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Linux finds fans at Wal-Mart

The lost-cost retailer introduces for sale through its Web site computers with the Mandrake version of Linux pre-installed. It's the peoples' penguin computer.

Retail giant Wal-Mart has expanded its experiment in selling low-priced PCs running the Linux operating system.

The retailer last week introduced through its Web site a line of PCs with the Mandrake version of Linux pre-installed.

Wal-Mart began shaking up the PC industry early this year by offering a line of PCs assembled by Microtel Computer Systems without a operating system installed. The retailer subsequently began offering the same PCs configured with Lindows, a version of Linux tweaked to allow it to run common Windows applications. The move was seen as a milestone for public acceptance of Linux, frequently criticized as too complex for the average PC user to negotiate.

A Wal-Mart representative declined to provide sales figures for the Lindows PCs, citing company policy, but said sales have been above expectations. "We're very pleased with the response so far," the representative said.

The new Mandrake PCs offer nine more non-Windows desktop configurations, ranging in price from $391 to $648, minus a monitor but including the Star Office software package. That compares with $475 for the cheapest Windows-based desktop from budget PC specialist eMachines.

However, a savings of less than $100 won't be enough incentive for the average consumer to tackle an unfamiliar operating system, said Technology Business Research analyst Brooks Gray.

"I still think it's slightly premature to be offering Linux to the consumer market," Gray said. "Consumers really need to be educated on alternative platforms first."

France-based Mandrake has been struggling financially after a tepid initial public offering on the French stock market.