Bare-Bones OpenOffice PC in Wal-Mart’s Back-to-School Bin

Wal-Mart is among the retailers now carrying a new US$298 PC from Everex featuring OpenOffice productivity software, Everex announced Friday.

Billed as a “back-to-school” offering aimed at students, the Everex Impact GC3502 is powered by the energy-efficient 1.5 GHz VIA C7-D processor and comes preloaded with the Microsoft Windows Vista Home Basic operating system, 1 GB of system memory, an 80 GB hard disk drive and a DVD-ROM/CD-RW optical drive, as well as OpenOffice.org 2.2 productivity software.

The machine also doesn’t come with any “bloatware” — the name given to the trial versions of various software packages that frequently come pre-loaded on PCs but expire soon after purchase, to the annoyance of many users. The below-$300 selling price does not include a monitor, but is still less than that of most other PCs.

Aimed at Students

“For years now, industry restrictions and tightening profit margins have forced PC manufacturers to shy away from offering productivity software on their new PCs,” said Eugene Chang, product manager for Everex.

“In creating the eco-friendly GC3502, our main focus was to build a no-compromise, back-to-school PC with all the software applications a typical student would require, without resorting to bundling frivolous trial versions or increasing prices 30 percent,” Chang said.

Dell’s new Vostro line, which was released earlier this month, is similar to the Everex offering with its starting price of $319 for desktop models and its lack of bloatware. Dell, however, has aimed the Vostro at small business users.

No License Fees

OpenOffice.org includes components for word processing, spreadsheets, presentations, graphics, databases and more; it runs on all major computing platforms, is compatible with files created in Microsoft Office, and may be used free of license fees for any purpose, including commercial.

The VIA C7-D processor draws less than two watts on average to provide leading performance-per-watt numbers across all popular productivity and entertainment applications, Fremont, Calif.-based Everex said.

“Consumers want quality office software on their PCs, but increasingly are not prepared to pay MS-Office prices,” John McCreesh, marketing project lead for UK-based OpenOffice.org, told LinuxInsider. “This consumer pressure is finally breaking Microsoft’s effective monopoly in the pre-installed software market,” he added.

“This announcement is good news for students. Kids will see for themselves that they are every bit as well-equipped as their peers who have paid for — or, more likely, pirated — copies of Microsoft Office,” McCreesh added.

‘Combating Software Bloat’

“This is very encouraging,” agreed Lee Felsenstein, spokesperson for the Fonly Institute, which works to bring computing to “ordinary people.”

“I think it’s an indication that the $300 price point is real, and that we can expect more coming in this price area,” Felsenstein told LinuxInsider. “I’m happy to see that open source is now functionally combating software bloat.”

Like Dell’s Vostro offering, the Everex computer could also be a good choice for small-business users, Felsenstein added.

Tested in Timbuktu

“It’s wonderful to see Wal-Mart offering energy-efficient computing hardware like the VIA-powered Everex computer,” Wayan Vota, director of the Geekcorps Division of the International Executive Service Corps, told LinuxInsider.

Because of their energy-efficiency, Geekcorps’ Mali program used VIA processors to bring Internet connectivity to isolated communities near Timbuktu, Vota added. “The VIA PC-1 can run 24 hours on a single car battery — try that with a standard desktop,” he said.

The promotion of volunteer-contributed open source software by a mainstream company like Wal-Mart is also significant, Vota added.

Low-Cost Trend

“Open source software is the perfect solution for low-cost, low-maintenance, high-reliability situations like computers for students,” he explained. “No parent wants to become tech support for their children. Now we can only hope that Wal-Mart and Everex will fully embrace open source operating systems too.”

Indeed, replacing Windows Vista with a Linux-based operating system such as Linspire on the new machine would drop another $30 to $50 off the price, Vota noted, as would using more cost-effective parts.

At $298, Everex’s offering is almost nearing the price point of several efforts that have recently emerged to bring low-cost PCs to underprivileged young people throughout the world. Intel’s Classmate PC is presented in a similar vein, as is the planned $100 offering due for fall release by the One Laptop per Child (OLPC) project, which made the news just a week ago when Intel joined its board of directors.

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