In an unusual move for a general retailer, the Microtel computers are being offered without operating systems as part of a test to gauge the response among tech-oriented customers who may want to load their own operating systems, Walmart.com spokeswoman Cynthia Lin said.
But at least one analyst said that Wal-Mart Stores and its Internet unit are likely to find out that they should have stayed focused on serving their core customers, who are typically less tech-savvy and likely expect computers to come with the operating systems included.
"The techie types interested in tinkering with their computers are far more likely to buy computer parts from the 500 million far more geeky stores on the Web," said Steve Baker, a research analyst with NPD Techworld, a firm that tracks consumer behavior.
Like most general retailers online, Walmart.com usually sells computers with operating systems, most often Microsoft Windows, Lin said. But computer sales are down, and Web stores are searching for ways to spur demand. For instance, Amazon.com, whichits online computer store last year, has begun selling used computers alongside newer models.
Walmart.com says it is trying to cater to a rise in customer requests for computers with different operating systems.
"We decided to sell the computers without an operating system so those customers who didn't want Windows could load the OS of their choice," said Lin, adding that another attractive element in not offering an operation system is that eliminating Windows considerably drops the cost of PCs.
For example, on PCs that sell for $599 or less, Windows becomes one of the most expensive components in the mix. Linux, of course, can be obtained for free.
The risk for Walmart.com is that some customers shopping for a deal may unwittingly buy the computer and discover later that they have to buy a version of Microsoft Windows, which could cost hundreds of dollars.
"This might prove to be a pain for some people," Baker said.