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What’s Cheaper: Free Software, Or Pirated Windows?

Ask anyone who regularly downloads movies, software and music without paying for any of it. Ask them what they find to be cheaper, Microsoft Windows or Linux. If they really think about it, they’ll tell you that Windows is cheaper, because both of them are free, and free Windows is coming in at a huge discount.

The fact of the matter is that, in the home, software piracy is rampant. It’s why software that sells to businesses continues to grow (Office, Adobe Creative Suite) while games sales keep dropping and Microsoft Works is given away for free. So many people use file sharing networks, get copies from a friend, or even buy $400 computers pre-loaded with thousands of dollars of software. They view it as a way of life.

Dave Gutteridge has a great article titled Windows is Free explaining how Linux has a practically impossible time competing with Windows because anyone who’d switch on price can just pirate Windows. For many home users, Windows is as free as Linux, and from a cost/benefit position, Windows is cheaper.

Does Microsoft condone piracy? Not in a public way, of course, but supposedly it’s really easy to pirate even Windows Vista (haven’t tried yet, I got a copy through official channels), and that should tell you enough. There has to be an impenetrable means of protecting Windows, but Microsoft, the biggest software company on the planet, hasn’t found it yet? Not only isn’t it a priority, but if Windows piracy were too difficult or impossible, Microsoft would be handing users to Linux.

Look at Microsoft literature on Windows Geniune Advantage. It isn’t about watching your kids, not using CD-Rs, avoiding file sharing networks, and stopping personal piracy. No, Microsoft warns against retailers that pre-load PCs with counterfeit copies of Windows, investigates and raids warehouses filled with thousands of pirated Vista CDs, and pretty much focuses on piracy cartels, not users.

Honestly, if you didn’t have the money, would you pirate Windows? If you did have the money, would you pirate it anyway, either for political reasons, out of laziness, or just because you never buy software? My current laptop came with Windows XP Media Center, and the first thing I did when I got it was download Office 2003. Earlier this year, I received a copy of Windows Vista and Office 2007, paid for at a reduced rate but bought legally from Microsoft for review purposes.

I didn’t pirate my current software, but I can’t say I wouldn’t have if I had to buy it full price. If I felt truly guilty (get some friends at Microsoft, then try pirating; it’s not so easy), I’d buy the OEM version of Vista off Newegg, but I’d certainly download Office, considering that the version I needed cost as much as four electric bills, and I need to pay my damn electric bill.

I can’t say I like piracy. I know how hard people work to make the software, and I’d hate to see them suffer in poverty (even though that’s a gross over-dramatization, it’s how I feel, not what I know). I am so grateful that I can give away my content for free, supported by advertising, but that option isn’t available to everyone.

Thankfully for everyone, piracy makes sense from a competitive standpoint. If Microsoft wants to keep its lead as an operating system maker, it needs piracy to discourage use of Linux, and increase the enormous gulf between the cost of Windows and the cost of Mac OS. In a perfect world for Microsoft, Microsoft has its operating system installed on every single computer, and Microsoft gets paid for it as much as the market will bear. Thanks to piracy, that is actually possible.
(via Slashdot)

Images from Flickr under Creative Commons by PixEmonkey, robotson, c3o, Irman Fauzi and Interrobang

August 16th, 2007 Posted by Nathan Weinberg | Linux, Windows, General | 3 comments

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  1. I think you’re way off base, at least in your implication that many home users pirate Windows. Why would they have to do such a thing? They buy a PC that comes with a Windows license. Most consumer-level PCs these days come with a sticker on them that lists the Windows license key.

    What possible reason could these users have to pirate Windows when they already have a license?

    If you’re talking about getting a copy of the media in case they need to do a reinstall, then maybe. But it seems easier to burn a ‘recovery disk’ as to snoop around on ‘warez’ sites looking for a place to d/l a potentially altered iso of a Windows cd.

    Comment by Pete S | August 16, 2007

  2. When my parents upgraded the hardware in their Windows 95 PC, they picked up a copy of Windows 98. They could have stuck with their existing copy of Windows, but they wanted the latest version. I suspect that thousands, if not millions of Windows XP users will pirate Windows Vista to get a free upgrade. Users who have a free license view it as a license they paid for, and will often not pay to get any other version of Windows on that PC.

    My parents are having problems with their PC, and want to re-install Windows. They have their product key, but not their install disk, so they’ll probably eventually download a copy of XP from bit torrent. They might download XP Home, which they have a license for, or go all out and download XP Media Center, just because it makes no difference to them at this point reinstalling the legal copy or the pirated one.

    Home users pirate Windows. I see it all the time. You’d be shocked how many people I know that casually pirate, and that’s in a white, middle-class suburban community.

    Comment by Nathan Weinberg | August 17, 2007

  3. My mom recently had computer problems. Her Windows wouldn’t boot anymore. After having done quite some tech support for her already, I suggested I give her a Kubuntu CD. To my surprise, she agreed to me installing Kubuntu on her computer, as her only operating system. I rescued a lot of her data (so far she doesn’t seem to have lost anything at all), and am helping her get used to it. She was already using Thunderbird, so when it comes to that, it was easy.

    Her computer was an oldie they bought off a local auction site, I think. It came without a license, but with a working installation of XP Professional. After the crash, she’s been using a “genuine” Kubuntu 7.04 Desktop edition.

    She’s using a licensed operating environment now, but I’m pretty sure the computer would have been reinstalled with Windows if I hadn’t jokingly referred to my free Kubuntu CDs, and I’m not sure that installation would’ve been licensed.

    She’s still pretty satisfied with it, and in case of extreme vendor lock-in emergencies, we also have a XP MCE (2005?) OEM license that came with our HP computer. Not that it’d be easy using that one, since my brothers use it all the time…

    Her computer is still an oldie, but she seems to be pretty satisfied with her new operating environment.

    I think you’re right, Nathan, for some people the choice is actually between Free and Open-Source Software or a “pirated” Windows.

    Comment by Tim | August 17, 2007

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