Could there be a law to protect the free choice of operating system?

Alessandro Rubini rubini at
Sun Mar 3 08:40:22 UTC 2013

[note for long-time followers of this list, if you find the topic
old stuff, please jump to "BUT" near the end of this message]

Hello Vicen.

> [...] I realized
> that in Spain, and perhaps in the entire European Union, most computers
> are sold with a proprietary OS already installed, without offering
> details of the amount the citizen is paying for that OS, and do not
> giving the real possibility of rejecting that OS, buy the computer
> without it and not be charged for it.

Yes. It has been like this since the beginning of times.

You are right in everything you say, and I thank you for restating the
question so clearly, even if it is a known issue to most followers of
this mailing list. (btw: why only the EU?)

But please let me show why it is very unlikely to achieve what you

> 1. [...]
> to have the details of the amount which corresponds to the computer
> or hardware and how much is charged for the OS and other software .

Likewise, it is a right for me to know how the price of a car derives
from the various parts: engine, wheels, air conditioner and so on
(btw, I don't want an air conditioner).

> 2. [...]  have the real possibility, at
> the time of purchase, of rejection of the acquisition of the OS and any
> other software

Likewise, while I understand not everyone can replace the engine, I'd
love to buy a car without wheels and without a battery, so I can
install the ones that best match my needs and use pattern.

Back to the software/hardware split, I would love to buy a cell phone
without software and put the one of my choice, and the same applies
to the music player, the TV set, the dishwasher, the microwave oven
and the espresso machine.

> I think the freedom and rights of all and every citizen of the European
> Union must be strictly observed in any transaction, and that freedom and
> those rights should be the priority over the profit of companies and
> corporations who may have intended to impose their interests.

While I sympathise, reality is exactly the other way round. The
profit, the companies and the holy "marketplace" are the most
important things out there.

> I am aware that if a measure such as I propose is adopted for the sale /
> buying computers process, there would be no reason to not adopt it also
> in relation to mobile phones, game consoles and other devices.

Yes. And the wristwatch, the bike odometer, and maybe even the
flashing lights we use to ride in the night. All of them are a
combination of hardware and software, with a microcontroller and an
operating system, and we technicians know it very well.

> would be an incentive for competition and the free market [...] help
> avoid the possibility of de facto monopolies

Unfortunately, I don't think these aims are considered important
nowadays by the general public or the decision makers.  While I can't
make specific examples, when I listen to the news I always have the
feeling things are going the other way and everyone is happy about

> I'm sure there are people in this forum better informed and with better
> capabilities than me to take the proposal forward.

Yes, I am one in the "more informed" set.  Let me argue against your

While we know that recent cameras, stereo sets and usb storage devices
are computers just like the laptop and you may replace the software,
people less in the field know that the laptop doesn't work without
software, like all the other devices I listed, and installing software
in bare hardware takes enormous efforts, in the laptop just as much as
in the washing machine.

And there's another point, besides the actual increase in time spent
if you force the user to install software or the increase in cost if
you want to ship both swful and swless devices.  OS vendors talk with
hw manufactures and propose a deal: "if you preinstall my stuff on all
computers I offer a discount". This is not against the laws, I think,
because offering quantity discounts is a fair deal. And manufacturers
accept this: the can charge 10EUR less to all customers rather than
charging 10EUR more to almost all of them, and 200 less to a tiny

BUT the PC market is different, in a way, from other devices.  In
there, the hardware vendor and the main software vendor involved have
usually strong brands, which are always advertised separately.  And
the software one is always crying misery because of piracy, and the
various no-profit "alliances" of vendors remind us that we don't own
the software which is their own jewelry and we can only use it
according to their rules.

So, the right path to attack the problem you describe is requesting a
split of the contract.  Since we users (and even the decision makers)
know very well that we *own* the laptop but only have limited rights
on the software we get, we can request to sign two different
contracts.  One item is *sold* and the other is *licensed*.  We need
to remind that to customers (to prevent "piracy" and "raising
awareness" about the issue, yo know), so software companies may have a
harder time fighting this than other, stronger, proposals.

While I have no direct experience, I think the "preferred" OS is even
installed or unlocked or whatever the first time you turn on the
computer (maybe software vendors want to remind users that that's own
copy that cannot be lent to others, or something similar).

Thus, if we use the proprietary vendor's efforts in promoting wider
knowledge of their "intellectual property", and we help them in
reminding their users to not "pirate" that crap to friends, then we
may have some (little) chance of suceeding.  We can request rules to
split out the *sell* from the *license* in monetary exchanges for
computing devices, in order to raise awareness about what is allowed
and what is not, to help software vendors defending their own rights
and better protect "intellectual property" overall.

As a side effect, we'll automatically achieve more awareness about how
licensing *that* crap is not really mandatory, and there are cheaper
and sweeter pieces of crap out there, that run on the same hardware.

Acknowledgements: this is not my own idea, but one by Renzo Davoli,
current president of "associazione software libero".  As expected,
despite the efforts spent and the user base involved, nothing happened
in my country.  Maybe it's high time to restart action in the field,
on a wider scale?

Unfortunately, and I'll conclude, this technological market is
disappearing, and we are late as usual. The desktop pc is marginal
already (but there you can buy os-less parts) and the laptop it going
to be marginal pretty soon.  Most modern computing devices are already
one-vendor-only things like microwave ovens, and their are sold as
appliances rather then general-purpose computers (again, not me: this
time is Cory Doctorow).  So maybe Renzo's idea is sound and worth
following, but maybe it would be wasted time because by the time we
achieve the result that market place would be inexistent already.


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