Chuckle. That was the reaction of one person to discovering GNU/Linux after being disgusted by that other OS falling down. After hearing so much about restrictions on copying in that other OS and the cost of repairing it repeatedly, the thought of Free Software for $0 does seem strange. “How can this be?” is reasonable, but the answer is simple: The world needs software and can make its own. The world does not need to sell itself software that it makes for itself any more than you need to pay yourself for mowing your lawn or washing your dishes. You don’t charge visitors for their enjoyment of your lawn and eating from clean plates. It’s a chore that needs to be done in the modern world and millions of contributors can share the software by including a licence to use and copy with the software that you can download and run, install, share and even examine and modify.
In all my years of introducing people to FLOSS this issue has come up a few times. People think somehow that other OS has a right to be on PCs to the exclusion of others. It’s a common myth that you cannot change the OS of a PC. People don’t realize the OS is like a consumable on an automobile. You can install oil filters or tires of any make you want. The car is your property to do with as you want. So is the PC. The software is separate. Copyright applies to it and M$ can legally make you do really stupid things in order to use it. You don’t have to use M$’s software. I have rarely used it for a decade and I do a lot with PCs, like write this blog, make videos for YouTube, gather tons of information, create software, and solve problems. I don’t know of a single copy of M$’s software in my home and I have a bunch of PCs, 14 or so at last count, and a couple of smart phones.
What is of questionable legality is not the sharing of software in accordance with developers’ wishes to share it but the exclusion of GNU/Linux on retail shelves in some parts of the world. The fact that some people still don’t know about GNU/Linux does not explain why a retailer who may have 50 PCs on his shelves for customers to try and to buy may have none running GNU/Linux. It makes no sense that a retailer who knows some customers want smaller/cheaper/faster computers does not give the consumers what they want. PCs with GNU/Linux are often smaller, cheaper and faster than PCs running that other OS because they are not doing double duty running stuff for M$ and criminals who make malware. It’s Wintel, folks, an illegal monopoly artificially excluding GNU/Linux and other competitive software from the retail market not because of price/performance but because M$ and Intel want it that way.
The monopoly is much weaker than it was in the past and sooner or later in every region of Earth, consumers will be able to buy a good PC running GNU/Linux but we are not quite there yet. There are now few OEMs who will not build PCs with GNU/Linux but there are still retailers who do not present them to consumers. Perhaps 2012 is the time to tell your nearby retailers that you are going to build a PC from parts and install GNU/Linux or buy a PC with GNU/Linux on-line. It’s not hard and it is worthwhile. If enough people do that, eventually they will get the message. So, for 2012, make a plan to talk to retailers about what’s on their shelves. I’ve already talked to a few clerks. It’s time to tell the head office types. Retailers here are already seeing a slump of sales of Wintel PCs while sales of Android/Linux on smartphones and tablets booms. It’s time they saw the same results from selling systems with GNU/Linux.