Businesses back call for naked PCs

A call from a European thinktank for PCs and laptops to be sold without an OS has been welcomed by CIOs — but not unconditionally
Written by Andy McCue, Contributor on

UK businesses have backed calls for computers to be sold "naked" — without a bundled Microsoft Windows operating system.

Earlier this week, the Globalisation Institute, a European thinktank, made a submission to the European Commission proposing that all PCs and laptops should be sold without an operating system in order to foster competition and bring down prices, saying the current practice "imposes an extra cost on virtually every EU business".

Three-quarters of the12-strong CIO Jury IT director panel formed by ZDNet.co.uk's sister site silicon.com have now backed that call for naked PCs, although the argument is far from straightforward.

Carl Whitehead, IT director at Betbrokers, said naked PCs without an operating system (OS) would probably increase choice and reduce costs for about a third of buyers.

Whitehead said: "The rule should be that, wherever a PC or laptop is sold with an installed OS, it must always also be available without an OS but with any utilities the manufacturer feels like including. This will help to limit the monopoly marketing power of the big players, who have an interest in reducing choice and flexibility."

Rob Neil, head of ICT and customer service at Ashford Borough Council, agreed but warned that computers without an OS can work out more expensive.

Neil said: "Remember that the staff cost of installing an OS on new equipment is significant."

Other IT chiefs also backed the argument for optional, not compulsory, naked PCs.

Nicholas Bellenberg, IT director at publisher Hachette Filipacchi UK, said: "Currently we purchase some PCs that predominantly run Linux, but Windows is kept as a boot option — but how much is it used? We also run a few Macs now that use Parallels to provide a Windows OS, and, of course, this means purchasing Windows XP as a standalone option, which seems disproportionately expensive. Clarifying the real cost of the parts of a PC purchase would be a good thing."

Graham Yellowley, director of technology services at investment bank Mitsubishi UFJ Securities International, added: "While Windows is the predominant operating system in use, it is not the only one and there should be a choice made available for purchasers allowing for either no operating system, or an operating system capable of executing on the PC."

But not everyone is in favour of a Windows-less PC option. Stuart Aitken, chief information officer at the Medical Research Council, said: "Do we really want the burden of building every machine, getting all the drivers, etc? In any event, you can get a PC with a different OS if you want to."

Ben Booth, global chief technology officer at research and polling company Ipsos, said: "Of course we should continue to push for better pricing from Microsoft, but those of us old enough to have been around before the 'Windows monopoly' remember the high costs and lock-in caused by incompatible proprietary systems. Having a standard OS avoids this."

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