Open-source company prepares MS competition complaint

Australia-based firm wants competition watchdog to force vendors to offer PCs without pre-installed Microsoft OS, and make changes to procurement processes.

An open-source software company wants Australia's competition watchdog to force hardware vendors to offer PCs without a Microsoft OS pre-installed and force changes to a public education procurement process it claims is biased towards Redmond.

Melbourne-based Cybersource said it would lodge a complaint with the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) over anti-competitive tactics allegedly used by Microsoft to unfairly "suck" money from the consumer. The complaint is also expected to cover what the company alleges is bias towards Microsoft in software procurement in the public education sector.

Cybersource's chief executive Con Zymaris said his main objection is that consumers are 'forced' into buying a copy of Windows with every PC purchase.

"It is near-impossible for consumers to purchase a desktop PC or laptop without also having to purchase an OEM copy of Microsoft Windows. All tier-1 and tier-2 vendors should be required to offer their products without an operating system pre-installed. The price difference should also be clearly and broadly presented at retail outlets, on vendor marketing literature and vendor Web sites," said Zymaris.

The second part of Cybersource's complaint asks the ACCC to investigate the fairness of government school purchasing practises. According to Zymaris, he has been "trying to engage [governments]" on this subject for more than two years.

"Government schools do not run open tenders whereby competitors to Microsoft can pitch solutions. They only run tenders to see which Microsoft reseller gets the business. It's like the equivalent of governments bypassing all other vendors when tendering for fleet cars and only going to Nissan. This is utterly wrong and we want that changed," said Zymaris.

Zymaris told ZDNet Australia  that Cybersource has published a white paper on its Web site entitled "The Cost of Software Monopoly: How Australian Consumers Lose", which outlines how Microsoft's stranglehold over the PC desktop could be loosened to increase competition and offer more choice to the consumer.

According to Zymaris, Microsoft has "sucked" more than AU$1 billion (US$754.8 million) from Australian consumer's pockets over the past five years by abusing its virtual monopoly of the desktop operating system market.

"If you do the sums, it adds up. Microsoft would make at least US$75 off each PC sold in this country every year. Two million PCs means US$151 million from OEM Windows alone. Add Office and everything else and US$754.8 million doesn't look that hard to reach," said Zymaris.

Fellow open-source developers seem reluctant to back Cybersource's actions.

SuSE Linux, which is owned by long time Microsoft rival Novell, said it would not comment on Cybersource's complaint to the ACCC. Instead a Novell spokesperson said SuSE is "optimistic" about the growth of Linux on the desktop.

"We recognise Microsoft's current strength in the marketplace, but Novell is firmly committed to giving customers choice in terms of offering open source solutions as a secure, cost effective and viable alternative to proprietary operating environments. We are optimistic about the future growth of open source and Linux solutions and being competitive in the desktop market," the spokesperson said.

The ACCC declined to comment on the matter.