EU thinktank calls for naked PCs

EU thinktank calls for naked PCs

Summary: Following the EU-Microsoft antitrust ruling, a major European thinktank has challenged Windows' hegemony by recommending all PCs be sold without an OS

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TOPICS: Tech Industry
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Computers should be sold without an operating system in order to foster competition and bring down prices, a major European thinktank has recommended.

In a submission to the European Commission, the Globalisation Institute claimed that the lack of choice in desktop operating systems is a more central issue than that of bundled media players — the issue that sparked the Commission's antitrust action against Microsoft.

"The vast majority of computers sold are commodity products. While manufacturers compete on styling and brand reputation, in addition to specification, no manufacturer or component manufacturer is the sole choice for consumers," wrote Alex Singleton, the Globalisation Institute's president, in the submission. "There is no reason why there should not be diversity in operating systems, too."

Singleton suggested that most people are unable to easily purchase a computer without automatically paying for Windows. "The result is that consumers who, given the choice, would opt for a cheaper operating system, find themselves automatically buying the market leader," he said. "There is no meaningful competition between operating systems for commodity computers." He said that the institute's analysis excluded Apple's OS X because the Mac is a "premium, niche product, like a Bang & Olufsen television, which is difficult to justify in the business world outside of the publishing sector".

"Microsoft's dominant position is not in the public interest. It limits the market and has slowed technical development to the prejudice of consumers," wrote Singleton. "Yet operating systems are not a natural monopoly. Just as evolving standards in hardware allow the combination of competition and compatibility, in a competitive operating-system market, there would be broad compatibility between different competitors' operating systems. Competition would encourage open standards and interoperability, as vendors would, for competitive reasons, want their products to interact with other vendors' products."

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If manufacturers are eventually forced to provide naked PCs, should the same apply to Macs?

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Singleton claimed that the Windows monopoly "imposes an extra cost on virtually every EU business", due to the lack of competition, as well as higher support costs associated with Microsoft's platform.

The institute examined several options for breaking Microsoft's monopoly, but settled on the so-called "naked PC" option because offering customers a choice of bundled operating systems would be logistically impossible on the high street, and offering a rebate to customers who choose not to activate Windows when they first fire up their new purchase could be bureaucratic.

"We decided that the best way to approach competition was simply to insist that operating systems are purchased separately from desktop and laptop computers. Price-conscious consumers, including many students, would opt for cheaper operating systems," wrote Singleton. "We do not believe this would add complexity for consumers. Consumers would simply be asked to insert an operating system DVD when they first turn on a new computer, which would then automatically configure itself."

An investigation by ZDNet.co.uk earlier this year revealed how difficult (and in some cases impossible) it is to buy a PC without Windows bundled with it.

Neither the European Commission nor Microsoft could offer comment on the institute's proposals at the time of writing.

Topic: Tech Industry

David Meyer

About David Meyer

David Meyer is a freelance technology journalist. He fell into journalism when he realised his musical career wouldn't pay the bills. David's main focus is on communications, as well as internet technologies, regulation and mobile devices.

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4 comments
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  • sold without an operating system

    AMEN! It's about time someone decided the consumer has the right to use his own intelligence to buy a computer. I don't need, or want, someone telling me I have to run their software on MY computer. If you buy a computer with windoze on it, it still belongs to M$, it's not yours. They can access it anytime they want and do whatever they want, and force you to register with them.
    ator1940
  • and of couse the eu is going to..

    Pay for all the highly trained support people that the vendors will need to support ALL those operating systems.

    One of hte biggest issues on the CEO plate today is the sheer cost of IT support. They are of course going to be overly keen to increase costs by having to support Every flavour of OS on the planet NOT.

    Similarly the computer vendors will have to increase the cost of the base machine to support the cost of a doubled or tripled helpline. The consumers will be confused when the first thing they are asked when they dial for help is "Which operating system do you have" "erm, geekware 3.75693428761 which was the cheapest one I could find" Followed by "Ah yes there is no driver for the hardware you have just bough sorry you will have to buy the most expensive alternative which supports drivers for every OS thought of and a few which are still being thought of".

    And of course Microsoft will be forced to raise prices of it's OS as the 75% discount it gives to OEMs today would have to vanish along with the OEM deal. At which the other OS vendors would raise their prices because they could.

    All VERY good for the consumer. I think not.

    Can you imagine the conversation in PC world? "Does this webcam have drivers for geekware 3.75693428761" "Yes"

    At least with Windows you have Some chance that the bonehead who just said that was right.

    Microsoft didn't win the OS battle by dirty tricks, they won it because a single OS makes fiscal sense and Microsoft was the best of a Very bad bunch.
    Neil-T
  • Microsoft's winning ways

    All good points there, but should we really be accepting Windows' enormous monopoly purely because it is trickier and a bit more expensive to support alternatives?

    So the convenience of the status quo negates the advantages to be gained through true competition, like real innovation? Stick with the current situation, and we'll never know...
    David Meyer
  • Why only PC's?

    "Macs do Windows, too". I strongly protest against buying a Mac with OS X installed. Why only Microsoft has to pay?...

    Or perhaps will we be able to buy our cell phones without an OS (e.g. bare iPhone, naked HTC)? A HDTV home system without firmware? A naked PDA? What is next?...
    LadyRoot