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Editor's Note: Linux, FOSS, and the Time-Honored Tradition of Charging More for Less

Jul 10, 2009, 23:04 (24 Talkback[s])
(Other stories by Carla Schroder)

by Carla Schroder
Managing Editor

The tech industry has elevated the time-honored tactic of charging more for less to an art form*. Charging more for less is nothing new, but the traditional method was to use some kind of fluffy padding to make you think you were getting more. For example, those mechanic's hand tool sets where you get 300 pieces for fifty bucks. Deal! Until you look closer and see that 100 of them are Allen wrenches, 100 are cotter pins, and 75 are screwdriver bits. Right, doesn't everyone need a half-dozen #2 Phillips bits? The least they could do is include some Torx and square-head bits. But no, you get a gazillion Phillips and slotted. But if you want only the other 25 items, which are actual useful tools, you probably can't get a better price. You'll pay more for a smaller kit.

The reigning champions of more for less are cable and satellite TV. 250 channels for sixty dollars a month. Wow, is that a tuber's paradise or what? But what do you really get? A few dozen pay-per-view, a few dozen public access, and way too many shopping and sports channels. Right, I am so interested in overpriced ugly jewelry and grade-school croquet. Chances are the channels you really want are cunningly distributed amongst several packages, so the only way to get the few you want is buy the expensive one. Can you buy just the channels you want? Nope, the cable and satellite companies have lobbied very hard to make sure that "a la carte" pricing is not allowed.

Cell phone providers are just as accomplished at the more for less game. If you buy a subsidized branded phone it seems like a good deal because the phone is inexpensive or free, in exchange for a two-year contract. But then you get nickel-and-dimed to death, because it's likely that a lot of your phone's features are disabled and you'll have to pay extra to turn them on. My fave example is the "data connection kit" offered by one provider for an extra $50-- this un-disables the ability to upload and download your data, music files, and image files to your own computer. Oh, and you get a USB cable. They would rather you throw away a lot of money buying ringtones, wallpapers, and extra services from them, but instead of making it more attractive to do that, they run a little scam instead.

A cornerstone of Microsoft's business is more for less. Want to buy a Windows server? Cool, they'll sell you one. It's only marginally different from desktop Windows, but it costs a whole lot more. Then if you want to actually connect clients to it you have to buy client access licenses. Brilliant, like charging per-user for tap water. And people pay up.

This more-for-less tactic came into sharp focus with netbooks. At first they seemed like the perfect combination of less for less, plus unlimited more. The less for less was the inexpensive hardware. This was a real breakthrough, because for the first time little notebooks were actually priced small. Put Linux on them and you had an inexpensive, acceptably-performing, very portable machine plus the vast world of Free and free-of-cost software at your fingertips.

But then the rot set in, as it so often does in the commercial, proprietary computer world, and especially when Microsoft is involved, because Microsoft has distorted the entire PC industry to the point that what we dumb ole luser customers want doesn't matter. It's what Microsoft wants that matters. So along came Windows crashing the netbook party. It wasn't enough to join the party, they had to chase away the Linux kids and spit in the punchbowl. And that is how netbooks went from inexpensive, inventive, and endlessly flexible, to restricted, micro-managed, over-priced, over-sized, and under-featured. Sure, you still get the traditional fluffy padding-- in the form of useless trialware, nagware, and junkware.

There is something fundamentally defective with a business that feels it can't survive by giving customers a fair deal. Stick with FOSS. What you see is what you get, warts, roses, everything, with no place to hide tricksy dealings or dishonesty.

*With the notable exception of x86 and PC hardware, which have a long history of delivering more power and capacity for lower prices.