Over at The Inquirer they are reporting that the sub-$200 gOS Linux PC from Everex is selling out at Walmart stores nation wide (that is, if your nation is the USA).
They point to its reasonable specification, Ubuntu (nee Debian) base and its attractive Enlightenment based desktop as the reasons. And of course, that amazing price.
How did this happen? How did Everex/gOS get the slip on Zonbu, when gOS is an inferior (albeit promising) desktop experience for new users? Is this Betamax versus VHS all over again? I’m afraid that it may be.
I have a hunch how it happened and I’ll share it with you here…
A friend of a friend is a friend
Via is well aware of the opportunity in the low end of the PC space, especially in the low power/green end of the PC space. That is where their strengths lie and they have been playing around with various systems in that market for the past few years. The turning point was when Dell started shipping Linux desktops and notebooks. Now it was viable to push a system in to the mainstream with Linux, saving the famous “Windows Tax” that drives up the system price by $50 or more.
A smooth talking Everex salesman along with product management folks at Via may have read some articles about how Walmart wants to go green (You can read an article on Walmart and the environment that I highlighted here). They looked at what the basic requirements were to run Ubuntu and then asked how they could lighten that up. Along the way they tripped over the Enlightenment project and their very pretty and lightweight desktop. A marriage was born.
Or maybe the Enlightenment team contacted Everex/Via. Either way, they came together… either way it doesn’t matter. The baby was born.
Meanwhile, back on the farm…
Cut to a boardroom at Walmart HQ in Bentonville, AK. Walmart buyers are oohing and ahhing over the demo unit the Everex team has on display.
“How much?” they ask.
“Cheap, really cheap. You’ll be able to retail it for less than $200 and still make a reasonable return.”
“Ok. Well what about Microsoft? It looks pretty and all but what operating system is it?”
“It’s Linux. Ubuntu is the same Linux Dell launched with a year ago. Dell is doing really well with it.”
“Really? Dell sells Linux PCs?”
“Yes, here, let me show you their site. See, right here, Dell Ubuntu Linux desktops and notebooks. And their units start at $499.”
“Let me cut to the chase. We’re just simple folksy people here at Walmart. So, what you’re offering us is a reasonable home PC for the American family, that runs the same Linux operating system Dell sells, for 40% of their cost at retail?”
“Yes, and it looks nicer. See, it has this nice dock along the bottom. Almost looks and feels like a Mac, only they cost even more. All the style, for a low Walmart price.”
“You’re right. This is a good deal. And since Dell has already endorsed Ubuntu, we’ll take a serious look at it. What about a keyboard, mouse and speakers?”
“All of those are included. The user just needs to buy a monitor, in the same way you pick your PC then your monitor with Dell or HP.”
“Sounds great. We’re in.”
Off to the races
Things evolved. The machines hit the shelves and then flew off in to customer hands. There is no question its a viable starting point for the entry level buyer, and the wide spread exposure Walmart has brought to the table is critical. The gOS base is, however, not up to the level of refinement that Zonbu has brought to their OS stack. That may not matter, and gOS will improve.
It all goes back to momentum. Building on an Ubuntu base brings immediate credibility to a project, whether it deserves it or not. It also brings a plethora of tools that both developers and end users can adopt and use.
I talked in detail about the risk of ignoring Ubuntu and going with Gentoo in an earlier post, which you can read here:
Just to be clear, I think the Zonbu product is superior but I also think it would be better received if they took their end user experience and rebuilt it on a Debian/Ubuntu base, so they could ride the wave of popularity and public relations success generated by Ubuntu.
Everex & Zonbu = Zonbu Laptop
Two days ago Zonbu announced their own Everex product, a Zonbu based laptop using the Via C7-M processor. My test unit has arrived and I’ll be benchmarking it against the popular Asus 3e PC which, like the gOS platform is Debian based and has been receiving a very positive response from the press and general public.
Embrace and extend – Judo the competitors
If I was Zonbu, I would put OS base religion aside and take a hard look at a Debian base. All of the front end polish and the things the users love can be replicated on other Linuxes, and Zonbu knows just how to do it. Don’t squander the marketing dollars and momentum Ubuntu/Debian have generated.
I would also look at co-opting all the hardware out there and get spins of the Zonbu OS out for the gOS PC (make an ISO download available), as well as a spin for the Asus 3e PC. These are fixed config boxes and it will only involve some driver customizations.
We still don’t know exactly what the Zonbu business model is, but we can only surmise its to sell online storage, backup and management. That can still be done if the platform is extended to the Asus 3e PC and the gOS box, as well as other machines that will come along. Don’t lean back, lean in to the opportunities and stick that flag in the ground, it’s not to late.