Wal-Mart's Cheap PC; $199 for Linux, $298 for Windows

Linux, the free operating system that's a perpetual underdog in the desktop market, will get another chance this holiday season at Wal-Mart Stores Inc.

The chain was taking orders online Wednesday for a computer called the "Green gPC" that is made by Everex of Taiwan, costs $199 and runs Linux.

It will be available in about 600 stores, as well as online, Wal-Mart said.

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A comparable Everex PC that comes with Windows Vista Home Basic and more memory costs $99 more, or $298, partly because the manufacturer has to pay Microsoft Corp. for a software license.

Both computers come with keyboard, mouse and speakers, but no monitor.

Linux is maintained and developed by individuals and companies around the world volunteering on an "open source" basis, meaning that everyone has access to the software's blueprints.

It is in widespread use in server computers, particularly servers that host Web sites. But it hasn't yet made a dent in the desktop market.

Surveys usually put its share of that market around 1 percent, far behind Windows and Apple Inc.'s OS X.

Wal-Mart started selling Linux computers at its online store in 2002, at prices as low as $199. Computers from several manufacturers were available for several years, but are now gone from the inventory.

The variant of Linux on the gPC is called gOS and is derived from the popular Ubuntu variant. It's heavily oriented toward Google's Web sites and online applications, like YouTube, Gmail and the company's word processing program, all of which can be used only when the computer is connected to a broadband line.

The PC comes with a dialup modem, but gOS doesn't support it. So most users likely will get online other ways.

Google's push into desktop applications is relatively new, and gOS, the Los Angeles-based startup behind the software, sees it as crucial in overcoming consumers' reluctance to leave the familiar Windows environment.

"We feel the timing is right for open source because of that," said gOS founder David Liu.

The company has fewer than 10 people on it staff but gets help from volunteers in the Linux community.

Whether value-minded shoppers who would be enticed by a $199 PC will also be interested in making the jump to Linux remains to be seen. The operating system isn't known for ease of use and mainly attracts the tech-savvy.

Wal-Mart spokeswoman Melissa O'Brien said it is stocking the computer in about one in eight stores to test the demand for an open-source product.

The gPC has a low-end processor from VIA Technologies, plus 512 megabytes of internal memory, an 80-gigabyte hard drive and a combination DVD drive and CD burner.

Everex says the processor is very energy efficient, meriting the "Green" part of the name.