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Wal-Mart, Kmart to sell Windows-less PCs on the cheap

Another low-cost PC that doesn't need Windows is being readied for the Christmas rush, and it may be coming to a Wal-Mart or Kmart near you.

Another low-cost PC that doesn't need Windows is being readied for the Christmas rush, and it may be coming to a Wal-Mart or Kmart near you.

That's the plan at Compu-Dawn, which announced today the two retailers had committed to carrying its $299 GlobalPC. The system also uses the relatively easy-to-use GEOS operating system, which is more commonly used in non-PC devices such as Nokia cellular phones. The company is banking on a desire among consumers for a box that is relatively cheap, but also powerful enough to run familiar applications.

But, while the concept may work on paper, some observers believe it may be a little too late. Manufacturers of standard PCs are meeting, and even undercutting, the price offered by GlobalPC. The appeal of having a non-Windows machine may also be overstated.

"So many people use their PCs at work for so many tasks, I don't buy that ease-of-use argument anymore," said Lindy Lesperance, analyst with Technology Business Research. "You have Mattel making Barbie and Hot Wheels PCs for five-year-olds to use. And they'll probably do well after their parents show them how."

The price difference between a $399 Emachines PC that runs popular Windows programs and games and that of the GlobalPC may be just too close for many consumers, said Lesperance.

In addition, these systems often get coupled with $400 rebates when customers agree to multiyear ISP contracts. Since most customers will sign up for ISP service, this can make PC deals cheaper in the long run, according to analysts.

Compu-Dawn chairman R.E. "Teddy" Turner admitted that, because it Windows-less, getting retailers to carry GlobalPC is tough. But Turner argued Nokia's phones lend credibility to GEOS. "It's been used in outside applications, but it's never been put back into the PC."

If Compu-Dawn is to succeed, it must demonstrate that its proprietary operating systems and programs, among them a Microsoft Word compatible word processor, is enough and buyers won't eventually want more.

"What they?re trying to do is drive to lower price points," said Shelly Olhava, analyst with International Data Corporation "I think the problem is going to be if consumers want a system they know is going to be compatible with a lot of other systems out there."

"If you're doing PowerPoint, get a different computer," said Turner. "If you're going to play games, buy a Sony PlayStation."

Because GlobalPC is not compatible with Windows, Compu-Dawn must also woo software developers, especially for games. This, Turner said, shouldn't be a problem, particularly considering GEOS' heritage and cell phone connections.

"Build it and they will come," said Turner. "If we can get the computers in the market place, there will be people lined up to write software for it."

In any event, GlobalPC isn't alone. In the near future, Microworkz, the sometimes controversial discount PC maker, is expected to release its iToaster, an Internet access device run on the Be operating system. The iToaster will cost $199 and come with free Internet service, according to Rick Latman, Microworkz chief executive. The system will be sold at a large, nationwide PC dealer, Latman said.