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  #1  
Old 23 February 2013, 08:31 PM
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TV It's illegal to sell a computer without software

Twice in the last year, I have been told by salespeople in computer shops that "it is illegal for them to sell a computer without software" (in reference to the operating system).

I use Linux, and it is trivially easy to load it myself so I'm not going to pay someone to do it. But nor am I going to pay for a copy of Windows that will by left unused.

Is there any basis in fact for this. I can't see how it could either make sense, or how could it be enforced. Note that I am not talking about re-selling a computer with programs on it, but rather a naked PC with nothing but its own start up code.
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  #2  
Old 23 February 2013, 08:54 PM
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Computer

It is true that many OEMs have bundling agreements with Microsoft to sell their computers with Windows installed on them, and that computer retailers therefore cannot simply wipe the operating system off such PCs prior to selling them.

If you're talking about a computer shop that builds its own computers from component parts, however, then there's no reason why they cannot sell PCs without operating systems installed on them.
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  #3  
Old 23 February 2013, 08:56 PM
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Given that one can purchase every individual component of a PC without an OS, I can't see how this can possibly be legal. I can see why such a thing doesn't happen much (most PC's are sold with Windows anyhow) since PC's without an OS aren't much cheaper than one with an OS, bit I can't see how they could enforce this. You can't force somebody to buy an OS though.

ETA: I am not talking about OEM's here...
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Old 23 February 2013, 10:47 PM
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What would constitute "a computer" for the law, anyway? What if I purchase a motherboard, processor, memory, video card, power supply and some SATA cables ... but no hard drive? It's not a terribly unlikely scenario, as hard drives can easily outlast just about everything else in your case, other than the power supply. What are they going to instal the mandatory OS on?
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  #5  
Old 23 February 2013, 10:57 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by diddy View Post
Given that one can purchase every individual component of a PC without an OS, I can't see how this can possibly be legal.
Because 'all the individual components that make up X' is not the same thing as X.

Does the fact that you can buy every component of a meal at a grocery store mean that the law can't require restaurants to follow regulations that don't also apply to grocers?
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  #6  
Old 24 February 2013, 12:11 AM
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Lots of computer stores will sell a fully-assembled and tested computer without an OS. Just ask them. But you should expect to pay some amount of money for them to assemble and test it, and you should expect that they may have installed an OS to do the testing, then removed it. Believe me, I've done this twice now after the disaster which was assembling the pieces from different sources and not knowing which part is defective.

It's no law - it's exactly how snopes describes it.
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  #7  
Old 24 February 2013, 12:33 AM
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For years, we bought computers and installed an operating system in house.

Up until a few years ago, they all came with an open source OS disk. We ended up with hundreds of these. Dell would not sell a bare metal computer without some form of OS bundled with it.

Now, we buy them with a Windows license that we use when we take them out of service.
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  #8  
Old 24 February 2013, 01:10 AM
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Dell sells "N series" workstations, (we use both precision 3600s and optiplex 790/7010s) which come with no os. So it's highly unlikely that its illegal. That being said, yes, most oems have an agreement with Microsoft that they will sell with windows. Now, I understand the reasoning behind not wanting to sell a computer with no operating system, as you have no way of knowing the competency of the person you're selling it Too, who could theoretically demand a refund for the non functioning computer that was sold without an os...
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  #9  
Old 24 February 2013, 02:02 AM
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I agree with snopes also. It would very likely be true at a major retailer like Best Buy, or an OEM that the sales person would more accurately say that they are bound by contract not to sell a computer without a (Windows) operating system on it. Maybe to some sales people being told that doing x would put them in breach of contract and liable for being sued is roughly equivalent in their minds to "it would be breaking the law."
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  #10  
Old 24 February 2013, 03:35 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Kallah View Post
What would constitute "a computer" for the law, anyway?
Most PC parts retailers carry the "System Builders" version of Microsoft operating systems, which has a significant discount from the retail version of the OS. Usually you are not allowed to buy it unless you're also buying a critical component of a PC at the same time, such as a CPU or motherboard.

Of course there's no practical way to ensure any particular copy of an OS is installed on a newly-built PC containing any particular component.

ETA: And to be clear, it's not a law which designates this, but the particular terms of a contract between Microsoft and a PC retailer or a PC parts retailer, where Microsoft sells its OS at some particular discount in exchange for controlling some aspects of what the retailer can and cannot sell.

Last edited by Alchemy; 24 February 2013 at 03:47 AM.
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  #11  
Old 24 February 2013, 03:44 AM
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I doubt many of your big stores will sell you a pc with no OS. But by no means is it against the law to sell a computer with out an OS. If you want an OS free unit you are probably best off purchasing it through a small computer shop, or ordering the parts and putting it together yourself.
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  #12  
Old 24 February 2013, 04:14 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Drakkon View Post
I doubt many of your big stores will sell you a pc with no OS. But by no means is it against the law to sell a computer with out an OS. If you want an OS free unit you are probably best off purchasing it through a small computer shop, or ordering the parts and putting it together yourself.
Or buying a complete computer with a separate (second) hard disk and installing the second disk as the boot disk, then wiping the original boot disk. Win-win situation, you know the machine functions and you get a second hard disk (and the joy of wiping the installed OS bloatware out of existence).
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Old 24 February 2013, 04:20 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by snopes View Post
Because 'all the individual components that make up X' is not the same thing as X.
I was more going with what Kallah was saying. What exactly would constitute a computer for such a law to take effect? If you could buy every single component to build a computer in one transaction without an OS. Is that a computer? Or does it have to be pre-assembled? What if it didn't come with a hard drive?

Lets just assume such a law exists - How are they going to enforce it on places that just sell parts and isn't bound by any contract by anybody?

I agree with what erwins is saying. A sales guy on the floor is confusing "illegal" with "breach of OEM contract" which is very much a real thing. I of course was excluding OEM's since I wanted to avoid talking about contracts since the OP was talking about a law (One that I assure you does not exist)
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  #14  
Old 24 February 2013, 06:00 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by jimmy101_again View Post
Or buying a complete computer with a separate (second) hard disk and installing the second disk as the boot disk, then wiping the original boot disk. Win-win situation, you know the machine functions and you get a second hard disk (and the joy of wiping the installed OS bloatware out of existence).
Except that you just paid for an operating system that you are going to erase. Usually when people are inquiring about getting a computer with no OS, it's because they'd like to get a discount off the retail price because they don't need the Windows license that is bundled with it.
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  #15  
Old 24 February 2013, 06:56 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by diddy View Post
What exactly would constitute a computer for such a law to take effect? If you could buy every single component to build a computer in one transaction without an OS. Is that a computer? Or does it have to be pre-assembled? What if it didn't come with a hard drive?
Related to the question, but not answering it exactly: In the 90's I worked at an OEM (original equipment manufacturer) that built computers and also sold components. if I recall correctly, we understood our contract with Microsoft that we could only sell the OEM version of Windows with a new computer or with specific components, namely a motherboard or a hard drive.

It can sometimes be a hassle selling computers without an OS. We were very careful to explain that the hard drive was free of any OS, even DOS, and that they were on their own when they were installing whatever OS they used. If we didn't we'd get people calling in and asking "Where's the DOS?" and "How are you expecting me to be able to install Windows on my own?". Well, duh, DOS is an operating system and maybe you should have thought about that before you decided to save a few bucks by installing your pirated Windows.
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  #16  
Old 24 February 2013, 07:25 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by diddy View Post
What exactly would constitute a computer for such a law to take effect?
Anything that fit how such a law defined the term "computer" for the purposes of that law.
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  #17  
Old 24 February 2013, 10:16 AM
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The agreements with the OEMs are mutually beneficial. The OS gets sold and the hardware gets marked up more than what they have to pay for the OS license. Almost no consumers want a computer without an OS so there's no downside. I can't think of any reason consumer electronics stores would want to sell machines without OS licenses, even if they weren't under agreement.

Even though the software company doesn't get as much for the OS as they would selling it out of a box, the chances the consumer will buy more software and continue to buy updates for the new machine are very good.
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  #18  
Old 24 February 2013, 09:19 PM
jimmy101_again jimmy101_again is offline
 
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Quote:
Originally Posted by erwins View Post
Except that you just paid for an operating system that you are going to erase. Usually when people are inquiring about getting a computer with no OS, it's because they'd like to get a discount off the retail price because they don't need the Windows license that is bundled with it.
Good point, but does the OS actually add significantly to the cost? Or does the OS supplier figure they make money from bundled demos (like MS Office)? You can pick up a new laptop with Windows 8 on it for $300, so Microsoft can't be charging the laptop maker much for the OEM OS.

And, any PC sold that doesn't run a Windows OS is unlikely to ever need any other Microsoft software (like Office). So it is to Microsoft's advantage to give the OS away for free.

I've seen non-upgrade versions of Windows 8 Pro for as little as $40 or as much as $400. Figure the actual cost to Microsoft is about $0.50 ().

Edit: and the knowledge that the hardware plays well together might justify the minimal increase in cost that the soon-to-be-erased OS entails.
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  #19  
Old 24 February 2013, 11:48 PM
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Exactly, and how many consumers are willing to get 15 to 50 dollars knocked off the 600 to 1000 dollar price of a computer that's already packaged for the average consumer so that it has no OS? Basically, none. Those people don't buy those packages in the first place. (And that tiny tiny minority who do know it pays to get that OS cheaply because if they ever want it for that box, they'll have it.)

Last edited by ganzfeld; 25 February 2013 at 12:04 AM.
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  #20  
Old 25 February 2013, 04:24 AM
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Here's a question - is it possible to purchase a laptop without an OS? I have seen "unbranded" or "house brand" laptops sold by companies like "Tiger Direct", but I haven't looked for a few years. Essentially, you can't "build" a laptop from scratch like a desktop - sure, you can select the value and complexity of components within the laptop but only from a narrow list.

I did think of a situation where it is advantageous to buy a computer without an OS. It's when you're replacing an existing computer and you still have a valid OS license, but a computer that won't run. About 15 years ago, we had a rash of computer failures where the motherboard and power supply would fail together. These were a bunch of store-built "white boxes" long past their one-year warranty. A new computer was more economical than merely replacing the components on the old one, since 2 or 3 years later you got more for the same money. So we recovered the files from the old hard-drive and had a much-improved PC, but it still used the same OS. This is back in the days where there was no "improvement" upon Windows 98 (Windows NT, Windows ME) until Windows 2000 became established after its first Service pack rolled out - at least 3 years, if not more, where Win 98 SE was the "best" thing available.
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