Naked PCs

Some time ago, I blogged about the so-called Microsoft Tax - the hidden added extra cost that we all have to pay when we buy a new PC, if we happen to want to use a non-Microsoft operating system. At the time, none of the major PC vendors bundled anything other than Microsoft products with their hardware.

Since then, things have changed - a little.

Dell, for instance, now offers Ubuntu Linux on its PCs - albeit on a completely separate part of its web-site. You can't, for example, select a machine, choose the memory and processor, specify a hard drive configuration and then choose which of the available operating systems (Windows Vista, Windows XP, Ubuntu Linux, etc.) you want. Why? Well, Dell complains that Linux doesn't have good drivers for all of its hardware, so it has had to create a separate line of machines specifically badged to support it.

If I was more cynical, it might have occurred to me that this was merely a convenient excuse for:

  • Hiding the true cost of the Microsoft Tax. Go to Dell's site and pick out an Ubuntu-driven machine, then an identical machine driven by Windows. At face value, the Ubuntu machine is usually about $50 cheaper. However, you can also usually get at least $50-off the Windows machine because of hardware-related incentives that are strangely not available on the Ubuntu machine. Hmmm. It appears that you are still paying Microsoft (or perhaps Dell) their taxes even if you want to use Linux.
  • Hiding the Ubuntu Linux machines themselves on the web-site. Unless you know where to look (and most PC buyers will not), you will not even notice that you have the option of buying a non-Microsoft driven product! Go to and browse around and see if you are offered the option of Ubuntu Linux. Go on, just try. (Also, have you noticed how "Dell recommends Windows Vista {Some Vista Edition appropriate to your market segment, eg. Home & Home Office, Small Business, etc.}" at the top of every page - and also on their printed ads? Could it be that Microsoft is paying them money to do this? Surely not! And, of course, it's a complete co-incidence that every other PC vendor prominently displays similar recommendations for the same Microsoft products.)
  • Offering an inferior range of machines for Linux compared to the offerings for Windows. Dell - and all other vendors - listen up! People don't use Linux because it's cheaper than Windows. They use Linux because it's better than Windows. I don't want to have the option of only buying an entry-level machine with Ubuntu pre-installed. I want to have the option of buying the machine that matches my spec - and install whatever operating system I want, whether it be Ubuntu or FreeBSD or Fedora or whatever - without having to buy a copy of Microsoft Windows that I do not want and will not use!

So, it was with some interest that I read about the Globalisation Institute's submission to the European Commission that all new PC's should be sold without an operating system pre-installed. I'm not sure that I'd agree with the Globalisation Institute on too many things, but this absolutely hits the nail on the head for me.  (I'm not sure that I'd agree with their views about the Apple Mac - that system should be opened up too, so that operating system competition is possible.)

Microsoft established its monopoly solely because it was able to have its operating systems pre-installed on new machines. It has fought aggressively to see off any and all competition (CP/M, DR-DOS, GEM, OS/2, BeOS, Novell NetWare, etc.) in both the PC desktop and server pre-installation markets. It then (ab)used its operating system dominance to leverage adoption of its Microsoft Office suite ("Sorry, PC vendor, but if you plan to bundle Lotus Smartsuite with that PC, then I'm very much afraid that you'll lose your discount on DOS and Windows") and (ab)used its office suite dominance to see off competition in the operating system market ("Hmmm.  Running DR-DOS are we?  Then I'm afraid that Windows is going to issue error messages.  What?  You're using OS/2?  Then Word is going to give spurious errors!  Linux?  Then you can't use Microsoft Office can you?")

Personally, I'm sick and tired of Microsoft. Their products are shoddy, insecure, not compliant with established standards, and are too expensive. It's high time this company had to compete on merit and I fully endorse the Globalisation Institute's submission.


Globalization Institute's Recommendation is Spot-On

I really enjoyed reading your article. As the owner of a Dell laptop pre-loaded with Ubuntu Linux, I noticed the same obvious lack of promotion for the Linux machines as you noted in your blog. Even once I found the section where Linux machines are sold, I found promptings to consider Windows 7.

There was a time when we in the United States recognized the dangers of monopolies. Our government worked to keep competition alive. Now, it seems that few even recognize what a monopoly looks like. When nearly every computer is pre-loaded with software from a particular vendor, without any consumer choice, that is about as clear of a picture of monopoly as we have ever had in our history.