Can a Windows PC Really Be Cheaper Than a Linux Box?

It must have been a chilly week in hell last week, because the unthinkable appears to have happened: A Windows PC has been announced that will be cheaper than a Linux one.

That’s right, folks: The Windows XP version of the Asus Eee PC 900 will sell for AU$599 (US$565) in Australia, while the Linux version will cost AU$649 ($612), according to APC Magazine.

Should we expect pigs to take to the air at any moment? Have we entered the Twilight Zone? Or is there something more to this than meets the eye? The Linux blogs were abuzz with debate and speculation.

‘Something Suspicious’

“I suppose this could just be innocent press talk, but it sure sounds to me like there is something suspicious going on,” wrote Thomas Teisberg on the Linux Loop, noting Asus’ reported assertion that Microsoft has been one of its longstanding supporters.

Now, an important point to mention is that the machines in question are by no means identical. The Asus XP model has just 12 GB of storage, while the Linux version has 20 GB.

Nevertheless: “Could 8 GB more flash memory create a significant price difference?” Teisberg asked. “The answer, in a word, is no. It is quite clear that the Windows version is, in fact, significantly less expensive than the Linux version for what you get. This is unacceptable. “

‘Not OK With Me’

It’s just possible, Teisberg noted in an earlier, related post, that “either Asus is absorbing the cost of Windows, or that Microsoft is giving XP to Asus for free.”

If either of those scenarios is the reality, he added, “it is not OK with me.”

By making Windows free, Asus would be giving Microsoft an unfair advantage, Teisberg explained. “The EU should keep an eye on this,” he warned.

‘You’re Wasting Your Time’

“Is it ok to chastise Asus for denying customers the choice of OS independent of HDD size? Yes,” wrote eldavojohn on Slashdot, where more than 300 comments had been made by Friday. “Is it ok to go on a rant about Microsoft’s hidden costs? Definitely.”

On the other hand, “Is it ok to wig out and claim that Microsoft is cutting deals with Asus to insure the downfall of Linux? No,” eldavojohn continued. “You’re wasting your time — spend it more constructively coding open source or lobbying for your company to use open source.”

Indeed, “I wouldn’t be upset with Asus for it since they are in a very precarious position if Microsoft decides to retaliate,” Gerhard Mack, a Montreal-based consultant and Slashdot blogger, told LinuxInsider. “It’s unfortunate, but welcome to the world as it is currently. On the upside, I bet Microsoft’s margins on these are much less than they are used to.”

‘No Can Do’

“As an early adopter of the Asus Eee PC (the 701 model, to be clear), I have this to say to Asus: I understand what is your level of commitment to Xandros Linux on your computers, so I hope you will be happy losing one of your customers,” wrote blind biker on Slashdot. “And perhaps some 10-20% of other potential customers, too.”

The Eee PC “was my first step out of the MS upgrade treadmill nightmare, and you want to pull me right back?” blind biker added. “Sorry, no can do.”

Another point worth noting is the irony “that XP, which takes up more disk space than Linux, is shipping on a model with a smaller disk drive,” Slashdot blogger mhall119 told LinuxInsider. “So not only does the $50 discount get you a smaller disk drive, it also gives you an OS that takes up more of that disk drive.”

Fun with EULAs

Perhaps the best solution appeared on LXer: “I’ll just buy the XP version… and immediately wipe the XP without ever agreeing to the EULA,” mark_oz wrote.

“I’ll then install Mandriva 2008.1 onto the wiped machine, so that I get a faster machine which does not need (and hence won’t be slowed by) anti-virus, and I’ll also get a full suite of applications for zero extra cost,” mark_oz added. “Since I did not agree to the EULA, then according to that same EULA I should be entitled to a refund from whichever mass-market retailer I buy it from.”

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