'Windows only' Dell draws fire from Linux community

A Dell Belgium employee says Microsoft is putting pressure on it to sell PCs with Windows only. Microsoft and Dell Europe say that is not the case as the Linux community scrutinises the titans' moves.

A Dell Belgium representative has told ZDNet his company has an agreement with Microsoft to sell PCs only if they have an operating system pre-installed, and hinted Microsoft has pressured Dell into making sure that only Windows comes as standard. Until 2 June, Dell Belgium offered customers the option to buy PCs without an operating system. This policy was later changed to offer PCs with any operating system. Dell now only supplies PCs with Windows, citing "technical difficulties" as preventing it from offering any other OS. According to email correspondence, published by the Linux community last week, Eric Schepens, an account manager for Dell Belgium, implied that Dell was put under pressure by Microsoft to make the policy change. In the emails Schepens explained the changes to a university researcher from Holland. He hinted that under the terms of an agreement with Microsoft, Dell is pressured by the software giant to supply all PCs with Windows. "Unfortunately Dell is not strong enough to impose conditions on Microsoft," he said. "The opposite is more likely to be true. Therefore we are bound to supply an OS." Schepens has verified the accuracy of the transcript to ZDNet UK News. He said Microsoft and Dell have a European arrangement ensuring the PC maker cannot supply machines without an operating system and confirmed Dell's inability to supply any operating system other than Windows because of technical problems. Andrew Rigby, European competitive law specialist at Tarlo Lyons law firm in London, said such a deal contravenes European competitive law and explained that even if Dell Belgium felt obligated to sell only Windows, as Schepens implied, it would break articles 81, 82 and 83 of the European Treaty. Dell Europe and Microsoft denied the agreement exists. A spokesman for Dell Europe confirmed that Microsoft and Dell do have a contractual arrangement across Europe but, contradicting Schepens, said the contract "does not bar us [Dell] from selling any other operating system and it does not say we have to supply an operating system at all." Microsoft, which is under investigation by the Department of Justice (DoJ) in the U.S. for alleged anti-competitive practices, said in a statement: "Microsoft does not require Dell to ship all systems with Windows. Computer manufacturers are free to ship any Operating System they think their customers want and meets their business needs. OEMs are free to ship whatever Operating System they think is appropriate." Despite the companies' protests, Kirsten Ludvigsen operating systems analyst with IDC research in Denmark, said it is unlikely that technical difficulties are behind Dell's decision to only supply Windows machines. "It is not technically difficult," said Ludvigsen. "There must be other issues." Dell last week announced plans to start shipping PCs with either Windows or Linux starting October. In the US, the epic anti-trust lawsuitagainst Microsoft is only just coming to a head. After four years of seemingly endless testimony, the attorneys for Microsoft and the DoJ gave their final summations last month. Abridged versions of those arguments were published last week. A verdict is expected within the year. Take me to the DoJ/Microsoft special

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