PCs with Compulsorily Bundled Software Should Be Outlawed

The Windows Tax

The Windows Tax

I’ve written about the Microsoft Tax many times before and have even had a minor success with regards to getting it refunded.

Now a fellow Open Source blogger and businessman, Dr Adrian Steel of Mercian Labels, is trying, so far without luck, to get the cost of an unwanted Windows License refunded from a company called Fonestop Ltd. He’s kindly providing an ongoing record of the correspondence between himself and the supplier whilst he seeks a fair refund for the software that he does not want nor require.

This example goes a long way to indicate why the bundling of software and hardware in this way is so wrong. It is incredibly hard to buy a computer in the UK that is not already infected with an inefficient, outdated, expensive, bloated and, still alarmingly, insecure operating system called Microsoft® Windows. It is also becoming increasingly difficult to get even a partial refund due to the updated terms in the EULA that comes with version 7 of the OS (you can read most of the license agreements here):

By using the software, you accept these terms. If you do not accept them, do not use the software. Instead, contact the manufacturer or installer to determine its return policy. You must comply with that policy, which might limit your rights or require you to return the entire system on which the software is installed.

In earlier versions the statement about returning the entire system was not there. Here’s what the Vista EULA said:

By using the software, you accept these terms. If you do not accept them, do not use the software. Instead, contact the manufacturer or installer to determine their return policy for a refund or credit.

Reading Adrian’s struggle to get back the money that is rightfully his makes me quite angry. There are plenty of computer users that do not want or need Windows software when they buy a new computer. Even if they are not aware of the great Free Software operating systems such as Ubuntu or Fedora or many others, they probably already have a perfectly legal and valid CD of Windows in a drawer or cupboard anyway. Even I have a legal and valid Windows XP CD in my office; not that it ever gets used nowadays…

So what’s to be done? I really feel like starting some kind of campaign to get the lawmakers here and across the EU to make this kind of practice illegal. I as a consumer should be able to select and buy any computer I like and decide for myself if I wish to pay for a pre-installed operating system or not. That should be a choice I am free to make. Currently, apart from a few very brave and admirable vendors, I do not have this choice. And now it’s even harder to obtain a refund due to the change in the wording of Microsoft’s EULA.

These Brave and Admirable vendors deserve a mention:

  • Brave because I’m sure that they will come under pressure from businesses like Microsoft to bundle their software and conform to the way that they want you to sell Computers.
  • Admirable because they are standing up for something which is good and noble and may not be the most profitable course for their company to take.

As many of you know we started a website some time ago called Naked Computers to track these Brave and Admirable suppliers around the world. It’s been useful to many but it has been quite quiet recently and it could definitely do with a revamp to make it look more appealing (any WordPress Theme designers fancy knocking up a new look and feel for the site?).

In the UK there is one computer supplier that, in my humble opinion, should be applauded for their attitude: Novatech. I think that every machine they sell from their website or retail outlets are offered with or without an Operating System; it’s your choice. It’s quite interesting to look on their site and see just how expensive Windows really is: ~£70 to ~£800 or more!

Recently I noticed Novatech making a few noises on Twitter and I commented positively on their approach to selling naked computers. This was their reply to me:

@opensourcerer Thanks for recommending us, we sell all systems without operating systems as we like to give our customers a choice.

So come on you lot! Let’s try and come up with a plan, ideas and suggestions as to how to go about fixing this problem once and for all… Our company, The Open Learning Centre can host a wiki or something if needed but please use the comments here to start the ball rolling.

Are there any lawyers out there who fancy a challenge? Want to fight for Freedom and allow consumers to make their own choice rather than be forced to pay for something they frequently neither need nor want?

Finally, for those naive souls who believe that an EULA gives you some protection or guarantees, think again…

Build your own PC Part III

Although somewhat belatedly, here is a brief discussion on what has happened since I finished building Lobsang.

The system has been very stable and reliable. It is quiet. And it performs well.  There have been a couple of niggles with the software installation that I would like to mention and also briefly I wanted to cover partitioning as a reader requested it.


As with most of my computers I installed Ubuntu Linux on this one. Due to some kind of incompatibility with the BIOS and my shiny new graphics card, I ended up installing the pre-release (Alpha 5) of Ubuntu Intrepid Ibex, the 8.10 version. It’s been very stable throughout the time I have been using it but the graphics card has been problematic.

Initially I had quite a few difficulties using this new NVIDIA 9500GT card which made me simply drop back to using the default and OSS “nv” driver instead. That was fine as I needed the machine for work so I was quite happy to wait for eye-candy support. When 8.10 was actually released I re-enabled the NVIDIA binary drivers for my hardware. Initially it seemed OK and worked but I was limited to a maximum resolution 768×1024. My monitor can handle quite a bit more than that.

It turns out that one of the big changes in 8.10 is with Xorg. The configuration file /etc/X11/xorg.conf is basically empty and everything is auto-configured. This is fine as long as the detection process works. My monitor is connected to the VGA port of the graphics card, via a Belkin KVM switch. I think this is preventing the monitor from being detected and hence I am left with a minimal option for configuring my monitor.

Using the nvidia-settings application allows me to change the screen resolution to something more sensible but the changes I make are not persistent, even when I have run it as root. I have tried to “hard-code” the relevant settings in my xorg.conf but on each reboot the monitor has defaulted back to the standard 1024×768 resolution. It is a tad annoying, but hopefully there will be a fix shortly – or if I get a new shiny TFT for Christmas the problem will probably go away anyway.


Here is the partition table I am using on Lobsang:

Partition Flags Part Type FS Type Size MB
sda1 Boot Primary Linux ext2 526.42
sda5 Logical Linux ext3 15726.74
sda6 Logical Linux ext3 15726.74
sda7 Logical Linux ext3 15726.74
sda8 Logical Linux XFS 268168.81
sda9 Logical Linux swap / Solaris 4194.90

As you can see I have split my disk into 6 partitions.

  • sda1 is a small boot partition so that I can have multiple OS’s kernels and a common grub to load them all (Linux distributions, not that “other” legacy operating system.) in one location.
  • sda5, sda6 and sda7 are each 15GB partitions that I have for the operating system’s / file system. I could have, for example, Ubuntu 8.10 on sda5, Kubuntu on sda6 and Fedora on sda7. 15GB should be more than ample for most installations. My current Intrepid installation – with lots of space hungry apps installed – is only using 4GB.
  • sda8 is my /home partition. All 270GB can be used (shared) by any of the OSs and it also makes re-installing an OS a breeze as all my settings and data are stored on a separate and OS independent partition*.
  • sda9 is the swap partition. Typically it is made to be about twice the size of the available RAM. I recall reading somewhere quite some time ago that it is advantageous to have it at the “end” of the disk although I can’t recall why. Maybe it is at the fastest part of the disk or something…

Also note I am using the XFS filesystem for the home partition. There are two reasons for this. The first is it has better performance for very large files, like all those ISOs I keep downloading and virtual machine images etc. And also it is more efficient space wise. I probably gained about 4-5GB of space over the more traditional ext3 filesystem on a disk this size.

* Adrian over at Mercian Labels posed a question about this very subject on his blog recently. I suggested using a separate partition for /home for these very reasons.

Migrating to Open Source: by Mercian Labels

In our “Case Studies” links is a solitary connection to the blog of a UK based label printing company Mercian Labels.

Since March this year (2007) their MD, Adrian Steele, has thoughtfully covered many topics including the:

  • reasons,
  • processes,
  • selection of software & suppliers,
  • general observations
  • and some of the problems & difficulties,

of migrating his company from a Microsoft based IT infrastructure to a fully Open Source alternative. His most recent post is a real milestone for him and for his business – he has finally gone “Redmond Free“. Totally.

Its a great feeling to be free (in a very small individual user way) of the restrictive, slow, unreliable xp/outlook configuration I USED to use!

There are still other users to migrate and work to be done, but it is a fascinating read and many other small to medium businesses can learn a great deal from the experiences that have been so well recorded.

Why not drop by and pay their site a visit, read his blog (as with most blogs it is in chronological order so start at the bottom to read the whole story) and, if you need any labels printed, I can strongly recommend a company that relies on Open Source software to do it. 😉

I would love to have more case studies of this kind included here. The shared learning and experiences of many is a very powerful tool for all so if there are any other businesses that are migrating to Open Source (in part or in whole) and want to share the experience in an “Open” fashion, drop me a line so I can add your company to our list.

Disclaimer: I personally have had no connection to Mercian Labels and our training and consulting business (The Open Learning Centre) has had nothing to do with their migration whatsoever. This is Open Source after all; it’s all about shared experiences, and the freedom to learn with and from others.