Linux, the free operating system that's a perpetual underdog in the desktop market, is showing up in computers in Wal-Mart stores this week for the first time.
About 600 Wal-Mart stores will carry the $199 Linux-powered "Green gPC" made by Everex of Taiwan, Wal-Mart said. It was available online on Wednesday.
A comparable Everex PC that comes with Windows Vista Home Basic and more memory costs $99 more, or $298, partly because the manufacturer has to pay Microsoft Corp. for a software license. Both computers come with keyboard, mouse, and speakers, but no monitor.
Linux is maintained and developed by individuals and companies around the world volunteering on an "open source" basis, meaning that everyone has access to the software's blueprints.
Linux is in widespread use in server computers, particularly servers that host Web sites. But it hasn't yet made a dent in the desktop market. Surveys usually put its share of that market around 1 percent, far behind Windows and Apple Inc.'s OS X.
Wal-Mart spokeswoman Melissa O'Brien said it is stocking the gPC in about one in eight stores to test the demand for an open-source product.
Wal-Mart Stores Inc. sold Linux computers online — but not in stores — starting in 2002 at prices as low as $199. Computers from several manufacturers were available for several years but they didn't find much of a market, and they're gone now.
The variant of Linux on the gPC is called gOS and is derived from the popular Ubuntu variant. It's heavily oriented toward Google's Web sites and online applications, like YouTube, Gmail and the company's word processing program, all of which can be used only when the computer is connected to a broadband line.
Google's push into desktop applications is relatively new, and gOS, the Los Angeles-based startup behind the software, sees it as crucial in overcoming consumers' reluctance to leave the familiar Windows environment.
"We feel the timing is right for open source because of that," said gOS founder David Liu. The company has fewer than 10 people on staff but gets help from volunteers in the Linux community.
Whether value-minded shoppers who would be enticed by a $199 PC will also be interested in making the jump to Linux remains to be seen. The operating system isn't known for ease of use and mainly attracts the tech-savvy, though Liu said his aim was to make the gPC something his mother could use.
The gPC has a low-end processor from VIA Technologies, plus 512 megabytes of internal memory, an 80-gigabyte hard drive and a combination DVD drive and CD burner.
Everex says the processor is very energy efficient, meriting the "Green" part of the name.
Wal-Mart has carried Linux PCs in online store before, but this is the first I have heard of them stocking one in stores.
Also, Wal-Mart is not mentioning the "L-word" at all on their product page, instead calling the Operating System "gOS".