Sorry, long post
The whole 'competing on price' thing doesn't really strike me as a working strategy for laptops anymore. I've found a couple of brands that can be shipped without an OEM version of an alternative OS, but these tend to be high end machines. Starting to talk at ~ €800 they are not really price fighters. And even the cheapest ones ship for +€600.
That is reasonably priced perhaps, but even converting the low end OEM machines to Linux without bothering about refunds and such will end up with cheaper machines. By the way, I found that is how many of those Internet stores selling Linux machines do it. Just peal away the sticker with the license code.
This may change, perhaps in the foreseeable future even. After the Nelie Kroes EU commission on bundling soft- and hardware and the initiatives of some (eh.. whatchacallid) parliamentarians?? in the Netherlands it may become law that machines can be bought without OS. That may affect pre-installed Linux machines as well, but that's neither here nor there... and not a fact yet. They are now in the stage of planning to ask questions about it :-S
The trouble is of course, as was rightfully pointed out above, that the Big Boys can negotiate much better deals and thus sell a lot cheaper. Whereas a small store may need to join some 'collective acquisition initiative' of small stores just to be able to buy machines.
I think the best bet is to watch and wait what happens at Walmart. Or! Take a really different route all together. Those mini PC's _are_ interesting. It's a different audience than I had in mind, and perhaps a bigger risk. But it may be easier to negotiate attractive deals, because these manufacturers tend to be smaller and are still striving to establish their name in a crowded and highly competitive market (I've been reading, can you tell? :-p). Also, some are sympathetic to FOSS. Gives ya something in common ;-)
But on the other hand they'll have small margins on their product, so there is probably not a lot of room to negotiate price.
Low end lappies tend to be crap. And even without an OEM version and with Linux installed it's very difficult to compete on price with the Big Boys.
Desktops are another matter, as they can be home made... as cheap or expensive as one might desire. There is more margin there.
Mini PC's are interesting, but are they interesting enough to be competitive?
Tech support still unsorted. I saw some good examples of how others do it though.
Rent. The location I have in mind has rents at ~ €17,000 to €22,000 per year. That's a years gross income for a teacher. But it's a very good location :-p
Well, in order to reach something resembling a conclusion after this (to long) post, I know all sorts of reasons why an initiative like this shouldn't work. But I'm not ready to let it go just yet. Thanks for the input guys and galls. It's really good to hear from people with a different perspective on the matter. I appreciate it!
Today I was in Walmart and took a brief look at the computer section. They were selling an Acer laptop with 14" screen, 80 gig drive, 512 megs RAM, the usual other hardware, and Vista Home Basic for $400.
Machines like that they sometimes give out for free when you take a 2 year deal with a phone network or Internet provider. Source (in Dutch, but the main parts are readable
1.6Ghz Celeron processor. Running that OS on those specs should be a crime.... I've got a machine like that (1.5Ghz Celeron, 512MB, 40GB drive) and the only thing (other than Slack) that gets good performance out of it is .... *drumroll* .... Vector!
Those machines should be shipping with Vector. Not that state_of _the_art and we'll_get_it_right_in_the_third_release other OS. You see? Now we're back in the beginning. Those lappies can be converted into preforming pieces of machinery. Someone should sell those things, in a physical store, and with a stable, fast and secure OS. If that catches on, Linux is no longer insignificant (and just when you thought I was derailing, I came back to the OP :-p). Granted, it's difficult and involves a lot of risk. It may even be a Bad Idea(TM). But the thought is luring...