OA - Ubuntu
A blog about Ubuntu, mobile GIS and archaeology

Money for nothing

Apr 16, 2010 by Chris Puttick

So, there I am, helping my much loved and elderly aunt with her computer. The computer's a tad old, running, more accurately crawling, mostly unpatched Windows XP Home and, like many of its age, the Windows installation has become somewhat overburdened by cruft; although given the 9 year old Celeron and 256MB of RAM I have difficulty believing it was ever sprightly. So I offer to help her get a new one and come and make it all work. Having clarified that all she is interested in is getting her email and writing the odd letter or two, I determine that a Kubuntu setup is going to be plenty for her purposes. I figure this will save her a few pounds also as well as make future maintenance very easy.

Check: Internet connection is not some weird Windows specific "lite" solution - nope, is TalkTalk ADSL with ethernet adapter.

Check: email account works fine with Firefox - no problem, some other sensible member of the family has already installed Firefox as the default browser on the old computer.

Excellent. Just before I leave she mentions that her current computer has been very good and she would quite like one of the same brand. Dell. No problem, says me, Dell I use at work, I'm sure we can get one plenty good enough and within your budget. As we have several recent Dell PCs running Kubuntu I am also confident that will be a good choice for the project.

So, knowing that Dell UK list no desktop PCs without Windows next chance I get I order through the company account at Dell, paying on my credit card. No problems.

Except for that one, tiny, crazy, recurrent problem...

My account team have absolutely no problem with my ordering a single PC without an operating system; I go on the website, check out the lowest price one, up the mouse option to the laser one and call it done, then email the account team the details, deleting the Windows (v.7 rather limited edition) and Works lines from the spec; formal quote promptly comes back, but while Works is gone, Windows is still on the spec listing. So I email back and point out that Windows is still included.

There follows a delay.

Then a telephone call. Sure, absolutely no problem, we can sell you that PC without Windows, but because it is a bundle deal on offer, if we build from components on the system, it will cost you £30 more. Sigh...

So once again, for the record.

To all PC manufacturers: I don't want to have Windows on my PC. It costs you money, I don't want it to cost me or my aunt money, it should be cheaper to sell me a PC without it; unless in all these special offer cases *someone* was funding the sale of the PC with Windows on it such that not only has the OEM cost of Windows been absorbed, but £30 more? Hmmm.

To the competition authorities: surely something must be going on? Maybe you should actually investigate?

To the statistics guys: yes, this PC will register as having been sold with Windows on. Like several percent of others sold that way, shortly after delivery it will not have Windows on anymore; to stop my aunt from having problems viewing websites maintained by people with little understanding of the web, standards and trends, I may well set the browser agent so it looks like it is IE8 on Windows Vista. Just so you know, ok?


Did she force you to buy Dell? Over here in Germany you can a custom built PC at every corner. No need to support US-crap like Dell and MS.

Posted by Thomas Arnold on April 16, 2010 at 03:05 PM GMT+00:00 #

My aunt didn't force me, but she did express a clear interest for the brand. And with my aunt I've always felt a clear preference for something is enough for me to go with it!

But yes, I would argue that the lack of OS choice from the *majority* of "off-the-shelf" suppliers does represent a situation that merits investigation. It really wouldn't represent a significant cost for them to offer the same computer without an OS or a different one, and given how easily Linux is acquired and installed, the old argument of "it is only done to prevent piracy" clearly does not hold water, if it ever did.

And I think Dell's European PCs are assembled in Europe, and their components are from China and Taiwan like most everyone elses ;)

Posted by Chris Puttick on April 16, 2010 at 03:54 PM GMT+00:00 #

Funny story.
I'm in Canada. Last fall I wanted to get a netbook from Dell.
With XP pre-installed: CAD $275.00
With Ubuntu 9.10 pre-installed: CAD $350.00

So, now I dual boot. Rather silly that something free should cost $75 more, eh?

Posted by Ursus on April 16, 2010 at 03:58 PM GMT+00:00 #


Why is it the assumption that just because Ubuntu is free for you to download that it's a zero-cost thing to add for an OEM?

Do you have a clear understanding of the OEM contract between Dell and Canonical with regard to the cost of services that Canonical is charging Dell? There is a business partnership in place there.. a businnes relationship that involves money changing hands. Is Dell paying Canonical or is Canonical paying Dell? Is Dell paying MS or is MS paying Dell? There's isn't enough transparency in the internal business processes of any of those corporate entities to say anything for sure.

What if at the end of the day the price difference really is indicative of the higher cost of Canonical engineering support passed on to to Dell customers? Canonical does charge for OEM services.. you think OEMs who contract with Canonical are just going to eat that cost without passing it on to consumers? What if at the end of the day that price differential is the money Canonical makes from an Ubuntu Dell system and thus helps to keep the Ubuntu infrastructure rolling. When you purchase a system from your local computer shop.. how much of that purchase price goes to keeping Ubuntu developers paid and the infrastructure running that makes it possible for Ubuntu releases to happen?

Its sort of a paradox right. Canonical spends gobs of money on infrastructure to make Ubuntu possible release after release, but OEMs who don't in turn support Canonical financial have a competitive advantage in the market beccause they can offer ubuntu systems at a lower marginal cost. Ubuntu users who buy products from OEMs who do not contract with Canonical are under cutting the sustainability of the overall system whether or not they realise it.


Posted by Jef Spaleta on April 16, 2010 at 05:45 PM GMT+00:00 #

@jef I'm not doubting the possibility that Canonical get money from Dell; but seeing I don't get a support contract from Dell or Canonical on the PCs I have bought with Ubuntu on, I'm fairly sure it can't be as much money as Dell pay Microsoft for a copy of Windows 7. And for sure it doesn't cost anyone for Dell to ship a PC with a blank hard drive/SSD, which is all I want.

Posted by Chris Puttick on April 16, 2010 at 05:51 PM GMT+00:00 #

Hi Chris, how are you doing?
Hi guys.

I've been recently working in the Middle East and we had to buy a laptop for the company last October. We went to a big store in Bahrain and got a Dell. We could buy it wit W7 pre-installed or with a blank hard drive along with a cd containing Ubuntu 8.04 LTS ready to be installed by the user.

I am just your average user of Ubuntu (the one who doesn't use the terminal unless he has to paste something he has copied from a forum) and don't know much about "internal business processes" of Dell and MS, but the W7 option was approximately £60 more expensive (35 Bahraini Dinars, I recall).

It was easy to make a decision...

Posted by Rafa MJ on April 16, 2010 at 08:57 PM GMT+00:00 #

same thing happened to me with dell. i WANTED to order a pre-installed Ubuntu system, but it was more expensive for the same specs. So I ordered the Vista one and replaced it with Jaunty.

Posted by Colin on April 17, 2010 at 10:34 PM GMT+00:00 #

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