Curbing Microsoft's naked ambition

The software giant's over-enthusiastic habit of including software in hardware deals is unacceptable. We fancy a bit of a bundle ourselves

It's an offer you can't refuse — buy a PC, get Microsoft software thrown in. And we do mean you cannot refuse; try going into a high street retailer or picking a PC off the page at Dell, and see whether you can end up free of Microsoft licences.

You might already have bought Windows, but are being forced to pay full price again just because you're upgrading. You might want to use Linux on that laptop, yet find that not only that XP is compulsory but that removing it invalidates the guarantee. You may have a site licence, but be unable to buy new computers without XP pre-installed anyway — and not have the time to go through the process of claiming the money back.

You may even be a small business who'd like to buy PCs without Microsoft software but have read that such an action will lead to a visit from the company's "Feet on the Street" team for a bit of "proactive assurance" regarding the "value proposition of pre-installed software".

The 'Feet on the Street' are otherwise involved in chasing people using unlicensed copies of Microsoft software — with good links to the BSA, FAST and other worthies who may well descend demanding audits and other time-consuming, expensive ways of declaring you guilty until proven innocent. Does that mean that Microsoft considers naked PCs tantamount to licence abuse? Of course not, says Microsoft. An honest mistake: just because it threatened in print to send in the goon squad doesn't mean that it had any intention so to do.

That's as may be, but the original statement was a shockingly casual threat. As our Talkback shows, and as our experience over the years backs up, Microsoft is extraordinarily keen to push its software at individuals and businesses of all sizes in ways that effectively remove our ability to turn it down. That is an abuse of a monopoly position, and one that requires action.

We want to be able to buy any PC with or without Microsoft software, from any vendor. We want an end to bundled deals where the Microsoft tax is hidden in the hardware price: If we want Microsoft software then we'll ask for it. We're capable of making that decision for ourselves. If Microsoft wants to give away software, then fine — don't make it a condition of a hardware sale.

Most of all, we want the right to say no without being threatened if we do. Anything else is gangsterism — and our gang is bigger than theirs.