To bundle or not to bundle?
Whilst touring the Internet recently I came across this (or more importantly this). Unlike some of the other crazy plans in the past the EU have come up with to try and balance out Microsoft's monopoly this one caught my attention. Forcing PC's to be sold without Microsoft Windows, surely thats an idea that could be beneficial?
Normally I'm not a big fan of the EU sticking their nose into the world of computing; for example I thought the EU's decision to force Microsoft to remove Media Player from Windows was just stupid and benefited nobody. Its a bit like forcing Ford to sell cars without a radio just so people can choose which radio they wish to fit. Except in the Ford example EU intervention would be more justified as its very difficult to install a different radio in a car whereas anyone can easily replace Windows Media Player with a few mouse clicks. I can only think its all sour grapes on the part of alternative software vendors who couldn't face the fact that their products had not gained the kind of popularity they would have liked ...but hey thats just my opinion.
Freedom of choice
The EU's proposal to unbundle Windows from PC's basically means that when you walk into PC World or perhaps order a PC from Dell it will be supplied without Windows. Although this sounds like a crazy thing to impose it could actually be very beneficial to the consumer in a multitude of ways and not only for those consumers that don't want to run Windows...
Lets say I have a full retail copy of Windows XP which I purchased for my PC a few years back. The hardware was great at the time but its getting a bit old now and I want to upgrade. At the moment if I look around I can only buy machines with Windows pre-installed, I don't need or want a copy of Windows though! Back at home I have a perfectly legitimate copy of XP which I can transfer, why should I buy it again?
Then theres the customers that do want to buy a PC with a Windows license, amazingly enough they can benefit too. Often I have seen the PC I wanted but found it was only shipped with XP Home Edition or Vista Home Basic or something like that which is of no use to me. Being able to buy an essentially blank PC and put what I want on it increases my choice of equipment quite dramatically.
Then of course theres the users that simply just don't want Windows for whatever reason. Maybe they've had one blue screen too many or perhaps they just want to try something different? With Mac and Windows hardware platforms converging closer and closer each day this is becoming increasingly an issue. What if I want to buy a Dell to run MacOSX on for example?
At the end of the day whatever you want to do at the moment you don't have much choice but to buy a PC bundled with Windows. This means you are potentially paying for something that you dont want. Sure Dell offer a couple of machines with Linux as an alternative but the the range of choice is very limited and often doesn't have what you require. So what can you do except buy a machine with Windows on just to junk it? Who does that benefit? ...sure it lines Microsofts pockets but thats about it.
Of course its not only the direct instantaneous benefits I've mentioned above that the end user will benefit from. At the moment if I wish to build a machine myself and put Vista on it its just not financially viable. Buying Vista off the shelf would add a huge extra cost to my build price; in many cases the license on its own is more expensive than buying a complete system from Dell which already includes the license! Forcing PC's to be sold without Windows would in turn force Microsoft to sell its operating systems at a sensible price and I think once that happens everyone will benefit. Theres even a chance it may decrease the amounts of pirate Windows copies in the wild.
Then of course theres the long term effect of increasing peoples awareness of alternative operating systems. Many people have heard of Linux and MacOS but how many of you have heard of SkyOS, Haiku, Syllable, MenuetOS, or more importantly ReactOS; a project to create a free, open source, 100% compatible Windows alternative? Or how about Solaris; a very stable Unix operating system which has been heavily used on server systems for many years and is now free for personal use?
Sure the alternatives may not be as polished as Microsoft Windows just yet but if they are never given a chance will they ever be? The more people are aware of their existence and try them out (when its free why not?) the more development they will get and the more competition will be available. If we are all forced to pay for Windows anyway wheres the incentive to try something different?
..and the downside?
Its been said that one of the reasons that operating systems are shipped with the machines is that they are quite difficult to install. Supplying them pre-configured means the users can be instantly up and running without having to worry about drivers. Is that really a good excuse though? Dell have been selling servers for years with no OS and they worked around the problem by shipping the machine with a clever little boot disk which asks you which operating system you wish to install and then slipstreams in all the drivers and applications automatically just as if you had bought it like that. There really is no reason why this couldn't be the case with client machines as well, maybe even do away with the disk and just have an OS installer present on the HDD drive once you get it out the box.
Then of course theres Microsofts claim that everyone will run pirate copies of Windows. To me this is a pathetically weak argument. Not only have Microsoft made this already increasingly difficult recently with various anti-piracy systems but no other software vendor gets this privilidge why should they? I don't hear Adobe claiming Photoshop should be installed on every PC "just in case someone pirates it" so why should MS be any different?
Those of you that have been in the industry for many years may remember the rumors that Microsoft wouldn't let IBM sell its own OS2 operating system on its own IBM PC's, threatening to stop discounting Windows licenses if it did. Whether this was a contributing factor or not one cannot ignore the fact that OS2 is pretty much dead now and Windows isn't and yet at its time of release OS2 was considered by many to be the superior system?
To this day it seems nothing has really changed since then. MS still practically force themselves on consumers and hardware vendors and we just grin and bear it. The EU's plan to force MS to stop bundling PC's with Windows provides benefits to all and since I fail to see any downside (apart from the user having to stick a disk in and press a button the first time they power up their PC) this can only be a good thing. I truly hope that the EU introduce this policy so we can get out of this 'stuck in a rut' situation we are in.
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