Why Walmart isn’t the place for Linux

A lot has been said this week about Walmart pulling the Everex gPC and Cloudbook from their stores. Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols has a interesting article on desktoplinux.com regarding his views.

What it boils down to is the people who typically shop at WalMart are probably not even capable of determining what OS their computer is running. All they know is they bought the computer and then bought Quicken and couldn’t get it to run on the gPC.

Tux Clueless

Linux distros like gOS and Ubuntu aren’t doing enough to educate people by telling them that Linux is another OS, and that they can do all the same things they can do with Windows, Quicken and Microsoft Office, however they won’t be using those programs. They’ll be using Linux, GnuCash and OpenOffice.org and it’s all FREE.

As for gOS, it’s very easy to use and very easy to figure out for new users. So the software design and ease of setup is there, but joe sixpack just wants to run what his friends do and it’s likely not Linux.

What do you think? Have you tried Linux? Tell me what you think. Do you think new users can use Linux? I think they can, but the issue of compatibility will stop them. Linux companies and the rest of the industry needs to push Microsoft to make OOXML the standard file format for Word, Excel, Powerpoint…etc. Until file interchange can be made seamless, everyone will want the defacto standard, which is Microsoft Office. People don’t know that unless your doing something complex, you can write Word files and Excel files on Open Office and send them to each other with no problems. I just got through almost an entire quarter writing papers in Open Office and I didn’t have a single file that was unreadable by my instructor.

So, I implore the readers of Gear Diary to at least try the Ubuntu Live CD for 5 minutes before commenting. It just might surprise you!

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About the Author

Joel McLaughlin
Joel is a consultant in the IT field and is located in Columbus, OH. While he loves Linux and tends to use it more than anything else, he will stoop to running closed source if it is the best tool for the job. His techno passions are Linux, Android, netbooks, GPS, podcasting and Amateur Radio.

35 Comments on "Why Walmart isn’t the place for Linux"

  1. Wayne Schulz | March 14, 2008 at 5:25 am |

    This is one reason why I think ultimately most of the apps we use will move to the web. So long as Linux lets you run a web browser (and the apps within it) – you’ll totally remove this type of questioning.

    We’re 2 to 3 years away (maybe more) from mainstream users discovering how much it makes sense to use applications via their browser.

    Before “browserware” becomes widespread, developers will have to figure out a compensation model because I doubt most users will be open to monthly recurring fees for every app that they use.

    More than one person has remarked that eventually all software will be free. I wonder if that is true.

  2. Joel Mclaughlin | March 14, 2008 at 7:04 am |

    Until 3G is ubiquitous, I don’t thinks apps are going to move to the web anytime soon. Until you can ALWAYS be connected with your information, people will not feel comfortable using only web apps. Case in point, our crash. Google cache saved our buts on this, but if we all used editors on our machines and the editor had a copy of the post, we could just press a button and put it back.

    I think the largest thing holding people back from going Linux is the fear of change. They don’t like using a Graphics editor called The Gimp. They are confused by all of the K apps in KDE. In reality, it’s no different than the transition from DOS to Windows except now we’ve lived in the GUI too long and have forgotten what it was like to type in a program name to get it started.

    This even comes from people who proclaim themselves to be “open” to change.

    If the power user will finally switch in droves, then the low end will follow.

  3. I think you’re being overly harsh to Walmart’s customers. They probably did realize they weren’t Windows PCs and that’s why sales were poor. (Although surely a few took one home before figuring it out.) I’d say the problem was that the average person who’s buying a unix pc was getting it off the web, not at Walmart.

  4. Joel Mclaughlin | March 14, 2008 at 7:46 am |

    Actually that’s wrong. Sales weren’t poor and in some cases, the machines flew off the shelves. Some geeks probably DID come in to get them and kept them, but there’s probably a huge populous who got “suckered” in by the cheap price and then they got it home, and they couldn’t run their old programs.

    Returns is also alot of what drives a retail business. Once that nice gPC gets out of the door and then comes back because it won’t run Tetris Worlds or Lego Star Wars, Walmart loses money. They can’t sell that computer for full price again.

    Walmart hasn’t revealed their sales on this machine at least from the B&M stores. However, in other online stores like Zareason, they sold out of the machines.

    It’s not a problem with the machines. It’s a problem with who or where Walmart is trying to sell them.

    Walmart is a large company, but there’s alot of low income people who come there. It seems like it’s a good place for this kind of machine, but what this experiment has proven is that even lwo income folks want what people like us use. They want Windows because they don’t know enough about Linux. They don’t know Linux can do the job they want to do. They just know that they can’t by software for it and getting it for free won’t matter to them.

    People are used to buying 5 inch round plastic disks and shoving them in the slot and installing a program. With gOS and Ubuntu, your likely going to be using Synaptic or some other program to download the new program and install it and that function is alien to alot of people.

  5. I stand corrected. If that’s the case, Walmart could easily have avoided all the returns by just having their sales-people point out “you know that won’t run any of the software we sell here don’t you?”

  6. Joel Mclaughlin | March 14, 2008 at 8:00 am |

    Come on man…..you’re expecting the common Walmart worker to understand that?? Most can barely spell PC or MP3!

  7. Now, now, don’t be such a snob. I’ll bet there are lots of folks working at Walmart who know how to spell the contraction for “you are”.

  8. Joel Mclaughlin | March 14, 2008 at 8:47 am |

    And alot that don’t… πŸ˜‰ Corrected my comment! πŸ˜€

  9. A little off the mark.
    Retail, and in particular mega-retail like WalMart, has less to do with a small segment of the market like Linux and more to do with sales and profit. What is the market share for Linux, 10% or less? For a company to even take a chance on mass-marketing Linux from a sales standpoint is amazing in itself. WalMart is obviously trying different approaches as it works to expand the types of “specialty” markets (electronics, computer, HDTV, etc.) that it competes in. Not every sub-group can be morphed into a mega-retailer’s style of sales, and Linux is apparently one of those sub-groups. Rather than bashing the big W for dropping Linux, why not praise it for at least trying?
    By the way, I don’t work for WalMart, but I do shop there. I keep looking for those drooling, impoverished, illiterate droogies that all the elitists claim are WalMart employees, but I can’t find any… unless they’re actually making fun of the nice handicapped kid that pulls the carts back from the parking lot. Shame.

  10. LOL. That I would have to agree with.

  11. Hey! I shop at WalMart, too. And I think it’s a little bit unfair to classify all of their shoppers as low income, when they are selling flat screen LCD and plasma TVs in the AV section, and I don’t even own one, yet. πŸ˜›

    Anyway, I do agree with this statement: “People are used to buying 5 inch round plastic disks and shoving them in the slot and installing a program. With gOS and Ubuntu, your likely going to be using Synaptic or some other program to download the new program and install it and that function is alien to alot of people.”

    I think there needed to be brochures next to the devices that explained what you could and couldn’t do – something well done, easy to read, and engaging. And a little bit of AV sales floor education, just to allow the clerks to in turn educate the customers.

  12. Joel Mclaughlin | March 14, 2008 at 9:52 am |

    Hey Judie. So do I! πŸ˜€ My wife likes it for groceries but I would rather go to Kroger….better selection there.

    Sales clerks education….yeah that sounds good. πŸ˜‰ Never happen.

    Personally, what I would LOVE to do is start a business promoting Linux preinstalled computers. I would do a store front similar to what Apple does and even put free wifi in the store and hey let’s sucker them in…put a GOOD coffee shop in the store too.

    Make Linux appear as cool as Apple and you got a winner. I think machines like the one whose review I am going to get done this weekend are going to do alot for Linux. This UltraLap SR is pretty nice looking. It’s shiny and cool looking for sure! πŸ˜€

  13. Joel Mclaughlin | March 14, 2008 at 9:53 am |

    In other words…..boutiquify Linux! πŸ˜€

  14. Sales clerks education….yeah that sounds good. πŸ˜‰ Never happen.

    Now hon, you are letting your bias show. πŸ˜‰

    I’ll have you know that when I went in there looking at Zunes, they knew exactly what they were and how they were different than iPods. They also had a nice assortment of Creative and Sandisk MP3 players, and the salesman had no trouble telling me pros and cons. Maybe San Angelo just has better AV guys, but I bet a lot of them, across the country, take pride in their job and in knowing about the products they sell…assuming people bother to ask questions, of course!!

    If Joe Six-Pack goes into a WalMart and buys a $400ish laptop computer for his kid and never talks to anyone about why it’s so inexpensive, then it’s not necessarily WalMart’s fault that he didn’t ask. That would be like me buying Windows software and being mad that it wouldn’t work in my Mac (even though it will now, that is beside the point!).

  15. I’m all for education, except that I truly believe it’s the consumer who must educate him/herself before entering the store, not the consumer expecting the store to do the educating. And when I do expect to gain info from a clerk, I try to find one that is more well-versed than I am about a product. Honestly, I thought most people looking to save some money did it that way.
    I’m also all for expanding the availability of alternatives to the “same old thing”, i.e., Windows. I don’t personally use Linux, but I don’t currently have a need to change OSs, either. I have the opinion that most of the computer-using population feels that way, too. Unfortunately, that means that volume retailers aren’t going to feature products that appeal to a small segment. Really, I think that a bigger surprise than WalMart pulling the plug on a Linux unit would be a computer-only specialty store doing so. For WalMart, it’s all about the bottom line…support for a small-niche item is not even a consideration.
    I certainly understand and respect the “once you try it you’re hooked” attitude that users of other OSs have; it’s the snobbery that some of them have (not pointing fingers here) that sets me off.
    So… what is the market share for Linux, anyway?

  16. Joel Mclaughlin | March 14, 2008 at 10:34 am |

    Wow. That’s amazing! πŸ˜€

    Seriously, there are some very good people that are working for Walmart. Same goes with Radio Shack or any other retail outlet. Occasionally I will run into someone who knows something. Unfortunately for Walmart and other retail places, they soon wise up and leave. I’ve seen it in almost every department. You finally get someone that can help you and knows what he’s talking about, and then they get a better job and leave. πŸ™

    As for Joe Sixpack messing up, yeah I agree. It’s not Walmarts fault.

    It just ticks me off a bit that there were so many stories that said Walmart was giving up on Linux or Middle America hates Linux…..which isn’t exactly true. Sure, Walmart customers aren’t looking for Linux always, but some are. Also, Walmart is still selling them online.

  17. n0doz – I totally understand about snobbery being off-putting. I think it was part of the reason that I avoided Mac for so long.

    I truly believe it’s the consumer who must educate him/herself before entering the store, not the consumer expecting the store to do the educating.

    Totally agree.

  18. Joel Mclaughlin | March 14, 2008 at 10:36 am |

    “So… what is the market share for Linux, anyway?”

    I’d say it’s immeasurable. How in the world can you tell how many times a Linux disc image is used? I mean without putting spyware on it? πŸ˜‰

  19. Never mind… Just found it here: http://marketshare.hitslink.com/report.aspx?qprid=8
    …where they claim it’s 0.65%, vs. Windows 91.58% and Apple at 7.46%.
    Hmmm… WalMart’s decision becomes quite clear now, doesn’t it?

  20. Joel Mclaughlin | March 14, 2008 at 10:38 am |

    Mac snobbery is WAY worse than Linux, but sometimes I do see Linux guys that need to lighten up. Sometimes even I trend that way! πŸ˜€

    The thing that is more annoying is the people who aren’t even willing to try. It’s all I ask! πŸ˜₯

  21. Sorry if this is a duplicate…
    I found the stat I was looking for at http://marketshare.hitslink.com/report.aspx?qprid=8
    …where they claim Linux’ market share is 0.65%.
    Joel, almost everything can be measured and usually is by someone. I’d even hazard a guess that there are far more stat geeks than computer geeks. πŸ˜‰

  22. I think people just get comfortable with what they’ve been using, because they have it exactly how they want it (even if they aren’t always happy with it) and they get scared to try something new.

    But over time, whether it is a shiny new piece of hardware or a friend who will patiently guide them, there can be little events which will bring people out of heir comfort zones, and allow them to try something new.

    The best part is when they have an a-ha moment with that something new, and you see the makings of a new convert. πŸ™‚

  23. Found my stat…Linux’ market share is 0.65%. Explains for me why WalMart made their decision. But I still understand/respect your loyalty to the penguin… the main thing is, you found something you enjoy using. That’s what really counts in the end.
    Thanks for the discussion, enjoyed it. Gotta go to work.
    BTW, I’m a first-time user on this board…tried twice to post this stat comment with a link to the source, marketshare.hitlink, but it didn’t post… sorry if they show up later!

  24. Joel Mclaughlin | March 14, 2008 at 10:54 am |

    Exactly! πŸ˜€ I LOVE seeing that moment! The same goes for anything in technology really. Some people see me and my MP3 player and ask me tons of questions. Then later, they go and by what I’ve been using.

    I had that experience with my wife and Firefox. Once I showed her how to use tabbed browsing, she was hooked!

  25. @n0doz – sometimes items with links get held for moderation – I’ll go ahead and approve it if it shows up, as some might like to see the sources you cited. Welcome to Gear Diary, we are happy to hear from you! πŸ™‚

  26. Joel Mclaughlin | March 14, 2008 at 11:05 am |


    Hey thanks for joining in.

    Walmart’s still selling Linux machines, just not in the brick and mortar stores.

    Be very careful when counting market share numbers. This article over on Oreillynet.com says that sometimes Windows servers and desktops get counted as a Windows sale. The PC originally may have had Windows on it, but we will turn the machine on long enough to open the CD tray, pop a Linux disk in and install Linux before Windows ever booted. That machine should be counted as a Linux box, but was counted as a Windows machine at the time of the sale. Market share numbers with Linux especially is incredibly hard to measure with any accuracy.

  27. …and that apparent lack of accuracy is (IMHO, of course) precisely why mass marketers have such a hard time justifying bringing an item like Linux to market. BTW, I think the lack of accurate figures pertains more to single users like Joel; the use of Linux in professional applications should likely be easily determined.
    We know there are devotees of the OS other than business and industry but how do you explain that to your investors or board of directors, especially when those folks are used to using hard data to back up their decisions? Oh, well…at least there’s still the online option. That’s actually a pretty good deal at WalMart – they’ll deliver an online order to your local store, so it’s almost like having it right there anyway.
    And thank you for the welcome, Judie… I’m a fan since your Gadgeteer days.

  28. “I’m a fan since your Gadgeteer days.”
    Awesome! It is always nice to see “old” readers here. πŸ˜€

  29. Joel Mclaughlin | March 14, 2008 at 8:12 pm |

    I’m a old reader too! πŸ˜‰ Sometimes we end up workin for ya! πŸ˜‰

  30. Too true, Joel. πŸ˜† But not working for me…working with me. πŸ™‚

  31. Wal-Mart has tons of brand-name stuff. If you want to pay more, there are lots of other choices. Hey, I saw a redneck in a Neiman Marcus once so this cuts both ways. :-O

  32. Joel Mclaughlin | March 15, 2008 at 9:23 am |

    Yes Lex it does.

  33. The whole WalMart issue is dangerous (off-topic) stuff, so I’ll let this be my last word.
    There are many stories about this company and their business practices. Some are generated by union organizers anxious to tap into WalMart’s 1.1 million employees; others have an issue with the aggressive way WalMart negotiates with their suppliers. Like most things, the truth is somewhere in between the competing points of view.
    My favorites are the people that don’t want WalMart in their town or neighborhood, like somehow having a retailer where they don’t spend as much for stuff is a bad thing. “Now Martha, don’t you go saving us any money down there at that no-good WallyWorld. You go spend twice as much at that specialty store instead!” Uh, OK.
    An on-topic thought: even if they are limiting their in-store selection to Microsoft-powered units, low-priced computers that are reasonably easy to use at thousands of stores brings home computing to people that would not be exposed to it otherwise. That’s good, isn’t it?

  34. So very true. Linux is good and all, but you cannot put some schmuck shopping at Walmart in front of it and expect it to work, much less find software for it.

  35. Personally as president of the ASU Open Source Awareness Association, I took this hit pretty damn hard. I had high hopes when it came to the idea of these products being sold by Wal-Mart. Remember what happened when they started selling CFL lights? I happened to like that, and now my excitement has come crashing down like an outdated space station.

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