Linux Blog Safari: Android SDK, the Sellout of Wal-Mart’s $200 PC

Given that Google and theOpen Handset Alliance released the Android software development kit (SDK) this week, you might think that would have been the hottest topic of conversation on the Linux blogs in the ensuing days.

There was a great deal of discussion about it, to be sure — but it was still overshadowed by the widespread analysis of the fact that Wal-Mart sold out of its US$200 Linux PC.

“The manager at a local Wal-Mart said he had 80 to go on sale at 8:00 a.m., and they were all sold at 8:01,” noted Anonymous Coward onSlashdot, where more than 600 comments were posted on the topic. “People began lining up at 6 in the morning, and they gave slips to the first 80 in line. I went in at 5 p.m. and people were still trying to buy them.”

Scalper’s Prices

Demand was apparently so high that auctions were bringing in premium prices.

“If anybody bought one of these and wasn’t happy with its Linuxy weirdness, try selling it on eBay,” suggested symbolset. “I think you’ll do better than taking it back to the store. :-)”

As the first mass-market Linux-powered machine, Wal-Mart’s offering appears to be surpassing expectations as to the market’s readiness to forsake Microsoft and Apple and try something new — at least for the right price. What that says about Linux, the PC, Wal-Mart or the average American consumer was hotly debated.

“One thing I’ve suspected for awhile is that the ‘Linux Revolution’ would NOT happen in businesses or with high-end users,” wrote d3ac0n. “It will happen much like the ‘Windows Revolution’ happened back in the 90’s. It will start with the ‘Wal-Mart buyer’ — ordinary people making ordinary FINANCIAL decisions to buy a cheap PC.

“They are the ones that will start the Linux revolution — not because they ‘did the research’ or ‘grok FOSS’ (free and open source software) or any of that elitist crap, but because it makes financial sense to buy a $200 PC that can do everything they need it to do,” d3ac0n went on. “They will get introduced to Linux for the first time, perhaps as their first PC EVER, and will love it. They will stick with this machine for at least five years, as it will be able to handle all the basic tasks they need it for, and when it dies or they need another, they will look for another Linux PC to replace it with. The Linux revolution begins … in Iowa, at Wal-Mart.”

Sticks and Stones

The “elitist” label was sallied back and forth several times on Slashdot in the course of the Wal-Mart discussion, with broad generalizations made about the nature of Linux bloggers vs. average consumers.

“I guarantee you almost everyone on Slashdot shops at Wal-Mart, because almost everyone on Slashdot is ‘plain’ and normal in almost every respect,” xebra asserted. “If the PC is sold out, 85 percent of it is because of dorks like you and me. The other 15 percent is people that didn’t know what they were buying.”

Of course, the fact that a product sells out doesn’t necessarily mean it’s good — “the litmus test comes after the purchase,” yagu told LinuxInsider. However, “based on Wal-Mart customer reviews, this machine gets a solid thumbs up.”

Vendor Control

Price is undoubtedly a big motivating factor behind purchases of the $200 PC, but it’s tightly linked to issues of vendor control.

“The Wal-Mart PC is really interesting just because it demonstrates just how cheap computers are now … $200 is insanely cheap,” Rob Malda, also known as Slashdot’s “CmdrTaco,” told LinuxInsider. “But you don’t generally see machines in that price range because as the price of hardware drops, the price of Windows stays basically the same. As people come to expect a $100 PC, they won’t pay $100 for Windows Ultimate 2009 Edition.”

Should Microsoft be worried? “Microsoft is too big and too far ahead to care,” yagu said. “They should care. Instead, they continue to put out their notion of what users want, increasingly complex and resource heavy applications, expensive and unwieldy. They claim their software is simple and intuitive. Anecdotal experience and reviews say no.”

Bad News for Operators

Back down to nuts and bolts, the Android SDK “is just good, old-fashioned interesting material for geeks to think about,” Malda said.

While not much of it is really new, “the potential for gadgets with an open platform for us to play with is very exciting to us … and no doubt very scary to the phone companies,” he added. “I mean, if we all have unlimited bandwidth plans for our phones, they can’t charge you for 500 SMS text messages any more, because someone will code a Jabber/AIM/MSN/GTalk/etc/etc/ client.”

Indeed, “I think Google has done pretty much everything right as far as Android is concerned, and I’m very excited about it,” wrote ciw42 onSlashdot’s Android discussion.

On the other hand, “It’s Eclipse-centric … I would be very happy if I never had to use Eclipse again,” countered abes. “The interface itself is extremely non-intuitive, gets in the way, and caused a great deal of swearing to occur.” Also, “the fact that I need to go three to four directories … just to get to the source code is very frustrating. I’m pretty sure there’s better ways to do that,” abes added.

If nothing else, however, the release of the SDK proves Google has something concrete for developers to work with.

“Well, here is the SDK, as promised. On time,” wrote SmallFurryCreature. “So will all those Slashdotters who doubted eat crow now? Or will the MS fanboys just pretend this never happened, or now move on to, ‘all Google has is a press-release, and a sdk, and an alliance.’ Come on, we need some amusement here. Spin this one!”

Fedora 8

Finally, the release of Fedora 8 also generated numerous comments — mostly in a positive vein — and sparked some speculation over whether a shift in the area is imminent.

“Since the ascension of Ubuntu, it seems like the stalwart old distros like Fedora (Red Hat) and openSuse (Suse) have been pigeonholed into the category of ‘also-ran,'” noted bproffitt on theLinux Today blog. “Nothing was wrong with the veteran distributions — they just didn’t seem to have the intangible spark that made the new kids on the block so desirable.

“That judgment may have been too hasty,” he added. You don’t read about Fedora OEM (original equipment manufacturer) deployments on PCs or embedded devices, but I have a feeling that’s about to change.”

Red Hat has certainly been the clear winner in the enterprise Linux market, but the leading Linux distribution for desktop and mobile is Ubuntu, Raven Zachary, senior analyst and open source practice head with the 451 Group, told LinuxInsider.

Canonical is trying to convert its success with the community into a server play, while Red Hat is trying to figure out ways to strengthen Fedora’s mind share out there in the community,” he noted. “They’re moving in opposite directions, and it will be interesting to see how it plays out.”

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