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MS: how PCs shipped without Windows will destroy your life

And why PC companies should 'politely decline' to sell you them...

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Once upon a time Microsoft was in the happy position of being able to charge PC companies a Windows licence fee for every PC they shipped, whether or not the PCs actually shipped with Windows preinstalled. It was nice money while it lasted, but regulatory concerns have subsequently eroded Microsoft's ability to collect a Windows licence fee on, say, a PC that ships with Linux preinstalled.

Which leaves Microsoft with problem; how do we get companies to always ship PCs with Windows preinstalled? Easy-peasy - let's point out how dangerous PCs sold with no operating system are. Our thanks to Jon Honeyball, who quite possibly reads every single page up on microsoft.com, for spotting this one. His take on it is in his column in the January edition of UK mag PC Pro.

In a propaganda page aimed squarely at its OEM customers, Microsoft goes to considerable lengths to blacken the reputation of what it terms "Naked PCs." A Naked PC, since you ask, is one of those boxes that you can (but generally, oh no you can't) buy without an operating system. Try it, you'll find it's really quite difficult anyway, and Microsoft wants its OEMs to make it even more difficult. It wants them to refuse to sell you one.

"Think of selling a house without a roof - selling your customers Naked PCs leaves them equally exposed," says Microsoft. And we know you're just dying to find out why this is - if you buy a PC without an operating system, how come this'll ruin your furniture when it rains?

Well, put yourself in the position of the OEM. "If you allow your customers to buy Naked PCs - placing them at risk of acquiring pirated operating systems elsewhere - you expose them to legal risks, viruses, and frustrating technical troubles, and war, famine, pestilence and death." (we made the last bits up) That "at risk of acquiring pirated operating systems" is a nicely weasel turn of phrase which is put in some perspective if you compare it to the earlier rev of the document, which Microsoft seems to have thoughtfully left up on the site too.

"And even if your customer manages to illegally acquire and install operating systems elsewhere..." says version one - sounds a bit like Microsoft is categorising customers as a bunch of unprincipled tea-leafs, doesn't it? Which is presumably why we cut that bit.

Another bit of before and after reinforces this. In version one it says: "Warn customers that acquiring the PC 'naked' and subsequently pirating the software is never a good option. Explain the risks: technical troubles, upgrade problems, viruses and the law. Politely decline to expose your buyers or their businesses to such troubles." Whereas in version 2 this has been toned down to: "Warn customers that acquiring the PC 'naked' exposes them to the possibility of unwittingly purchasing pirated software. Explain the risks: technical troubles, upgrade problems, viruses and the law. Politely decline to expose your buyers or their businesses to such troubles."

So don't you go calling your customers pirates, right? They're innocent victims who've unwittingly exposed themselves, whew, sorted. But we especially like the way Microsoft is asking its OEMs to "politely decline" to sell PCs without Windows on them. It's only a short hop from there to categorising OEMs who will sell naked PCs as irresponsible crooks hell-bent on wrecking their customers' lives.

There are of course benefits for customers in buying PCs with preinstalled operating systems and - hilariously - Microsoft inadvertently seems to be encouraging OEMs to ship an operating system other than Windows here. "Customers have the original CD so they can reload the software. They also have a manual for everyday troubleshooting, and a Certificate of Authenticity that proves the software is legal."

Well, er, no. This might have been what you used to get with Windows, but not any more. Don't you just get a barcoded ID these days? But no doubt there are Linux outfits who're still happy to ship you something more tangible.

Before and after - how Naked PCs kill

Version 1: customers are thieving pirates
Version 2: customers are innocent victims who need saving from themselves

Internet Security Threat Report 2014

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