keyboard. Based on these peripheral specs, this is someone who could be pre-qualified to take the Linux plunge! However if that same report indicates that the user is working with an unsupported Lexmark printer, unsupported Canon scanner and Bluetooth mouse and keyboard, this might not be such a good match.

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Tags: Linux, Windows, Microsoft, Vista, HP

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