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The Microsoft Tax Doesn't Really Exist

Updated: 30-Sep-2016

When you are considering a switch to a computer with Linux pre-installed, you may be surprised to discover that the hardware is about the same price as a comparable Windows machine. You may have heard of something called the "Microsoft Tax" which refers to the extra price you pay for the cost of Windows on a computer that you buy with the intention of installing Linux on it. As a result, you may think that you should pay less for an equivalent computer with Linux pre-installed. After all, Linux is free and Windows sells for hundreds of dollars. But you don't. That's because the so-called Microsoft Tax doesn't really exist. It's a myth.

Counting photo used under Creative Commons CC0 license.

There are two main reasons that computers, whether pre-installed with Linux, Windows, or no operating system at all, are about the same price to the consumer.

  1. Although Windows retails for hundreds of dollars, the actual licensing cost to Windows PC manufacturers and OEMs represents a small amount of money, often in the neighborhood of 5% or less of the retail price of the computer itself.
  2. The "boutique" computer companies that sell computers pre-installed with Linux, like System76, Zareason, Think Penguin, Emperor Linux, Tuxedo, and Entroware sell them in lower volumes than the brand-name companies, and so don't have the savings that come with manufacturing for a high volume business. The amount they save by NOT including a Windows license is not really a savings that affects the final price you pay for the complete computer system.

So, the Microsoft Tax is a myth. You don't avoid paying more because putting Windows on a computer is expensive. It's not. You pay about the same for a Linux PC as a comparable Windows PC because they cost about the same to make and sell them.

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So Why Buy a Linux PC?

You can install Linux on almost any computer hardware -- Mac or Windows PC, so why would you even consider purchasing a computer with Linux pre-installed when it's so easy to install yourself? You can be sure you'll have the "just works" experience purchasers expect from computers pre-installed with Windows or OSX. And you know it will continue to "just work" with whatever upgrade or new version of Linux you choose to install in the future. And... since Linux is safer than other operating systems, you can be sure that you are as secure as possible on-line and off.

When you buy a computer with Linux pre-installed you can be sure that the hardware works beautifully with your chosen operating system. The computer vendor has chosen that hardware specifically because it DOES work well with Linux -- any Linux! When needed, companies like System76 also provide specialized hardware drivers, and keep them up to date through the automated update delivery system included with major Linux distributions. No fiddling with wifi cards, web cams, fingerprint readers. suspend and resume, or power management.

Why NOT to buy a Windows PC!

With the recent release of Windows 10 has come some concern about security and privacy issues. Mike Elgan, technology blogger, journalist and podcaster, on The New Screensavers podcast TNSS17 from Aug 30, 2015 echoed that on Windows 10, you have privacy & security concerns. He said that Windows has unusual security concerns because it is, "the operating system for the world, for… legacy applications." He also described that there are inherent privacy issues, and that you have to take extra precautions and employ all the best practices when using Windows on the Internet. He said, "If you are on [this] dangerous end of the spectrum, you have to work at it a bit harder."

In addition to worrying about whether Windows 10 is "phoning home" with your personal information, and whether that "feature" will be back-ported into Windows 7 & 8, you also have to deal with these costly annoyances:

  1. Since Windows 7, Windows computers have been under a lockdown (secure boot) that can make it difficult or impossible to install another operating system. Although Linux developers have found a way to work around this, it is clear that Microsoft views the computer as "their" hardware and not yours.
  2. Windows PC makers and OEMs are well known for including trialware/crapware. (Unwanted trial versions of programs that end up costing you more money if you want the fully licensed version.)
  3. Even if you successfully remove all of the trialware, you are continuously presented with offers for software upgrades or add-on purchases for such things as Office 365, or offers for "leased" or "rented" versions of software. Instead of paying a few hundred dollars once for the software, you pay at a lower price for a year, but you must pay again every year to continue using the software. For them it's a recurring revenue model. For you it's a never-ending payment model.
  4. More recently, Windows 10's "free" upgrade has caught many people by surprise. Microsoft has been criticized for pushing it without a user's permission, for not allowing users to back out of the upgrade, for breaking what used to work, and for deleting or uninstalling applications and drivers that are not Windows 10 compatible. To add insult to injury, if the driver that has been disabled is your video driver, you may have to spend some expensive service hours at the command line to get everything operational again. If the application that has been deleted is a critical software app that you use, you may have to re-purchase a new Windows 10-compatible version of software you already bought -- if and when it becomes available.

How much is that Windows computer ACTUALLY costing you? Maybe the "Microsoft Tax" is real after all. Maybe it's not the price you pay to have Windows pre-installed. Maybe it's really the extra money you pay after you start USING Windows. Money for software upgrades from trial versions to full versions, upgrades to get new or additional features, and annual rental fees for online versions of software that is never really yours.

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