Users split over naked PCs

Summary:While some PC users are in favour of computers being sold without an OS, others believe having Windows pre-installed keeps life simple

A European thinktank's recent recommendation that computers should be sold without an operating system — so-called "naked PCs" — in order to tackle Microsoft's dominant position and foster competition in the operating-system marketplace has got readers fired up.

For many readers, the issue is simple: most PC users aren't capable of — or interested in — understanding the workings of their computer. Reader Dale Beutel, a software engineer from Chicago, wrote: "I believe the vast majority of PCs purchased are for users who operate them, which is a far cry from understanding them… Simply put, an OS must be offered pre-installed for most consumers and many small companies."

Another reader, an IT buyer from Derby, warned: "Don't try to remove the convenience of buying a PC with its operating system installed, because Mr Joe Public wants simplicity — to take his PC home, switch it on and use it to access www, play games, watch videos, send email. He doesn't want to perform a black start, installing the OS and then each piece of s/w that was previously pre-installed to make his experience easy and enjoyable."

Sales director Gareth Evans, from Bath, added: "By far and away the bulk of people buying a PC don't want the bother of installing the operating system on a new PC. They are never going to choose some silly piece of geek software. They just want a simple life and have Windows pre-installed."

Another reader wrote: "It's only us 'geeks' that are bothered about this issue. Who really cares as long as it works when you flick the power switch?"

But the keep-it-simple camp was challenged by other readers who are not so content with the Windows-dominated status quo — or the effect this has on PC users.

For example, software engineer David Fletcher blamed "the likes of Microsoft" for dumbing down PC users by encouraging them to adopt a "toaster-style" mentality towards their PCs: "They don't seem to realise that a PC is NOT an item of consumer goods like a washing machine or a toaster. Would anybody use an angle grinder without eye protection? Only if they were complete idiots. Yet that is how the world's PCs are turning into botnets — people running Windows on them and not protecting themselves against intrusion."

Other readers are more pragmatic about Microsoft's position. Jeremy Wickins, a researcher from Sheffield, wrote: "Sure, I'd like to see a bit more support for Linux flavours (at least the major ones) and anything that irritates Microsoft is just fine by me, but it seems that this idea [selling computers as naked PCs] might just work against the consumer who just wants something that does a job."

Graham, a developer from Richmond, suggested Windows should be pre-installed at no charge but require payment to be activated. "This would obviate the need to have a cashback option for those who didn't want Windows or to sell separate naked PCs," he wrote. "If there's a genuine clamour for choice, system builders will then be able pre-install Linux etc alongside Windows with no impact on their pricing model."

The high cost to business of having Windows pre-installed on PCs was certainly an issue for ZDNet.co.uk's sister site silicon.com's CIO Jury. Three-quarters of the jury backed calls for naked PCs, not only to foster diversity in operating systems but also to bring down costs.

On the business side, several reader comments point to the fact many companies do not use pre-installed operating systems but rather choose to install a "standard image" on each machine. By starting from a naked PC, businesses would at least save time (due to not having to delete the existing installation), if not cash too, they said.

Another reader, Austin Holdsworth, a director from the Midlands, said that, although "the ideal of a standard OS is a noble one", it must not be allowed to get in the way of support for standards, which can in turn help to unlock monopolies.

Holdsworth added: "Avoiding vendor lock-in and incompatibilities is achieved by sourcing products that adhere to international standards. Document, communication and software development standards do exist. That wasn't possible even 10 years ago but is now a reality. Even Microsoft has come to realise this."

Topics: Tech Industry

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