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British computer users are demanding Tony Blair stand up to Microsoft and stop them being ripped off over Windows Vista pricing.

So far, nearly 5,000 people have signed an official petition on Number 10's website calling on Prime Minister Blair to take action against Microsoft's alleged overcharging.

According to the e-petition, the latest to grace Number 10's beta site since last November's launch, consumers are paying around double for copies of Windows Vista Ultimate simply based on where they live rather than any special features.

"I can see no reason for there to be such a huge difference in prices between the UK and US other than Microsoft's belief that the UK customers will pay more than their US counterparts," the e-petition says.

The e-petition comes as The Register's Thomas C Green flagged up that Microsoft is failing to adjust its pricing for Irish consumers on Amazon to take account of exchange rate differences and the weakness of the dollar.

Windows Vista Ultimate shoppers in the Republic can pay up to €600, the equivalent of $780, compared to US counterparts who are paying a maximum of $450 - depending on their retailer.

According to the e-petition organisers, Windows Vista Ultimate in the UK is priced at £350 but can be purchased in the US for just £195 - again, owing to the weakness of the dollar and to sterling's strength.

A Microsoft spokeswoman defended the company's pricing saying editions of Windows Vista are "comparable" with different versions of Windows XP. The spokeswoman said Microsoft's prices vary by region based on "exchange rate, local taxes, duties, local market conditions, and retailer pricing decisions."

The call to stand up to Microsoft is the latest embarrassing incident in the government's flirtation with participatory democracy through the internet. Since e-petition's were launched, more than a million people have condemned Number 10's proposed new road-tax and vehicle tracking scheme while just under 5,000 have called for Blair to replace God Save the Queen as Great Britain's national anthem with Spandau Ballet's Gold.

Brits should start brushing up on their Spandau. The PM is unlikely to challenge Microsoft and Gold was just only behind Windows Vista Ultimate in signatures at time of going to press. ®

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