Wal-Mart dumps Linux. Much ado about...Microsoft

Wal-Mart may well have dumped its Linux-based PCs because of their success, not failure.

Wal-Mart has ended its experiment with selling Linux-based computers in its stores, suggesting that "This really wasn't what our customers were looking for."

Oh, really?

My experience (albeit limited - I can't stand Wal-Mart) with Wal-Mart is generally that cost is king for its customers, and that volume is king for Wal-Mart. I can understand Wal-Mart dropping Linux for the latter reason (though early reports suggest that the machine repeatedly sold out), but I'm surprised that its customers wouldn't have glommed onto dirt-cheap PCs with all the functionality of a Windows PC .

But maybe the decision was much more personal. There is a strong executive tie between Microsoft and Wal-Mart.

Remember Microsoft's COO, Kevin Turner? He's a former Wal-Mart executive. Turner used to run Wal-Mart's Sam's Club business unit and before that was Microsoft's chief information officer.

Even when Wal-Mart has made motions toward Linux and open source, Microsoft (no doubt inspired by Turner) has been there to help it see the light. It was likely Turner who pushed Wal-Mart to go on the record as adopting SUSE Linux for its Linux deployments because of patent protection. Wal-Mart never goes on the record for anything related to IT purchases. The fact that it did in this case says a lot about the exeuctive sleepovers that happen between the two companies.

Indeed, the more successful this retail Linux PC experiment by Wal-Mart, the less likely it was to continue. Had the PCs sat on the shelves Microsoft would have been gleeful to let it continue.

It may well be that Wal-Mart simply didn't push enough units to make the grade. Many great products simply don't sell for Wal-Mart, and it dumps them. But in this case, it could well be that Linux's success paved the way for its downfall due to a too-cozy relationship between the world's largest retailer and the world's largest software vendor.

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About the author

    Matt Asay is chief operating officer at Canonical, the company behind the Ubuntu Linux operating system. Prior to Canonical, Matt was general manager of the Americas division and vice president of business development at Alfresco, an open-source applications company. Matt brings a decade of in-the-trenches open-source business and legal experience to The Open Road, with an emphasis on emerging open-source business strategies and opportunities. He is a member of the CNET Blog Network and is not an employee of CNET. You can follow Matt on Twitter @mjasay.

     

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