End the Microsoft taxes!

The PC manufacturing business is highly competitive and suppliers seem to do all that they can to reduce costs and beat their competitors on price as well as quality. So it is puzzling that when you buy a new PC, with the intention of running a free operating system (such as the Fedora, SuSE or Ubuntu flavors of Linux - to name a few - or any of the BSDs: FreeBSD, NetBSD, OpenBSD, etc.) that you have to buy a copy of Windows XP - or Vista, when it finally starts shipping - that you do not want and do not need. In other words, Linux users are paying a tax to Microsoft. From the PC manufacturers viewpoint, this should surely be regarded as a bad thing as it unnecessarily raises the price of their machines - and, no doubt, reduces their sales and revenue. Or so you might think...

How much is this tax? Well, according to LinuxWorld, a Dell customer in the UK was recently successful in gaining a refund of his "Windows Tax", for a copy of Microsoft Windows XP Home Edition, to the tune of GB£47 (approx. US$89). For a PC that retails at US$400, this represents over one fifth (22%) of the purchase price! Do you know any manufacturer who wouldn't welcome an opportunity to cut his prices by that amount? All they have to do is to provide a "No pre-installed operating system" option (with appropriate warnings that the customer will need to provide their own). So why don't they?

This practice benefits Microsoft in a number of ways:

  • They shut out all of the competition and have a captive market.
  • They get revenue from people who do not even use their products.
  • They hide the cost of a Microsoft Windows license in the cost of the PC as a whole so that the purchaser believes that he is getting a "free" copy of Microsoft Windows.
  • They get subsequent opportunities to sell other Microsoft products - that only run on Windows, of course - to new PC purchasers.

But people like Dell do sell Linux PCs, you claim! OK. Go to the main Dell site and try to find one! Even if you type "Linux" in the search box, you get machines that are only available with different flavors of Windows! Furthermore, the icon for "operating system" on the machine configuration menu is none other than the Microsoft Windows logo! Are you getting suspicious yet? Now, Dell do offer machines without Windows - they put FreeDOS on them instead - a largely useless operating system (by modern standards) that is no doubt installed solely for the purpose of allowing Dell to test the machines before shipping them. It's on a different site, though (http://linux.dell.com/) and it doesn't offer anywhere near as much choice as the Windows product range. It's also hard to compare prices, because their range of Windows and non-Windows machines have different model naming schemes and configuration options.

Why are they going to so much trouble? (I don't want to pick on Dell - they are by no means alone - but they are the major player and, therefore, fair game).

One other thing: have you noticed how every PC web-site proclaims "XXX recommends Windows XP professional", where "XXX" is the name of the PC maker. How can a recommendation be made when they haven't even asked you what your requirements are? Running a nuclear plant? I recommend that you do not touch Windows XP Professional with a bargepole! It has nothing whatsoever to do with Microsoft paying the PC makers to display this nonsense... ...could it?

But it doesn't end there. Have you ever tried to buy a PC without getting a Microsoft office suite thrown in "for free" as well? It seems that either Microsoft Works or one of the many editions of Microsoft Office is nearly always included in the price of even the most entry-level machines. Why don't they ever offer OpenOffice as a (free) alternative? That would allow them to sell their machines even cheaper still - but it's just yet another tax that non-Windows users have to pay Microsoft for!

Just for fun, I went to the Dell site and tried to find the absolute cheapest PC I could get my hands on. I found a Dell Dimension E521 with the following equipment (cheapest available option selected in each case - except that I selected the cheapest monitor, rather than no monitor):

  • AMD Sempron 3400+ processor.
  • Genuine Windows XP Home Edition (with no express upgrade to Vista).
  • 512MB Ram.
  • 80 GB Serial ATA hard drive.
  • 48x CD-RW/DVD Combo drive.
  • 17" CRT monitor.
  • 48x CD-RW/DVD Combo drive.
  • NVIDIA GeForge g150 LE graphics card.
  • Integrated 7.1 channel audio.
  • Keyboard.
  • Mouse.
  • 56K PCI modem (no cost upgrade).
  • No printer, speakers or other hardware accessories.
  • Microsoft Works 8 - strangely, but accurately, described as "no productivity suite".
  • Trial pack of Corel and Yahoo! products. (As trial products, these are probably provided free by the manufacturers as incentives to buy the full product - unlike the included Microsoft products.)
  • 1 year at-home warranty.

The cost? A very reasonable US$379 before taxes. Now, if Windows XP home edition has a Microsoft tax of US$89, then we can bring the price down to the unbelievably low price of just US$290 before taxes! But Microsoft Works 8 is probably not free either! How much has this affected the price? At this point, I do not know. (Just for fun, why not try to find the cheapest possible non-Windows PC on their site. My search found a FreeDOS machine that cost US$579!)

Microsoft wouldn't be abusing their monopolistic position in the marketplace by any chance?

The whole business stinks!

P.S. If you would like to get a refund of your Microsoft taxes, try visiting http://windowsrefund.info/. Be warned: this is not as simple a process as it should be!

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Dell considering Linux on desktop

LinuxWatch has a story that Dell is to consider offering Linux on its desktop range. Just so you know.