Wal-Mart teams with Sun on Linux PCs

Wal-Mart Stores Inc. began selling PCs manufactured by Microtel Computer Systems Inc. this week featuring Sun Microsystems Inc.'s alternative operating system based on Linux and its StarOffice productivity software, according to Wal-Mart's Web site.

Sun's Java Desktop System (JDS) is available in Microtel PCs with processors from both Intel Corp. and Advanced Micro Devices Inc. The systems sell on Walmart.com at prices ranging from US$298 to $798, depending on the configuration.

The new PCs are designed for business customers who are looking to move away from Microsoft Corp.'s ubiquitous Windows operating system to an alternative product without spending a lot of time and money on retraining costs for their employees, said Peder Ulander, director of marketing for desktop solutions at Sun.

JDS is based on SuSE Linux AG's distribution of the open source operating system, but comes with the Gnome desktop environment to give users a familiar icon-based experience, Ulander said. It also features the StarOffice software suite of word processing and spreadsheet software, the Mozilla Web browser, the Evolution e-mail and calendar software from Ximian Inc., and photo-editing software, among other things, he said.

Sun introduced JDS last year, and is starting to roll it out with partners such as Microtel and Wal-Mart, Ulander said. Several other partners have been signed around the world, and Sun is also in talks with of the world's largest PC vendors to distribute JDS, he said.

Individual users can also purchase the operating system for $50, Ulander said.

Sun is trying to reach into different markets outside of its traditional base of large corporate customers. While its primary business remains servers, the Santa Clara, California, company has been searching for additional sources of revenue as its server business has declined in the past few years.

There hasn't been much of a market for alternative desktop operating systems since Windows took over the market in the 1990s, but that is starting to change, Ulander said. Users in different parts of the world are increasingly looking to Linux as a cheaper alternative to Windows, and U.S. users are slowly beginning to warm up to Linux, he said.

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