Linux for the Wal-Mart Crowd
By Brendan I. Koerner
More than a decade has passed since Linus Torvalds hatched his Linux revolution, and 95 percent of desktops still run Windows. Michael Robertson, CEO of Lindows.com and former CEO of MP3.com, wants to change all that. His startup's stripped-down version of Linux is the operating system behind the sub-$200 Microtel PC now on sale at Walmart.com. Early reviews are mixed, but Robertson insists that everyone loves a bargain.
WIRED: Why Walmart.com?
ROBERTSON: It's always been about bringing low-cost products to the masses. And it's one of the only retailers that can stand up to Microsoft and its financial coercion.
They've subpoenaed Microtel, they've subpoenaed Wal-Mart. Every partner we've approached has received a call from Microsoft telling them not to work with us. You should ask Steve Ballmer why he's been talking to Wal-Mart about Lindows. Why is he afraid of us?
You're obsessing over Microsoft. Why not aim to be a strong niche player, like Apple?
I can sell a $200 computer; Apple can't sell a $200 Mac. Microsoft has 15,000 people in their Windows development division; I have 41 employees. So I have a radical cost advantage, and that's exactly why Linux will have double-digit market share in desktops.
Wouldn't people rather spend a few extra dollars for, say, a brand-name processor?
People don't care what kind of engine they have in their car, as long as it runs. With computers, they're asking first, What is this going to do to my pocketbook? And then, Will this meet my computing needs? The cheaper, the better.
Linux isn't exactly user-friendly. What makes you think it's ready for the masses?
Linux is 10 years old now; the GUI and the kernel have gotten very advanced. All the building blocks have come together. But it also comes down to education. You take baby steps.
But downloads take forever on the Microtel machine, and the multimedia software doesn't always work. How much will people put up with to save a few hundred bucks?
Linux can't yet match XP on plug-and-play digital media or the more peripheral duties. But those are problems we'll solve in time. Windows is where we are today. I'm building a product for where we're going to be. Some people will take the Lindows machine home and say, "Hey, these programs are taking too long to install." But I'm building for the future.