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MS: it's (nearly) illegal to buy PCs without Windows

Two Naked PC docs vaped from site, but here's another brace. Tell us if the Chinese version's good...

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By a strange coincidence Microsoft's dire warnings against buying PCs without preinstalled operating systems (see MS: how PCs shipped without Windows will destroy your life) seem to have vanished from microsoft.com on the very day that Microsoft argued that it didn't have a monopoly of the OS market, and that "the market position of Windows was created by... consumer demand, not Microsoft's control of total output."

Given Microsoft's apparent inability (of which more anon) to do something simple like control the output of all 'naked PC' advisory documents on the site, we very much doubt that there's a direct relationship, but an apparent draft version still on the site at time of writing* does have some unfortunate resonances in this context.

As you'll recall from our previous piece, Microsoft published a 'naked PC' document on its site, urging its OEMs to protect users from themselves by 'politely declining' to sell them machines without operating systems preinstalled. Machines without operating systems don't work, it pithily observed, and by buying them like this users were laying themselves open to the perils of pirate software, viruses and tech support hell.

You'll also recall that the delta between the 'old' and current (alas now both defunct) versions of the document made it horribly clear that Microsoft was thinking users were a bunch of scummy pirates who'd happily steal Windows if they could, but was striving to find a way of not quite saying this.

From the look of the one we've got now, it's an even earlier version than the 'old' version - the language is significantly more brutal and less subtle, and there are fewer embellishments. There would, for example, seem to be absolutely no chance that a user might buy a machine without Windows on it for the entirely legitimate purpose of installing a different operating system: "Trouble is, if you act on your customers' willingness to buy Naked PCs - knowing full well they are at risk of acquiring pirated operating systems elsewhere... And even if your customer manages to illegally acquire and install operating systems elsewhere..."

It's that "illegally", isn't it? It really does sound horribly like Microsoft thinks it's illegal to buy other operating systems. And we might at this juncture observe that once upon a time (not that long ago) it was relatively easy to buy full versions of operating systems that you could install on your new PC when you junked the old one. The first generation of PCs shipped without an operating system, and you bought this separately.

Today, on the contrary, Microsoft prices full versions high, favours upgrade versions (where you obviously need to have bought an OS already), and more and more we're moving towards the point where you can only (with some difficulty, disaster recovery-wise) install the copy of Windows that shipped with the machine on that particular machine. Corporations that want to install another OS frequently find it cheaper and easier to buy preinstalled machines, vape the OS and install the one of their choice. Which is frequently another Microsoft OS, NT 4.0 being a common choice in these circumstances.

The bottom line is that underneath Microsoft's vast and complex network of anti-piracy verbiage lies the (to all intents and purposes achieved) objective of taxing every single piece of tin that goes out the door $30-$50, or more, whilst choking off as many opportunities for potential rival OSes as possible.

But back to our draft. The assumption that customers are pirates is reinforced by: "Warn customers that acquiring the PC 'naked' and subsequently pirating the software is never a good option." Which is par for the course, but we rather liked the sinister ring to the sign-off: "Otherwise, who knows what you're leaving your customers - and yourself - open to?"

What on earth could that mean? What bad things could happen to PC OEMs if they sell machines without Windows on them? We vaguely recall this sort of stuff might have been touched on slightly in the trial...

And you know, although it's deeply flattering that Microsoft has decided to eradicate just the two URLs we mentioned last time, rather than systematically pulling everything to do with the matter for a radical redesign, it puzzles us. A couple of years back when Win2k was still NT 5.0, we remember being told how the advanced new management features would make it a cinch to roll out upgrades, fixes and changes across the entire network.

So now Win2k has shipped and bedded down, we're puzzled by how come Microsoft protests (as in the Dimitri case) that it takes time to get fixes and patches onto all its servers, and by how come - if, say, you wanted to amend or remove all versions of a document about, say, naked PCs - somebody can't just press a button and, poof, they're gone. But what do we know? ®

* We know you're reading this, Microsoft Web morlocks, and no doubt you'll be wanting another couple of URLs to nuke. Well, the good news is, here they are: the Chinese version you forgot last time and the draft you shouldn't have had out in the open in the first place. The bad news is we've included the text of the latter below, just in case.

** Our last take on this story paid due credit to Jon Honeyball, who covers the territory in his column in the January issue of PC Pro. We didn't link to the Web version, on the grounds that PC Pro operates that dismal 'registered users only' policy. But we got a begging email from the relevant online editor saying: "May I suggest just linking to the homepage (http://www.pcpro.co.uk), where there are a number of direct links to Jon's column?"

As far as we can see this is entirely untrue, as the reg page leaps out every time we try to go anywhere interesting. But further investigation reveals that this can be subverted (a job for PC Pro's Web morlocks here, we fear) so you can read Jon's column here, until they plug the holes. But careful whose cookies you eat.

*** Finally [that's enough footnotes - Ed] here's the Microsoft text, which is labelled 'English, holding':

WHAT IS A NAKED PC?
Naked PCs are those sold without operating systems preinstalled. Machines are useless until customers install system software themselves. It's like selling a house without a roof. And, in the end, it leaves your customer just as exposed.
SELL YOUR CUSTOMER A SOLUTION, NOT A PROBLEM?
Your customers depend on you. Trouble is, if you act on your customers' willingness to buy Naked PCs - knowing full well they are at risk of acquiring pirated operating systems elsewhere - you expose them to legal risks, viruses, and frustrating technical troubles. Hardly the stuff of great business relationships, particularly when they come back to you for help. And even if your customer manages to illegally acquire and install operating systems elsewhere, it still costs them far more time and money than they bargained for. No matter how you look at them, Naked PCs are bad for your customers. Which means they are also bad for you.
WHAT TO SAY. HOW TO COMPETE.
Highlight the fact that the PC will not work without an operating system. Mention that preinstalling the operating system on the new PC saves considerable time, expense and trouble. After all, your expertise is valuable. You install system software day in, day out, so there is little question you're best equipped to do it well.

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.

Point out the benefits of a legally licensed, preinstalled operating system. 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. In short, protect your customer and your good name. Sell your PCs fully equipped with legally licensed operating systems preinstalled. Otherwise, who knows what you're leaving your customers - and yourself - open to?

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