Laptop without Windows, an update for Dell, Asus, Acer, Compaq

It is very difficult to buy a computer without Windows (that is, to buy it with either Linux, FreeDOS or no OS) in the European market.

Why would you want to buy a laptop without pre-installed Windows?

  1. Because you are simply not going to use Windows (for example, you plan to use a Linux distribution)
  2. Because your school has an Developer Academic Alliance (formerly MSDN AA) with Microsoft and they provide the Windows software for you
  3. Because your organisation has a company-wide agreement for Microsoft software, and you do not wish to pay twice for Windows.
  4. Because you somehow have a Windows license or Windows package installation box already.

Sadly, when talking to the sales personnel of a manufacturer, it might look an easier strategy to just mention points 2 or 3. There is already some prior knowledge with the sales personnel that large organisations do not need the pre-installed Windows software.

Dell used to sell the N Series laptops with Ubuntu Linux, however they do not sell them anymore, at least in Europe. I contacted a Dell customer care manager on this issue and I was told that N Series laptops are available when you call Dell Sales by phone. I did just that, however the telephone salesperson explained that they do not have N Series laptops anymore. He verified with his own manager.

Dell does sell netbooks with Ubuntu Linux in Europe. For example, the Dell Mini or the Dell Latitude 2100. The situation with the netbooks is almost perfect, but…

Dell UK Latitude 2100, Choose early between XP or Ubuntu

What would be desirable is to provide the option, when you customize the Latitude 2100, to be able to select the operating system under the Operating System options. In this way, the customer is in a position to make a better decision between the differences of the two options.

Dell Greece, select the operating system while customizing the computer

In a regional Dell website, it is possible to select the operating system while you are customizing the computer. In this case, when you select Ubuntu Linux, you can easily see that you are saving €30 compared to the initial price.

It is not clear why Dell UK and Dell Germany do not provide the facility that we see with Dell Greece. Normally the localised editions of a website take any changes later than the main languages (English, German).

Updated (soon after posted): It is possible to get the Dell UK page for the Latitude 2100 so that both pre-installed Windows and Ubuntu appear in the same section. It might be an update that has been rolled out just recently. When you visit the Customise page,  you can now see that by selecting pre-installed Ubuntu Linux, you save £24 compared to pre-installed XP.

What would be ideal is for the consumer to have the option to avoid the pre-installed Windows, in a way shown above at the Dell Greece website for the Latitude 2100. Having options for Ubuntu Linux or FreeDOS (for those who already have a Windows license) would be the best value for the customers. This would make Dell the best company around.

So, what’s going on with the other laptop manufacturers?

Acer, Asus, Compaq and HP do not appear to sell computers without pre-installed Windows to the European market. I have not been able to locate retailers that would sell a laptop with FreeDOS, let alone a Linux distribution.

Is this the case with Acer, Asus, Compaq and HP in other markets?

Acer Laptop with FreeDOS (SE Asian market) Asus Laptop with FreeDOS (SE Asian market) Compaq Laptop with FreeDOS (SE Asian market)

This is an example of laptop models from the SE Asian market. The laptops come with FreeDOS and if you want pre-installed Windows, you pay extra (€53 or $74). The quoted price for the laptop is not subjected to local tax for the specific SE Asian country. Here is the price equivalent for each laptop,

Acer: €325 or $460

Asus: €525 or $745

Compaq: €365 or $515

Manufacturers such as Lenovo and Toshiba appear as black sheep to me, regarding the European market. Lenovo is supposed to sell laptops with SuSE Linux, however I could not find an example. Toshiba is completely out of the radar. They might not be a big laptop manufacturer.

What would be great for the European customer is to have the option to buy a product without pre-installed Windows. And this option of buying a computer without pre-installed Windows should be a visible and accessible option.

25 comments

  • ethana2

    I bought an Ubuntu Dell, and I’m sick of the way these companies treat me as an Ubuntu user. Screw them all. Now saving up for a Mac, like everybody else.

  • will_in_wi

    A note about microsoft academic licensing. I work at a school as their IT Director, and we get a huge discount on Windows through Academic Open License. However, this is an upgrade license. That is correct, upgrade. You cannot install on bare metal. What we do is get the cheapest MS license on a new system we can and then upgrade from there. There is no way to get an academic windows license that will install on bare metal.

    This may be different for MSDN developer licenses, I haven’t dealt with those.

  • lucky

    I’ve written a couple entries on my blog (see the entry about the myth of the Windows tax or the one called “Boycott Stupid Linux Advocacy” on 28 July) about why OEMs put Windows on just about all their machines. It’s because well over 90% (much closer to 100% than 90%) of the people buying those computers expect (make that demand) Windows. They don’t — and never will — offer every computer model they sell with customization options because that’s a losing proposition to them when you’re talking about exceptions (Linux) to the rule (Windows). You have the option of buying a computer with Windows installed and getting a rebate if you refuse the EULA for Windows, or you can order one of the handful of models they actually make available with various custom options including alternative operating systems. But as I illustrated in the “Boycott” article I wrote, it’s like ordering a Big Mac at McDonald’s. If you want it a different way than they make a standard Big Mac, you wait while they go through the hassle of customizing it for you because they’re not going to make a few dozen “customs” the unique way you want when nearly everyone else ordering just wants the standard Big Mac. Consider it the price for being part of a niche, for being different. It may not be as convenient as it is for everyone else (who wants a standard Big Mac or standard Windows laptop), but they’re not the ones setting you out to a different standard — that’s your own choice.

  • The Open Sourcerer

    There seems to be some momentum building around recovering the license fee from bundled purchases (http://www.theopensourcerer.com/2009/07/21/getting-your-microsoft-tax-refunded-1010-for-amazon-uk/).

    There have been a few positive experiences and a few not so good. But it does look like the law is on our side. Especially in the EU. They call it “Tying” and it is against competition rules. There are some suggestions if you have difficultty toward the bottom if this post: http://www.theopensourcerer.com/2009/07/30/taxing-times-for-free-choice/

    If we all keep up the pressure I think vendors and retailers will see the light. We are working on an update to http://nakedcomputers.org to make it easier to navigate and search so please let us know of any vendors you come across who will provide bare-metal systems.

  • Joseph

    “Because your organisation has a company-wide agreement for Microsoft software, and you do not wish to pay twice for Windows.”

    This will lead you to license violation. *All* Microsoft Windows site licenses are upgrade-only, *not* full versions.

    http://www.microsoft.com/licensing/resources/faq.mspx
    “Q. Can I order a PC with no operating system from a manufacturer and then use my Volume License to install Windows on the desktop?
    A. No. Volume License agreements—including Academic, Government, and Public Sector—never cover the initial full Windows Client operating system license. Volume License agreements cover only Windows Client upgrade licenses. Windows upgrades are designed to upgrade previously acquired qualifying desktop operating system licenses. See the PUR for more information on qualifying underlying licenses. ”

    So yes, if you’re using volume licenses, you *do* have to pay for Windows twice.

  • Joseph

    “But as I illustrated in the “Boycott” article I wrote, it’s like ordering a Big Mac at McDonald’s. If you want it a different way than they make a standard Big Mac, you wait while they go through the hassle of customizing it for you because they’re not going to make a few dozen “customs” the unique way you want when nearly everyone else ordering just wants the standard Big Mac. Consider it the price for being part of a niche, for being different.”

    Erm, maybe it’s just Burger King, but I can get burgers without pickles, lettuce, tomato, etc. (pretty much without anything) by just asking. Bad analogy to choose IMHO.

  • Zac

    Timely post for me.

    I have just received my Dell Latitude 2100N, Dell’s first Ubuntu version in Australia, and put it simply I am impressed.
    I ordered all the fruit minus the touchscreen. The feel, keys, construction are all very good. The volume buttons and touchpad all work as they should. The screen is very good.
    Setup was as simple as can be, no problems. To get on the internet, found the MAC address, entered into router, entered key, and surfin’ away. Easy with no problems.
    I ordered the Intel wireless option (I think the one with the three antenaes) and the range is very good and fast speed.
    I tested much else out yet, but so far, highly recommended. I’ll to give an update in a couple of days.
    Oh, according to Dell it is Ubuntu 8.10 that is installed, but what actually installed is Ubuntu 9.04.

  • Joseph

    “But as I illustrated in the “Boycott” article I wrote, it’s like ordering a Big Mac at McDonald’s. If you want it a different way than they make a standard Big Mac, you wait while they go through the hassle of customizing it for you because they’re not going to make a few dozen “customs” the unique way you want when nearly everyone else ordering just wants the standard Big Mac. Consider it the price for being part of a niche, for being different.”

    In a world, where all the burgers MUST come with cheese…. *That* is really the parallel here. Assuming that you can’t get e.g. a cheeseburger without pickles (which isn’t true; I’ve done it often), that might be OK. Someone else will do it (Burger King, Wendy’s, etc.) Or, you can order a chicken sandwich instead of a burger. Or you can buy ground chuck and make your own burger. But for the parallel world you posit (erroneously, see the pickles above) to properly correspond, everyone orders their sandwiches with pickles and therefore *all* vendors give you pickles, whether you like it or not. There *is* no sandwich without pickles. Indeed, it’s been this way so long that even the fricking *cows* and *wheat* (hardware) have been genetically engineered to go on a sandwich with pickles (“Designed for Claussen” is what’s on the wrapper and branded on the cow). Even people making their own sandwiches at home have to deal with this fact, as corners are cut (after all, they can most of the time blithely assume that pickles will be present) and therefore e.g. the grease in the burger may not work properly with the pickles, causing the lettuce not to be detected by the pickles and therefore not appear in the final sandwich. Or perhaps your sandwich will overheat since the power management was dealt with in drivers which were only made for Pickle XP. What’s more, when you go out to eat with friends, your non-pickles burger may not even let you hold a conversation with their friends, as they’re using PSN (Pickle Schnell Netzwerk) Messenger , and home-burger-makers have had to painstakingly reverse-engineer the PSN-M Protocol used to hold conversations. And when eating your sandwich with foods over the World Wide Meal network, say a shake or something that you ordered, you must deal with the fact that many of the side dishes were designed for Pickle Websplorer, perhaps even the infamously non-interoperable Pickle Websplorer 6.

    This world which you posit is absurd, and so is a world which ties people in to one vendor (As much as I shudder at a world with Windows, an Apple world would perhaps be even worse!) As with statistics, bikinis, and speedos, what they reveal is suggestive, but what they conceal is vital.

  • lucky

    Re Cheeseburgers and my Big Mac analogy: Big Macs come with cheese. So why the long, pedestrian diatribe when my analogy is already apropos? Geez.

    OEMs make computers for a mass market, and that market is, whether you like it or not, tied to Microsoft Windows. I’m not positing a world; I’m explaining reality. You’re free to dislike reality — after all, many people do and many others are detached from it for their full lives.

    You (and I) use a niche operating system which isn’t popular enough for OEMs to sell profitably except as custom units. If there were profits to be made, there would be a lot more laptops without Windows. Case in point: netbooks. Linux had a head start. Demand for Windows units increased. Windows versions outsold Linux versions, and Linux versions had higher return rates because users expected a Windows-like and Windows-compatible experience. Now it’s damn near impossible to find newer netbooks without Windows in many markets and it’s only going to get harder. That’s because Linux remains a niche product and the only places where it has any significant foothold in consumer electronics is where it works “behind the scenes” in devices like cell phones, DVRs, and other appliances where users don’t have to deal with it as they would a computer.

    As far as your hyperbole about anything Windows-related, it’s funny how many open source sites with a “works with any browser” button I’ve hit using IE8 that don’t (!). Thankfully, MS has a backwards compatibility button so pages can render as they would under IE7 to make up for sites that have quirks. Or whose owners do. Anyway, I’ll agree with you that an Apple-centric world would be worse than the way things are today. You probably won’t agree with me about the wisdom of the market in such things, but it has gotten that one right.

  • Joseph

    “Big Macs come with cheese.”
    But they don’t have to if you don’t want them to.
    http://mcdonalds.com/usa/eat/nutrition_info/simplesteps.RowPar.85506.ContentPar.26817.ColumnPar.62251.File4.tmp/finsimpstepsodium2.pdf
    “If you’re watching how much sodium you eat, try the tips
    below the next time you’re at McDonald’s®.
    […]
    * Order sandwiches without cheese. You’ll save 230mg for each slice of American cheese.”

    Ah, the beauty of competition.

    “So why the long, pedestrian diatribe when my analogy is already apropos.” Ignoring your flame-words (i.e. “pedestrian diatribe”), because it’s not apropos; it conveniently ignores critical points in addition to being wrong. That’s what I was pointing out.

    “If there were profits to be made, there would be a lot more laptops without Windows”
    This is not strictly true; you again ignore salient components of a marketplace, particularly in the presence of a predatory monopoly.

    “Case in point: netbooks. Linux had a head start. Demand for Windows units increased. Windows versions outsold Linux versions, and Linux versions had higher return rates because users expected a Windows-like and Windows-compatible experience”

    Quite. What happened was:
    a) Brining XP back from the dead in order to kill Linux as an option on the desktop
    b) Price dumping toward the same end.
    c) Working with OEMs to push users toward Windows and away from Linux with advertising (with the same OEMS)!

    Of course, you again ignore the myriad of ways for monopolistic OSes to eliminate competition, e.g. broken DSDTs.

    “As far as your hyperbole about anything Windows-related, it’s funny how many open source sites with a “works with any browser” button I’ve hit using IE8 that don’t (!).”
    a) “Hyperbole”? Please stick to the facts without slinging mud.
    b) The plural of “anecdote” isn’t “data”
    c) Even were your allegations proven to be true, for your IE8-incompatible (which, should be noted, is i) extremely new and ii) comes after nigh on a decade of dreadfully incompatible IE iii) continues ActiveX and IE-only lockin techologies) “works with any browser” section to have any bearing on vendor lock-in on the web, you must first show that they have a significant impact on the web.

    “You probably won’t agree with me about the wisdom of the market in such things, but it has gotten that one right.”
    The free market is fantastic, but it requires a free market. The desktop OS market is categorically *not* free. Now, if browser, application, hardware, network, and document compatibility (to name a few major categories) were not an issue, it might have a chance, but decades of Microsoft monopoly have made the playing field unbelievably slanted.

  • Simos Xenitellis

    ssam, TheOpenSourcerer: Thanks for http://www.nakedcomputers.org. Indeed, the website needs an update. While looking for a ‘naked’ laptop, it was not clear to me if the available laptops were brand new or second-hand. Good luck with the update.

    will_in_wi, Joseph: Indeed, for volume licensing it looks like customers end up being charged by Microsoft twice. Thanks for the links.

    Zac: It is great you are happy with your Latitude 2100/Ubuntu. Thanks for the testimonial and the tip about Ubuntu 9.04.

    Joseph, lucky: The ‘burger’ analogy was not good. Not only the cheese can be avoided, the bread can also be replaced with a material based on rice. I did not like it, but then I tried only once.

    The issue with the operating system is that if there is customer demand for computers with either FreeDOS or Ubuntu Linux, then the manufacturers should meet it. For a manufacturer such as Dell which offers extensive customisation, they are in a position to offer FreeDOS or perhaps Ubuntu Linux. And they do so for the Latitude 2100.

    There is the case where high-end computers may not be well supported with Linux, thus making it difficult for the manufacturer to offer Linux as an option. As a customer, I would not mind buying a high-end laptop with FreeDOS, considering that some of the hardware might not work straight away when I put Linux. It would be the same thing that happens to many of us when we buy a high-end computer with Microsoft software and we end up installing Linux straight away. In this case, we would save on the license we did not use, which is good.

    As I showed in the SE Asian market (see again the images in the blog post above), the retailer can sell you a computer with FreeDOS, or give you the option to add Windows. What makes European resellers unable to do what SE Asian resellers are able to offer to their customers?

    Microsoft is in a position to tie up payment for their software with the use of a product key. That is, they can give away their software in pre-installed computers for free (for the manufacturers), and only get paid when the customer chooses to activate Windows with the product key. In this way, the customer will have the final choice which operating system to use. I would love to see this as an option for several operating systems.

  • lucky

    @ Joseph’s “But they don’t have to…” : Geez, that’s my point. If you want one sans cheese or with mustard instead of “special sauce,” you don’t get one quickly off the shelf but have to order it customized, special. They make them to a particular standard so that they have them ready to go for the mass market who want them as they purchase. They’re already under the heat lamp when you show up because they’re made according to a schedule based on historical sales; they’re typically *not* made as each customer orders. McDonald’s handles variations from the norm just like computer OEMs do: any odd-ball order can be made on an as-needed basis. Got it *yet*? No? Heh.

    Computers are commodity items. OEMs sell according to a mass market model rather than a custom model. That model assumes so close to 100% of customers expect Windows that it’ll prove easier to deal with odd-ball orders as-needed and ad hoc. That’s especially true with respect to laptops, since the OEMs farm out this business to contractors. Some OEMs have specific models they’ll offer with alternative configurations, including Linux. But there model is to accommodate the rule rather than the exception.

    Whether you like it or not, the mass market expects a computer to come pre-configured with only one particular operating system. Consumer demand is what drives OEMs to install Windows, not any of the stuff which sends you into histrionics. When given “free” options like Linux, the market still chooses to pay for a license to use Windows. Even worse for your position, piracy demonstrates the popularity of Windows. Rather than embrace a “free” operating system like Linux, pirates would rather risk getting infected versions from warez sites and are too often willing to go without system patches, etc. You can rant and rave all you want against Microsoft, but that doesn’t change the fact that when given the choices of free (beer/liberty/both/either/etc.), paying license fees, or warez, the “free” choice comes in last. Every freakin’ time.

    If you want to change things, you’re going to have to convince the world that your “free” OS is better than what they demand. I don’t think your tactics of bashing MS like you do have proven very successful over the past decade. No matter how unpopular MS-the-corporation is, MS-Windows is the dominant OS for the desktop.

    “Pedestrian hyperbole” is much more diplomatic than what I was really thinking (I’ve been trying to be nice even to people who I think represent the worst of the open source movement — the mindless, reflexive, incorrigible haters who drip venom and vitriol even when none is needed). I think I had you pegged correctly as the kind of person who’d go out of his way to bash Microsoft rather than concede that the OEMs mass-market their goods and that Linux or FreeDOS don’t have enough demand to amount to a profitable *mass* market for anyone. I also don’t expect an Emily Littella-like “never mind” concession from you. It’s still queer that you ranted and raved about pickles and everything else (see above about “venom and vitriol even when none is needed) but I’ll presume you can’t help yourself.

    @ Simos re different options in different markets: The reason some OEMs offer alternatives to Windows in certain markets but not others is for the same reason McDonald’s has chicken burgers in India and kosher/no-cheese burgers in Israel. It works where there’s enough demand in the aggregate. There just hasn’t been enough demand in most markets. It’s not about what position Microsoft is in, it’s the position the OEMs are in. Their margins aren’t very high to start with. They make their decisions on the basis of the rule rather than the exception. As long as Linux remains a niche OS (particularly on desktop/laptop), there will be few, if any, models with Linux.

    The OEMs don’t even build their own laptops. They contract/order them pre-configured for the mass market. That means nearly every unit comes with Windows pre-installed from the factory (not Dell factory, not HP factory, but from a factory that often builds for both of those companies). That’s how they’re sent to re-sellers, retailers, etc. That’s why you have to do more shopping around and either choose a model an OEM like Dell offers with an OS you want or find a retailer who installs what you want.

    It’s the price of being different — you have to adjust to the market because it’s unlikely the market is going to conform to you. There’s not much you can do if it’s too much to adjust your own behavior to adjust to reality. You can order from another market (such as SE Asia) where models you actually want are available, order a custom unit directly from the OEM as you want it, buy from a niche re-seller who’ll customize units, buy a bulk mass-market model even if it comes with Windows and get a refund for an unused license, or just whine about how hard it is to live according to what you believe in. I find the latter the most common but the least respectable.

  • Simos Xenitellis

    @Prakash: I assume you are a customer from India. Does the Acer Timeline sell with Linux in India? Or, did you manage to get a windows tax refund from Acer?
    It would not be relevant to discuss about a computer in this blog post if there is no connection with open-source software.

    @lucky: I believe we are all trying to make Linux and the open-source platform better.
    I do not believe that providing a choice for the operating system is a burden for computer manufacturers.

    Is there a market for computers that do not come with pre-installed Windows? I do not have figures and I believe you do not have either. The current status for Linux users in the European market is you end up being forced to buy a computer with pre-installed Windows, format it and install Linux. My estimate is that there is enough market in the competitive computer market that a manufacturer would be in a position to differentiate their products if they have the option for no Windows.

    I do not know what is your involvement in the open-source community; in the forums that I participate in and the users that I talk to, I see demand for non-Windows computers.

    Regarding the last sentence in your last reply, I can only say that I am surprised that you end up expressing yourself in that way.

  • cheap computers

    I guess there is already some prior knowledge with the sales personnel that large organisations do not need the pre-installed Windows software.

  • warren crossing

    rjtech.com also do laptops without os option. I think the point is that if buyers discover they are paying 200USD for Microsoft then they would want to know what the alternatives are. At this point buyers still believe that Microsoft is the computer.

  • cheap computers

    There is already some prior knowledge with the sales personnel that large organisations do not need the pre-installed Windows software.

  • KD

    Windows-less laptops are an awesome idea. It’s a shame they’re too hard to come by, thanks to the OEMs’ deals with MS.

  • larioxem

    Too bad that Dell decided to stop shipping Ubuntu laptop/PC not only on the US but on other countries as well.

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