Swinging the pendulum

Story: Congress: Clear the Air and Stop PreloadsTotal Replies: 9
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Dec 16, 2005
11:06 AM EDT
I agree with most except...

3. Targetting MS alone with such a measure is simply trading one interference with another.

"Preloading", in general, has been immeasurably influential in the success of the 'PC' market since the idea was first explored. Many consumers feel that they simply do not have the time, energy, or "comfort level" necessary to install their own operating system copies. Despite that to "me" and "you" doing so is not particularly bothersome, and despite the great pains that O/S makers including MS have gone through in recent years to make O/S installation a "no brainer", most consumers are not particularly "tech savvy" and are justified in feeling leery of the task.

"Whether you think you can or think you can't, your right!" -- Henry Ford

Despite the many levels of facade and "user friendliness" MS has built into Windows, [in my experience] most users find that they simply can not do anything with their computer that is not made immediately obvious. For most, a computer is a thing of mystery... a "black box" which constrains them to its "built in", or "magically added", capabilities and modes of operation... rather than a tool for managing their information in ways they want to manage it. The thought of having to first install those initial modes and capabilities as akin to having to stick one's hand into a "hissing" black bag. They simply "can not" do it no matter how "easy" or "harmless" they're told it is.

Of course, this point is not about preventing preloads of Windows on PC's but, rather, about restricting MS from entering into agreements for them. That too is unsupportable as it asks the government to restrict a company's right to engage in contracts (though, albeit, of a particular sort). If such is to be regulated, then such regulation must be applicable to all companies that would engage in "preload agreements". Indeed, does this whole issue not stem from the affect MS' agreements have in limiting preloads of "Linux"?

MS is not guilty of anti-competition because it engages in preload agreements. Rather, they are guilty because of the prohibitions, limitations, and requirements on OEMs MS puts in those agreements (the so-called "MS tax", among others). What is needed, therefore, is not a limitation on MS to engage in such agreements (do we not swing the pendulum the other way, in such case?), but, instead, restrictions on the requirements that can be made in them -- which, of course, must apply to the industry as a whole. Such would likely be enough, anyway, to help turn the tide, so to speak.

Contracts, simply put, are declarations of reciprocal benefits. In the present situation, the benefit to the OEM is a substantial discount on MS softwares, while the benefit to MS is they get assurance of mass sales equivalent to the OEM's PC production. Though not direct parties to the transaction, the 'consumer', the 'store', and the 'world' also "benefit":

* the consumer gets a "ready to run" off-the-shelf computer... though, at an increased cost he or she might otherwise be able, and prefer, to do without;

* the store gets to display and promote the product line with increased "value add"... though, the passed along "MS tax" forces them to cut corners and subsume costs in other areas in order to promote sales for attracting more customers;

* the world gets wider sharing of information ("communication") and greater compatibility among programs for accessing that information through a de facto standard platform... though, it also gets wider sharing of security risks and threats to that information because of that very "standard" (note, however, that it is by virtue of a "global platform standard" that the risk is created, not the particular platform itself -- that only determines the nature of the risk and the mode in which it spreads).

In any case, by restricting such "assurance clauses" from entering into the agreements, I see the most immediate consequence as being increased competition from both sides (OEM and MS)... and competition benefits not only the consumer, but the economy as a whole. The OEM will have to (be able to) compete on more than just "brand recognition" (er, do I buy that P4, 3Ghz, 256MB/80GB machine with XPsp2 for $???? from Dell or from Compaq?); whereas MS will have to truly work for its success... that is they will finally have to "compete" on the merits of their products since the days of the "MS tax" will finally be gone. Only then will the OEM be able to offer the consumer a "choice" and cater to his or her wish.

5. In the event of '3' (above) this becomes somewhat superfluous and unnecessary except, perhaps, in the case of ensuring "oversight" compliance. Yet, again, such a measure has to be imposed with regard to all O/S companies that would enter into such agreements with OEMs. However, doing so dangerously encroaches on the "confidentiality" of contracts, in general, against public scrutiny. Let the regulatory body assure us that such restrictions are being adhered by the involved parties, but also let those parties keep their confidentiality privileges. Those, too, help to foster healthy competition and thereby benefit the consumer.

6. This sounds an awful lot like asking a car dealer to reveal his "manufacturer sticker price". Sure, it seems like a great idea 'cause now he can be haggled out of his profit margin. Of course, do that too much and soon he's out of business, driving down competition (er, no pun intended), and thereby hurting not only the consumer but the industry as a whole.

Dec 16, 2005
11:15 AM EDT
We really need to stop buying into the "Users are too intimidated to buy anything but a preloaded computer" nonsense. No one is saying that customers should have to install their own operating systems. The problem is that these OEMs do not offer this "preload" as a service but instead, make it mandatory. This is what we refer to as the OEM/Microsoft Tax.

It's really pretty simple.

Adam Kosmin WindowsRefund.info

Dec 16, 2005
12:08 PM EDT
pendraco: A simple solution exists. When the IBM PC came out you had three choices of OS's to load: PC-DOS, CPM-86, and UCSD D-PASCAL system. The latter was a multi-tasking system.

Now, when you purchase a system from the major OEM's they provide a restore CD. You put that in your computer and boot and it will install the OS and the basic load on your computer.

Any OEM can ship a system without a preload and provide different operating systems.

You could ask for Windows, Linux, Solaris, BSD and others could easily become available.

You're just arguing about pre-configuration for a hardware platform - not "preloading".

People who don't know much about computers can still have their cake and eat it too.

But, the OEMs should give them a choice.

Dec 16, 2005
1:51 PM EDT
Perhaps my point got a little askew of itself... OEMs "preloading" an operating system onto their PC products started as a "service", but which has since become a "gimme", though one pushed on the consumer. Part of the reason for that original "service" was to attract more sales... particularly among the "computer illiterate" who otherwise would either have not purchased a PC or whose purchase would have been delayed until a third-party (the seller, perhaps) could be paid to install the desired, if not included, O/S. At that time, most "PCs" were purchased via mail order or through small "computer shops". If computers were found sitting on the shelves of a larger retailer they were of the "operating system" embedded console variety. The average consumer didn't want to have to "learn how to use the computer" before they could actually use it to learn how.

Once this "service" of preloading an O/S "caught on" and the number of PC sales suddenly started to skyrocket, it became less of a "service" by the OEM and more of an "expectation" by the consumer. Now, the typical non-technical computer user barely has a notion that the hardware and software are even separate, or separable... indeed, I deal with users daily who, though "cognizant" of the fact that they are using applications hosted on remote computers, they none-the-less have immense difficulty understanding that the 'terminal application' they use on their PC to access those remote systems is not only distinct from them but the two are not even directly related to each other. To them, when something "bad" happens to their "computer", plopping in the "recovery CD" will just "fix everything" back to before. These are the majority of the "average PC consumer" and probably not one of "them" comprise LXer's "15,000 daily readership". :)

I am not suggesting that these consumers/users are "stupid", but simply "computer illiterate" and were it not for the de facto "service" offerings of O/S preloads, the PC market would likely not be anywhere near the 200M+ "desktop sales" figure it has since reached.

As 'windowsrefund' states:

The problem is that these OEMs do not offer this "preload" as a service but instead, make it mandatory. This is what we refer to as the OEM/Microsoft Tax.

Exactly. The "service" of "preloads" has become "mandatory"... in part due to consumer demand, but even more so due to the anti-competitive "assurance clauses" MS puts into its OEM contracts. The OEM doesn't have to install anything on its computers and, yes, it certainly can install something other than Windows... even by its own volition. However, the OEM does do so, in part because it can wedge its own "tax" into the sales figure by doing so... yet would doing so have become "mandatory" if MS couldn't demand their tithe "for every PC produced"? If such clauses were not allowed to enter into the agreement then the OEM would not be compelled to force Windows upon the consumer and instead might truly offer a range of products to suit different market segments.

Consumers are not "cost illiterate"... it doesn't take them long to figure out that a difference in cost between "Brand A1" without Windows (or with something else, or nothing at all) vs. the cost with it is due solely to the absence of Windows (er, and if it does elude them, there's always "Consumer Reports" :) ). In many cases, such as in quantity purchases, the cost savings may add up to so much that the currently prohibitive cost of considering more reliable alternatives becomes, instead, a sustained cost savings. Of course, the "alternatives" are no more for everybody than Windows is and so the industry would level itself out due to real supply-and-demand market dynamics.

It is this cost raising practice of MS that is what "we refer to as" the "MS tax". The existence of the "MS tax" is what makes possible the OEM's little addition to equation through "mandatory service" offerings. Yes, the OEM may in fact sell you a computer with a non-Windows O/S installed. However, as long as the OEM still has give MS their cut regardless, that "tax" will still either be passed on or otherwise subsumed into their cost margins. Either proposition translates into a limited practice... either through decreased sales, or through decreased profits. That is why a "preload" of anything but Windows appearing on the display stands of your local Best Buy or CompUSA is "not happening"... and that is why the consumer must "jump through hoops" to get a non-Windows "preload", or even a "no-load", even by order request.

My point was not that we "need Windows preloaded" rather than something else. My point is that "preloads", of anything, has benefitted the industry by raising PC sales above the line of just the "technically comfortable". However, having Windows as the standard for "preloads" has also hurt the industry along with the consumer. Despite that, no alternatives for this "service" are yet offered to any significant degree by any OEM -- and, I agree, "the OEM should at least offer a choice". Yet, it does not... not really or, at least, there are not yet any "Linux computers" on the shelf of my local retailer. Ironically, I do still find a section for Macs and, though by many estimates the number of "Linux sales" now exceeds the number Mac sales, there is no "Linux section". Why is that? Simple... the "MS tax" and the consumer's unwaivering "cost sense". Until the practice of "preload taxation", regardless of from whom, is put to a stop, there will not be a section for "Linux computers" found covering my retailer's floor space. However, I do not believe that prohibiting any one particular O/S provider from entering into "preload agreements", in general, which can only be seen as giving preference to that provider's competitors, is any more "fair play" than MS' current standard practice of forcing a "pay me for all" clause upon the OEM.

Dec 16, 2005
2:05 PM EDT
Quoting:Once this "service" of preloading an O/S "caught on" and the number of PC sales suddenly started to skyrocket, it became less of a "service" by the OEM and more of an "expectation" by the consumer.
pendraco: I don't necessarily disagree with you on your points. Nothing in the PC world sky-rocketed until the Internet became real. Microsoft had 30 million users of Windows 3.1-3.11.

That took about three years to accumulate. Most of those desktops ran with UNIX, Netware and IBM Lan Servers.

I bought a new Toshiba Satellite notebook in 1994 for a few thousand dollars and less than two years later, I couldn't get $500 for it. It came with Windows 3.1 btw and it wasn't pre-loaded.

People can accomplished the same result of preloading by having their PC come with a CD Rom or a DVD Rom. Preloading any OS is a problem.


Dec 16, 2005
3:51 PM EDT
We need to stop debating how this problem came about and actually do something to restore freedom of choice to the consumers.

Adam Kosmin WindowsRefund.info

Dec 16, 2005
6:42 PM EDT
I'm just amazed at how difficult it is to explain such a simple issue to some people. Being involved in this campaign for a few years now has convinced me that those who believe they are powerless often spend the most time debating this issue. Almost as if they're trying to justify their lack of effort. Please spare me.

If you want to continue giving your money to Microsoft, go right ahead. The OEMs will be more than happy to help you out. If you want to do something more than posting your $0.2 on forums, shoot me an email. I'm looking for "doers", not talkers.

Adam Kosmin WindowsRefund.info

Dec 17, 2005
5:09 AM EDT
Quoting:" ... he always argues an opposite view to irritate people. He's been doing it to me for about six years. He understands the issue. He's just an irritating guy who has a law degree and wants to get your goat."

Nooo!!! Say it's NOT TRUE!

Gosh, I would have never guessed. He just seems so nice, just like my son (the incipient lawyer).

Dec 17, 2005
5:11 AM EDT
I have often thought that the best way to bring this about is to require some sort of statement at the time of sale as to the cost of the software. The problem is that because Windows comes on every computer they have ever seen consumer have often come to believe Windows is free. I have stopped working on most private computers because most people don't understand that I cannot simply give them a free copy of Windows.

A sticker or something on the invoice would solve this and make other software more competitive.

Dec 17, 2005
5:34 AM EDT
"A sticker or something on the invoice would solve this and make other software more competitive."


This is an excellent idea and should be a requirement by all buyers. It ought to be mandated by each State. Unfortunately, most people do not realize what is happening. I consider it a sleazy tactics created and encouraged by MS and OEMs are collaborating on it since it is beneficial to them.

"I have stopped working on most private computers because most people don't understand that I cannot simply give them a free copy of Windows."

This on the other hand is not a good idea. It is better to keep channels of communication with people. Don't give up on them just because of their behavior.

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