foobar on computers, software and the rest of the world


Why Windows should be 'unbundled' from PC sales

, posted: 10-Oct-2007 05:59

Recently, a 'think tank' in Europe suggested that the European Union should establish legislation that would force PC manufacturers to unbundle the Windows operating system from the sale of new PCs. You know, the practice that makes most consumers think that Windows is free and comes as a 'necessary' part of their PC, not realising that they actually paid a 'Microsoft tax' with the purchase of their PC (up to 50% of the system price in case of some lower-cost hardware). What consumers don't know, of course, is that the purchase price of the PC contained the price of the Windows license.

Consumers don't realise that there are choices and that they are more or less forced to buy a product from a certain vendor. Not to unbundle - so the think tank concludes - stifles competition and costs the European consumers billions (!) of Euros each year, all of them essentially going to Microsoft.

As could be expected, a number of counter points were raised very quickly by a number of individuals, organisations and 'analysts' who actually defended the bundling of Windows with PC sales. Sometimes those were well meant, sometimes they were just FUD distributed to ensure that Microsoft does not loose such a huge cash cow.

Con Zymaris has taken it upon himself to systematically debunk a number of the top arguments of the 'unbundling sceptics' as he calls them. This makes for very interesting reading, indeed. Some of the highlights:
  • For about 20 years now, Microsoft with a 90% - 95% market share has an effective monopoly in a key segment of the economy, thoroughly stifling competition and choice for the consumer. Regulators have stepped in when other companies had that kind of dominance before.
  • The share of the 'Microsoft tax' (the price even for the OEM version of Windows) has reached up to 50% of the overall purchase price of the system. Often, consumers are not given a choice to opt out of paying for the Windows license, or are not even aware that they are paying it.
  • Unbundling will not add complexity for the user. Installing an OS is straight forward these days, and installing additional applications is much (!) easier and convenient in Linux than it is in Windows.
  • Suggested solution: PC vendors should sell PCs without the Windows license cost included in the price, and without any OS installed. Instead, two CDs should be shipped with each new computer: One Windows recovery disk, and one disk containing one of the major Linux distributions. Users can then choose which OS to install. If they install Windows, they have to purchase the license separately.
He makes many more good points and provide nice examples. I recommend you take the time and read his original article. I really like the suggested solution in the end: Let the consumer have a choice of what they want to install. If they really want Windows they can. They just have to separately buy the license, which can be easily done during the Windows installation process. But they now would have a choice, and I am sure that many would think twice about it if they were offered a completely free solution, which on top of it has much more software readily available to start with.


Other related posts:
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And you thought your computer would do what YOU wanted...
The great 'Windows collapse' of 2011?








Comment by tonyhughes, on 10-Oct-2007 07:33

and installing additional applications is much (!) easier and convenient in Linux than it is in Windows.

The last Windows app I installed was a click on the website it came from, to download it, a click to say 'install it' and a click to confirm.

How is that not easy and convenient, and how does Linux make this easier? (And yes I have installed and used many flavours of Linux including Ubuntu and automatix), and although its good, the above statement is just plain FUD


Author's note by foobar, on 10-Oct-2007 07:50

tonyhughes: No, it's not FUD.

You got the Windows application from some web-site. You downloaded it, and clicked it to install it. You probably had to agree to a license, etc.

The key point here is not that it takes a few more clicks to install Windows applications, which by and large have good and easy to use installers. The point is that you had to go to some web site. And for another piece of software, you have to go to another web site. For a third one, it's yet another site.

How do you find those sites? Did you hear about it? Did you google for it?

The point that makes software installs on modern Linux distributions so much easier is that you have a single place where you can choose your software from. A single place, where the apps are sorted by category, where you tick the ones you want (you get a small description with each to help you decide), press a button and then they all install. You also use the same place to get rid of the ones you don't want anymore.

Once installed, any updates to them are provided to you automatically. whenever they become available.

This single place to choose, install and manage all the applications is what makes it easier to install applications on Linux. It's not the act of installing a single application, it's the fact that ALL your apps are managed from that one, single, easy to use place.


Comment by chakkaradeep, on 10-Oct-2007 08:28

foobar, I certainly agree that PC Manufacturers should look in offering other operating systems. But being a PC Manufacturer, you cannot afford to support every OS out there in the market. So, let us say we choose 3 Linux Distributions. I bet you that there would be internal fight amongst communities on choosing the distribution. Novell SUSE/SLED/openSUSE has improved a lot and now openSUSE 10.3 is a great release, but how many Linux communities would welcome it ? Until the Linux Communities try to stay together, its a problem. I have seen a lot of Linux Distro bashing in the Linux forums itself.


Comment by KiwiOverseas66, on 10-Oct-2007 08:33

Hi foobar. Nice blog - interesting topic. One thing that strikes me though is that the arguments put forward for unbundling are essentially economic - but often there seems to be very little empirical evidence offered in support to demonstrates how the current situation is damaging - and only speculation offered in support of how unbundling will be beneficial. What's the end point here? To ensure consumers have a choice, or to ensure they have a choice of OS that works, is universally supported, and affordable? I think the former (choice) has become the objective in itselt.

I agree that PCs pre installed with windows leaves very little choice - but that isn't the same as saying there is no choice at all (which we in the industry know there is). Strangely enough here in India - PCs with no OS are the norm - which has been done in an effort to keep the prices down. Consumer still tend to prefer windows because it has the largest support network - a critical factor often ignored by the legislators. Also - unless the definition has changed recently monopoly means one and only - not mostly. This is not meant as a criticism of your use of the term - but the term "monopoly" gets thrown around so much these days its become the corporate equivalent of yelling "witch" - which in turn has lead to the subsequent witch trials of course.

So lets say for arguments sake the govt does legislate and requires PCs to be made available without windows preinstalled - and consumers then decide they all want to install windows anyway because that's what they use now, and its what they are use to. What's changed, and how have consumers benefited?

interesting topic this - thanks for bringing it up.


Comment by stevonz, on 10-Oct-2007 08:45

Foobar,

I get your point - but I wouldn't necessarily say it was easier to install non-MS app's - how hard is it to confirm a license agreement?

As Linux becomes more mainstream, you may well find you'll have to download from various websites too if you want new Linux app's.

I personally utlilise MS products because its just easy not to change. My biggest challenge ahead of me is whether to adopt Vista in my new machine, or just stick with the tried & trusted XP?


Comment by inane, on 10-Oct-2007 09:34

hell when was the last time you installed ANYTHING from "Add/remove programs" in windows?

sudo apt-get install anythingwhatsoever

yeah linux still has some issues, however as a general rule the ease of use, performance and readily available application accessibility leaves windows in its wake.


(my comments are definitely biased towards Ubuntu flavours of Linux)


Comment by chakkaradeep, on 10-Oct-2007 09:51

"You got the Windows application from some web-site. You downloaded it, and clicked it to install it. You probably had to agree to a license, etc.

The key point here is not that it takes a few more clicks to install Windows applications, which by and large have good and easy to use installers. The point is that you had to go to some web site. And for another piece of software, you have to go to another web site. For a third one, it's yet another site.
"

Well, seriously, you could do the same with Linux. It all depends how much knowledge one has. If I knew I would buy a software from their own website, and if I didnt do that and go , download elsewhere, then its the innocence and not that its because am using Linux or Windows.

If you are not aware of Code Signing Technologies, then I would strongly recommend you to look into it. Until XP, the software installation security was crap, but with Vista,it has improved a lot and you could easily decide on whether to go or not for that software before installing if that developer/firm has put in Code Signing/Verification technology. Now whats there in Linux ? Yes, you do have GPG keys. See, both have their cons and pros, so there is nothing that you could say or argue on this.

"The point that makes software installs on modern Linux distributions so much easier is that you have a single place where you can choose your software from. A single place, where the apps are sorted by category, where you tick the ones you want (you get a small description with each to help you decide), press a button and then they all install. You also use the same place to get rid of the ones you don't want anymore.

Once installed, any updates to them are provided to you automatically. whenever they become available."

Linux Software Management is coupled with the Software Repository Concept and Windows Software Management is coupled with the individual Software Vendors. If I get a software for Windows, the software vendor will provide updates for me and the software checks periodically for any updates. Whereas in Linux, though the Software Vendor releases the updates, the distribution has to pull it to their package (may be deb,rpm etc.,) and then assure that its working in their distribution and then give for update. Ofcourse, In Windows I could say in the Software that dont check for periodic updates, but in Linux, only after it shows that there is an update available, I could choose my option whether to or not to upgrade.

Seriously, the points arent strong enough to put down Windows or put down Linux. The Software and Package Management system differs in each and every OS and they cant be same. I think its time for us to explore Mac OS, lol !


Comment by freitasm, on 10-Oct-2007 10:46

This single place to choose, install and manage all the applications is what makes it easier to install applications on Linux. It's not the act of installing a single application, it's the fact that ALL your apps are managed from that one, single, easy to use place.




How is this a Windows problem? Microsoft wanted to do this with the Windows Marketplace, but the companies supplying software want to have their own websites with flashy demos and what not.

I can't see how this is a Windows problem...


Author's note by foobar, on 10-Oct-2007 10:56

chakkaradeep: Yes, I agree: The fighting between Linux distros hasn't helped to improve the way Linux is perceived in the market. On one hand, having choices and diversity is good. On the other hand, standing united helps if you want to make progress against a single 'enemy'. If this is supposed to work out, I think that the PC vendors probably have to ship less than 3 Linux distros, since otherwise many users will be too confused to choose any one of them. They then rather stick with what they think they know. About the different approaches to software management: I have to say, I like the centrally managed one (as you could probably guess). That's a matter of taste, perhaps. However, it can also be said that when the apps make it into the repositories for your particular distribution, they have undergone some sort of very useful testing, which indicates that they won't break other stuff. This is actually a good thing for normal end users, since an install of one app will not screw over the rest of the system. People are saying "Oh, there is less support for Linux...". Well, where do you go to get support for your Windows apps if you download Adobe and it breaks your Symantec installation? Microsoft? Adobe? Symantec? If something similar would help with Ubuntu (for example), and you have chosen to purchase a support agreement, then the answer is very clear: Canonical. There will not be any finger pointing. Thus, the single repository approach should actually greatly help the confidence that business customers can have in Linux.

KiwiOverseas66: I think the most empirical argument is that study about the Aver laptop in Europe, where the price of Windows ended up being more than 50% of the overall purchase price. Not giving the consumers choices clearly forces them to pay more than necessary. The situation that you describe in India is interesting. The fact that consumers still choose Windows seems to be an indication that past 'semi monopoly' status of Microsoft has helped to establish so much momentum in the marketplace, that the people themselves are slow to switch. I think if legislators enforce the unbundled PCs, and users now have a choice, then at least the alternatives have a chance to take on the situation, which is already quite bad. Microsoft will still have huge advantages, due to the mind-share and wide distribution that it has. But at least Linux (and others) would have a chance, albeit a small one.

stevonz: As I said, this is not at all about the one click that it takes to accept a license agreement. It's about the overall ease of management for your installed applications. Actually, there is an increased drive to make even commercial applications available via the Add/Remove option in Linux (I'm mostly talking about Ubuntu here). That is very interesting. This means that users can continue to benefit from the single repository approach, with centralised application management. It would be in the interest of any vendor to play along here, since it grants them instant exposure to a much wider customer base.

inane: I agree 100%. Choosing from a large number of apps - and having them automatically updated to boot - makes using Linux more comfortable and easy than Windows in many ways. You mention the command line option to get applications. If we are talking to Windows users who consider a switch to Linux, we should stress the point-and-click equivalent in Linux, though. This would mean, either Synaptic or the Add/Remove option.


Author's note by foobar, on 10-Oct-2007 11:01

freitasm: I don't think I said anywhere that this is a Windows problem, did I? All I said was that it is much easier for people to manage their apps with Linux, rather than Windows. Why that is the case is a different story. The point of 'complexity' was only raised because 'unbundling critics' sometimes mentioned 'added complexity' for users as one of their arguments. Supposedly, it is all easier if you run Windows. But the fact is that some things might be easier, some (many?) other things are not. Centralised, easy management of your applications is definitely easier in Linux than in Windows. Why that is the case is besides the point. The point is that the 'complexity' argument against unbundling is baseless.


Comment by chakkaradeep, on 10-Oct-2007 11:38

"If something similar would help with Ubuntu (for example), and you have chosen to purchase a support agreement, then the answer is very clear: Canonical."

I dont think the support is for every single app thats available in the repository. Its for Installation and Configuration. If there is any problem in the kooldock of KDE, Canonical cannot help you my friend. Same for the new Freespire support options too. They just help you install,configure apps and the system, but not for that application itself which is outside their firm.

"That's a matter of taste, perhaps. However, it can also be said that when the apps make it into the repositories for your particular distribution, they have undergone some sort of very useful testing, which indicates that they won't break other stuff. This is actually a good thing for normal end users, since an install of one app will not screw over the rest of the system."

I still strongly recommend you to look into Code Signing/Verification options and also if you are a developer, look into embedding Manifest into your applications. There are certain rules that are to be followed when developing products and that also matters for Windows, Linux or Mac. If the product does not agree to those rules, please dont download and install them. I do agree there are many products in all OS like that.

"People are saying "Oh, there is less support for Linux...". Well, where do you go to get support for your Windows apps if you download Adobe and it breaks your Symantec installation? Microsoft? Adobe? Symantec? "

You have mis-understood the "less support for Linux". I will give you a simple example - There is not yet Video Chat available in Skype. I hope you understand the "support" now. There is no point arguing that there is Ekiga for video chat and other apps, because, the world is still using Windows and you need some cross apps and Skype is widely used in Windows Platform. So, my parents who are comfortable with Windows and Skype, skype me for video/audio chat, but if am in Linux, I could only do voice chat. I have to switch back to Windows for Video Chat.

"That's a matter of taste, perhaps. However, it can also be said that when the apps make it into the repositories for your particular distribution, they have undergone some sort of very useful testing, which indicates that they won't break other stuff."

Have you heard of Windows Certified Logo program ?
The link I have given is for Windows Server. The main link is here

Whether its Linux or Windows, if you dont choose right products from right vendors, then you are into trouble !


Comment by barf, on 10-Oct-2007 12:32

it's been very interesting reading this discussion, thank you for raising the topic foobar.

as a long time Linux user, my opinions may be biased but I think the unbundling of Windows as an option for consumers would only be harmful to Microsoft's reveunue - and not consumers; who (hypothetically) will 99% of the time be up-sold Windows Vista with a new system regardless.

it is certainly fair to call this system of OEM licence distribution a Tax, but Microsoft are within rights to do so at the same time. Ubuntu is working with Dell to provide a customised (as in skinned) version of Ubuntu for OEM distribution with certain Dell systems in the US market but, not New Zealand yet :-( Hopefully more Linux vendors will push for the OEM distribution technique.


Author's note by foobar, on 10-Oct-2007 15:14

chakkaradeep: According to Canonical's SLA, there is a list of packages that is covered by their support. So it does go beyond setup and configuration. Sadly, this list of packages is only available on request.

Actually, I think I understand the 'support' portion correctly. Sure, the 'support' you are mentioning (support for features) is one side of it. But on the other hand, there has always been the concern with open source / free software, that you cannot get good technical support, a number you can call any time of day to complain to. This is very important for business customers. But these days, those complaints have been pretty much addressed. You can get very good support agreements for open source software from a number of companies now.


Comment by KiwiOverseas66, on 11-Oct-2007 19:23

"The situation that you describe in India is interesting. The fact that consumers still choose Windows seems to be an indication that past 'semi monopoly' status of Microsoft has helped to establish so much momentum in the marketplace, that the people themselves are slow to switch."

Interesting notion - the idea that a company such as microsoft has managed to dominate this market of 1.2 billion people :-) Hmmm. The reason I would question this is:

1) Microsoft has not had the same kind of presence here as in Europe and the US for the past 15-20 years. The growing middle class numbers between 2-300 million, and while consumer spending is growing - spending on electronics, applicances, etc is a relatively recent thing - so there isn't really a past microsoft "momentum" as you describe it.
2)India has probably the strongest IT industry second only to the US, and a global centre of excellence for software development. In other words, if any country could produce an alternate OS then this would be it. 3) The indian government for many years pursued a policy of import substitution - hence the reception given to foreign multinationals has been cool - if not hostile at time, with ample political will to replace them if necessary.

So despite the relatively low presence of microsoft compared to the west in the past, and a thriving software industry - and hardware (PCs) offered without an OS - consumers still choose microsoft (abeit - they have to buy and install separately). I absolutely agree with you that PCs only pre bundled with windows offer little in the way of choice for consumers. I think it would be great if PC manufacturers offered a range of OS with a PC allowing a consumer to choose - but I think its up to the OS providers (not the government) to convince PC makers this is a good practise and mutually beneficial. To do so they would need to demonstrate that there is sufficient support for the product, plus a variety of desirable applications to go with the OS. To provide this would of course require capital to ensure support/ applications are available - but I don't thing consumers deserve anything less.

by the way - very interesting blog this.


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New Zealand


  • Who I am: Software developer and consultant.
  • What I do: System level programming, Linux/Unix. C, C++, Java, Python, and a long time ago even Assembler.
  • What I like: I'm a big fan of free and open source software. I'm Windows-free, running Ubuntu on my laptop. To a somewhat lesser degree, I also follow the SaaS industry.
  • Where I have been: Here and there, all over the place.




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