Monday, the Associated Press released a story on Wal-Mart‘s decision to discontinue the line of Everex Green gPCs in their brick-and-mortar stores. It appears that the retail giant has discovered that the demand for low-cost ($199USD) computers is much higher online than in the stores, so they decided to make the offering a web-only one, freeing up valuable floor and shelf space for other products that do sell well in the stores.
I have several news readers on my iGoogle homepage, and watched yesterday as the headline made it through each. I was intrigued by the way the story mutated as the day progressed. For example, the first headline I saw was from Yahoo! News, ” Wal-Mart ends test of Linux in stores“. LinuxInsider didn’t alter the story much, but the title was different, “Wal-Mart Yanks Linux PCs From Store Shelves“. The tone of the new title is not as objective, but slightly more disparaging. It gets deeper. According to Linux Loop, though Wal-Mart hasn’t given up on Linux completely, they have failed to “really give Linux a fair chance“. Actually, a search for Everex on the Wal-Mart website shows that the gPC is making way for the gPC2 and the Cloudbook and gBook laptops, all of which offer gOS Linux.
The worst headline I crossed was from Wired, “Middle America Hates Linux, Wal-Mart Discovers“. Following the link, the article title actually read, “Middle America ‘Rejects’ Wal-Mart Linux Experiment“. The link was obviously a teaser. Regardless, the article had a sarcastic tone, quite a departure from the original story. The main theme shifted from Wal-Mart customers are not buying gPCs from brick-and-mortar stores to Middle-America hates Linux. Come on now, get serious!
Here’s a reality check. Love ‘em or hate ‘em, Wal-Mart knows a thing or two about inventory and logistics. The company has a grossly-adequate volume of sales data to assist in pricing decisions. With unprecedented buying power, there is little left to squeeze out of suppliers. The magnitude and capabilities of the company’s logistics network are nothing short of breathtaking. Honestly, when the company’s spokeswoman says that “this really wasn’t what our [brick-and mortar store] customers were looking for,” I tend to believe her.
I’m certainly glad that the article pointed out the difference in demand between the online shoppers and the rest of us (hence, the qualification added to the quote above). To state it explicitly, the Everex Green gPC is not what offline Wal-Mart customers demanded – this pairing of product to market segment is key to understanding the decision that Wal-Mart made. It does not mean that nobody wants the gPC. It only means that selling the gPC in Wal-Mart stores is suboptimal in the current market. There are many varied reasons why this is true, but without more specific data, any attempt on my part to explain them would be purely speculative. Besides, it appears that ThinkGOS is already providing some explanations, media damage control which will undoubtedly get less press than the original story.
Personally, when I go to Wal-Mart, I am usually picking up groceries, lawn or car maintenance products, Christmas decorations or parts to repair the plumbing in the bathroom. I do not buy music there as I do not support censorship, and I do not typically think of Wal-Mart when making major computer system purchase decisions. It doesn’t necessarily stem from their offerings (which are big name brands) or their price (which I do find just a tad bit higher for some electronics items) – Wal-Mart just doesn’t scream “computer store” to me. I doubt I am alone in this.
Finally, I’d like to add that while the bulk of this article concerns Wal-Mart and Everex, and to an extent Linux, the AP still felt it was necessary to give Microsoft billing in the very first line (not that Redmond minds the much-needed free advertising, of course)! The AP just wants to make sure that everyone knows that this was a Linux-only phenomenon and rest assured that sales of machines loaded with Microsoft Corp’s Windows operating system were in no way impacted. Thanks y’all! A link to www.linux.com or to Wikipedia would have been sufficient.
An article from the Business Standard entitled “Cheap laptop price tags can mislead users” (by D’Monte & Shinde, Mumbai, India, January 24, 2008) warns consumers about the pitfalls of buying a cheap laptop in today’s market. It doesn’t focus on suboptimal hardware offerings, or limited expandability, or the defect-rate of cheap components, or even the impact of pre-loaded bloatware on the unit’s usefulness. I expected any or all of these when I first clicked on the link. Instead, it focuses on the OS cost component and how Linux is being used to bait customers on price point.
The authors (almost) immediately write Linux off in the fourth paragraph, citing the general lack of support for the OS (FUD Pattern #2), commercial offerings of Red Hat and Novell excepted. Once again, the business-centric concept of “good support” – evidenced by a toll-free phone number and a paid staff – is reinforced in the mind of the reader. This simple statement effectively obscures the wealth of online Linux support information and gives the OS a second-rate appearance at best. It also sets the stage for the remainder of the article, a discussion of the popularity of Microsoft’s products in India and the unfortunate piracy rate. The only disparaging remark about Linux after the fourth paragraph is that the affordable Vista Starter Edition has successfully displaced Linux on most new cheap-laptop orders.
On a side note, essentially all of the initial comments support Linux, several even calling FUD. I was impressed with these fourteen opinions…so strong and impassioned, so consistent in thought… so written by only five distinct users. I get the impression that the comment input-box was too small and that two comments had to be spread over eleven submissions. Still, many good points were made in these rants.
I saw this article summarized on Slashdot this morning. Headline: Microsoft Claims ‘Vista Has Fewer Flaws Than Other First-Year OSes.’ According to the article, Vista released 17 security bulletins and fixed 36 vulnerabilities in the first year, which is a big improvement over XP’s hit counts of 30 and 65 respectively. The article continues by comparing these figures to the first-year vulnerability numbers for Red Hat (360), Ubuntu (224) and Mac OS X (116). One security specialist is quoted, stating that these numbers “prove that [Vista] is quantitatively more secure.” He then chastises other OS vendors for their negligence in QA and security testing.
When you read this article, does it make you doubt the security of Linux and OS X? That’s the intended message, no?
I find this article misleading for a few reasons:
- Vista numbers are based on actions Microsoft decided to take: release bulletins and fix vulnerabilities. There is an element of subjectivity here.
- The article discloses that 30 Vista vulnerabilities remain, which brings the number of known vulnerabilities to 66. Sometimes, ‘known’ translates into ‘disclosed’.
- An assumption is made that the writing of Vista and the compilation of a Linux distro are comparable activities. They are not, and the vulnerabilities associated with these activities likely have different statistical distributions.
- The scope and risk of the vulnerabilities fixed are not discussed. Microsoft may have fixed 17 big problems, where as Ubuntu fixed 224 small ones. For all we know, the cumulative effect could be equal.
The security specialist states that Vista underwent more testing than the other OSes. He makes no reference to the relative quality of that testing. “More” doesn’t mean “better.” And what does “more” mean anyway? Was the testing measured in dollars spent? Number of testers? Number of test cases?
An analysis of the actual report would probably provide more clarity. Moreover, independent verification of the numbers would boost the integrity of the conclusions drawn. The validity of the actual results, however, does not change the intent of those who report on them. FUD, I say!