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Community: It's Time to Strike the Next Blow

May 10, 2004, 23:30 (11 Talkback[s])
(Other stories by Ganesh Prasad)

[ Thanks to Ganesh Prasad for this link. ]

Has anyone noticed that hardware prices have dropped so much that it's now possible to buy two PCs and load them up with Linux and OpenOffice.org for the price of a single PC loaded with Windows and MS-Office? That's great, isn't it? But can you, as an individual consumer, actually buy such a cheap system from a major PC manufacturer in your country? Yes/Maybe? How about laptops, then? Didn't think so.

So, are you thinking what I'm thinking, B1? It's consumer protection time!*

This is a letter I sent to the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission, and I encourage everyone to do something similar in their respective countries.

It's time to strike the next blow to dismantle the Microsoft monopoly.

* This dialogue should be familiar to those who watch the Australian ABC Kids program "Bananas in Pyjamas".

Copy of letter:

To: The Commissioner, Australian Competition and Consumer Commission,
GPO Box 3648, Sydney NSW 2001

From: Ganesh Prasad

10 May 2004

Dear Sir/Madam,

Today, in the Australian PC market, hardware and operating system software are bundled together with a single price tag. Consumers are forced to buy the entire bundle or nothing. The bundled operating system is invariably Microsoft Windows. It is not possible for an individual consumer to purchase only PC hardware and obtain an operating system separately from a cheaper source. This is especially true of laptops.

To be sure, PC vendors allow large corporate customers to buy hardware without an operating system, but they don't extend this option to individual consumers (i.e., the home PC market).

PC vendors must be made to unbundle the hardware and software components for all consumers and to display their respective prices clearly. It should be possible for an individual consumer to buy the hardware component alone, without being forced to pay for the operating system as well. These steps will help consumers evaluate their options more knowledgeably and make choices that suit their budget and preferences.

By way of precedence, French consumer law mandates that the prices of all components be clearly displayed (e.g., when buying a six-pack of beer, the consumer is informed of the price of the pack as well as the price of each can). A similar law is required in Australia to separate the hardware and software components of a PC.

After all, today, there exists a real choice of software (whether in operating systems or office suites). Linux has matured as a home desktop operating system with Internet capabilities, e-mail and web browsing software. OpenOffice.org provides a full-featured office suite that offers comparable functionality to Microsoft Office, in a far more affordable manner (downloadable for free, or as part of a Linux distribution).

The argument that selling bare hardware will encourage the piracy of Microsoft software is bogus. There is a strong community of computer users who prefer to use Linux and OpenOffice.org. To label these and other potential users as software pirates is slanderous. The argument is self-serving, because the current system only takes away consumer choice and perpetuates the Microsoft monopoly.

The price of hardware has fallen dramatically today compared to the price of Microsoft software. At the lower end of the market, it is possible to buy two "bare" PCs for the price of a single one loaded with Microsoft Windows and Microsoft Office. If legally free copies of Linux and OpenOffice.org are used, it effectively means it is possible to buy two fully functional PCs for the price of one. But does the consumer get the benefit of recent economics??

It is disappointing that the prevailing system perpetuates a monopoly when the functionality provided by that monopoly is hardly unique.

I appeal to the ACCC to set right this market distortion through a suitable directive to PC manufacturers operating in Australia to unbundle their hardware and software. This move will face strong pressure from vested interests, no doubt, but I expect the ACCC to withstand such pressure and do the right thing by the consumer.

Yours sincerely,

Ganesh Prasad

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