“Is this even LEGAL?”

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.

About Robert Pogson

I am a retired teacher in Canada. I taught in the subject areas where I have worked for almost forty years: maths, physics, chemistry and computers. I love hunting, fishing, picking berries and mushrooms, too.
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11 Responses to “Is this even LEGAL?”

  1. Dr Loser says:

    I’m sure that Robert will come back to you on that one, Clarence.

    After all, he is not an insane bigot.

  2. Clarence Moon says:

    Red Hat, IBM, and even Microsoft make money from Linux by selling turn-key solutions to companies. The delivered product consists of a mix of off the shelf hardware and software and custom designed software and even hardware to make the system do what the customer specified. The cost of the OS licenses is likely to be only a minor part of the overall expense and may or may not have any direct bearing on the selling price.

    In my own world, we do a value analysis on what the customer is asking in order to first show that we understand the problem being solved and second to show that the solution is worth its price.

    What it boils down to is being able to show that a customer who buys our solution at our price will get a desirable result that is better than any competing solution for the same or any other problem that improves that customer’s business. It is usually a question of internal capital funding. A customer can save money a lot of ways in different areas, but only has enough cash to buy one or another solution. So we are competing with everyone who is after the customer’s business overall.

    In one case we were able to show a large manufacturer that the floor space savings resulting from drastically reduced work in process quantities due to more precise scheduling and tracking of work saved the expenses that were planned for a building expansion needed for additional machinery. The software was competing with brick and mortar suppliers, not with any other software company.

    When it comes to pricing, we price based on our own needs to meet minimum or maximum ratios but mainly on the value to the customer. If we can show that a customer is going to save a million dollars a year, we will price the solution fairly high, based on our estimates of the customer’s cost of capital, even if it costs us a very small amount of time to implement. If we have to cut our costs, say by using Linux instead of Windows, the job is usually not worth doing for ourselves or for our customer.

  3. Dr Loser says:


    At least Robert usually reads what I said before going off on a tangent. Read my comment again. I was specifically talking about “cross-licencing,” with a whiff (not the reality, note) of dumping.

    I would argue that GNU/Linux costs everyone who uses it considerably more than zero, unless they are on unemployment benefit and have nothing better to do with their time. However, the fact that it “sells” at $0 (not “costs” zero) is surely germane to my point.

    Like I say, this seems perfectly fair and reasonable and (I did point this out) legal when it applies to the hobbyist end of Linux. At the Google and Red Hat end, however, you are looking at literally hundreds of well-paid engineers working full-time on the thing. How is this “asymptotically without cost?” How does it not qualify as a cross-subsidy?

    Now, it may very well be legal in any case. I’m not even particularly concerned, either way. However, I was replying to Robert’s specific rhetorical question: “How is this even legal?”

    The answer is that it is legal, and possible, because some very large companies indeed are making money off the back of it via advertising (Google) or consultancy (Red Hat, IBM). And, questionable though the value of either cross-subsidizing strategy might be in the greater scheme of things, I wish them well.

    I would nevertheless like to point out that this by no means constitutes “free.” TANSTAAFL, as they say.

  4. notzed says:

    I’ve never had a problem buying a desktop pc with no operating system, ever since I moved on from my Amiga. If it is listed, I just ask them to take it off and it saves me a few hundred (it’s been that long since i bought a pc that had it listed).

    Of course, I just go to local computer shops who just sell parts or pre-assembled white-box units. They’re always closer, usually cheaper, and use better parts than the retailers who sell name-brand units.

    Dr Loser: dumping involves selling product below cost, and gnu/linux costs everyone who uses it asymptotically zero. Furthermore, the more people who use it the less it costs every individual (on average). And the more people who use it, the higher total value it has. It’s very obvious economics, and it’s the fixed-unit-cost boxed software which goes contrary to basic economic theory.

    The ‘dumping’ argument is somewhat like that dropkick who tried to bring anti-trust against it. It’s not anti-trust if it’s just cheaper to make than everything else …

  5. NT JERKFACE says:

    The I Hate Microsoft Club has to find a better balance point, backing away from these plunges into absurdity.

    They’re pissed that reality is moving away from their positions and even worse in the wrong direction.

    Linux as a kernel is stable but Linux + X is far less reliable than Windows. The IT world is slowly waking up to the fact that Windows of today is not the same one from 98. That includes Server which really bothers the haters club since Linux was supposed to blitzkrieg all servers by 2005.

    I guess it isn’t enough that Android is a success and Linux is popular for web servers. They want their BSOD jokes as well if people under 21 don’t understand them.

  6. Dann says:

    Well, Mr. Clarence Moon, I can’t say I’m surprised that you would openly defend an OS well known for performing poorly by personally attacking someone who uses it as an excuse to get actual work done.

    If you keep up with Cablegate, you will see that Microsoft and the US Government are quite close; in fact, Microsoft’s efforts to undercut browser competition and the massive corruption you mention are basically one and the same.

    And I don’t see what’s so absurd about wanting to get work done efficiently and cleaning up corruption so widespread in government and the corporate sphere. Perhaps you could enlighten us?

  7. Clarence Moon says:

    I have to chuckle at Mr. Oe for his belief that the glory he expects to receive from the Linux fans here for creating an anecdote that is derogatory in regard to Microsoft is adequate to compensate him for admitting that he is a lout and a layabout at the office. “I’m a bum, but Windows and Office give me a great place to hide!”, says Mr. Oe.

    It is remeniscent of the hue and cry years ago when the appeals court let Microsoft off of the hook and people blamed it on collusion between Bill
    Gates and George Bush who conspired to somehow sway the decision of the Federal Court system. To them, the efforts by Microsoft to undercut browser competition was far worse than the massive corruption and mingling of judicial, administrative, and Congressional powers needed to put the fix in.

    The I Hate Microsoft Club has to find a better balance point, backing away from these plunges into absurdity.

  8. Just, guessing, Dr Loser, but they have some parts the same and some different. Likely parts of the TCP stack are the same in all of those. Other than that, I don’t know anything that’s the same in GNU/Linux and that other OS. Certainly, IBM does not have a pet distro and consults with their clients about what they want. Some of their clients use Suse, some RedHat, some Debian GNU/Linux and some Ubuntu.

    If you mean bundling, there’s a huge difference between a distro including 47 browsers and M$ bundling IE and making it compulsory to use for system operations.
    apt-cache search web\ browser|wc
    198 1627 11650

    I have dozens of browsers available from the Debian GNU/Linux repositories. Is that a bundle or what? Is it designed to exclude other browsers? I doubt it. We know IE was bundled to mess with competition.

  9. Yep. I have worked at so many places where that other OS was used and poor performance was expected. Folks are amazed at how few problems a properly designed system has. At Easterville for 153 seats, they had one bad hard drive and one bad memory module in years of operation. Chuckle. That other OS would have more problems per seat.

  10. oe says:

    The one thing I like about having a Windows 7 PC at work now is I can tell my supervisors “It’s been down/bluescreening/freezing up/the network is slow/etc.” ans I never get questioned on that. M$ ShredPoint is especially good for cover when stuff is late/tied up/ and garbled.

    Good luck trying to get away with those dog-ate-my-homework excuses on a FOSS-based OS and network….

  11. Dr Loser says:

    Actually a very interesting question. Is this even legal?

    It most certainly is when it is done by the Bazaar-types at home.

    It most certainly is when it is done by a charity.

    When it is done as a cross-subsidy for other parts of a commercial company’s business (eg IBM consulting or Red Hat support contracts), well, then, there is the slightest taint of dumping. (At least there would be if the stupid thing worked.)

    Could you explain the difference between IBM/GNU/Linux or RedHat/GNU/Linux (gosh this artificial nomenklature gets tiring) and Windows/IE4, please, Robert?

    Because personally I’m not seeing it.

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