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MS France in shock Linux availability claim

OEMs don't have to ship Windows, customers can buy Linux instead, beam me up...

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The French authorities seem to be trying to limit the reverberations of their investigation of Microsoft, which leaked out last week. The French competition and anti-fraud directorate (DNERF) of the ministry of finance's probe is in response to complaints by consumers that they do not want to have Windows pre-loaded. Just one person in France is known to have been successful in obtaining a refund for Windows 98: Remi Lacombe, a teacher, received FF1690 by not accepting the end user licence agreement. But there's a separate spat going on in France; the French Canadian version of Windows is sold for around half the price of the French version, so distributors are bringing in grey versions. DNERF apparently does not want this issue to escalate and it points out that this could be a contract law matter, rather than a competition law issue. If the same complaints are found to in other EU countries and cross-border trade is involved (perhaps to francophone Belgium), it is quite possible that DNERF would boot the problem to the European Commission's DGIV competition directorate. Roberto Di Cosmo, a computer scientist with the ENS in Paris and well-known consumer advocate, told Le Parisien, which originally broke the story, that "When you buy a PC, you buy the machine and the software that goes with it, and even if the software represents 20 per cent of the cost, it's never disclosed." Di Cosmo is best known for his book (with Dominique Nora) Hijacking the world: the dark side of Microsoft, which is available in English as well as French. Microsoft's reaction so far is bizarre. John Frank, Microsoft's Paris-based head lawyer in Europe, said that even though OEMs have MDAs (market development agreements) to ship an operating system with new PCs, they were at liberty to install competing operating systems. If true - and Microsoft is unlikely to disclose any details of its contracts unless compelled to do so - then Microsoft could conceivably be paying OEMs some MDA dollars to load Linux. But we have our doubts about MDAs that permit that sort of stuff. Frank made a point that Linux PCs were available from HP, Dell, Compaq and IBM. Adam Sohn, a Microsoft Redmond spokesman, said that "Customers who do not want to buy Windows do not have to put Windows on their PC." Hmmm. All this is somewhat embarrassing for Microsoft since its European headquarters is in France, and so political considerations will undoubtedly be taken into account, as Microsoft could easily move its European HQ somewhere else. Don't hold your breath on this one. ®

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