Microsoft wants to meddle in ULCPC designs

IDG News Service has secured documents showing that Microsoft is meddling in PC hardware designs of ultra low-cost PCs

(ULPCs). Microsoft wants PC makers to agree to Microsoft's hardware limitations in exchange for very low prices on XP to ship with the PCs. The company says it will charge PC makers $26 for Windows XP Home Edition for ULPCs sold in emerging markets such as China and India, and $32 for those sold in developed markets, the documents show. However, PC makers who are eligible for Microsoft's Market Development Agreement, may be able to get discounts of as much as $10 off those prices, IDG News Service reports.

Microsoft hopes the big discounts will make XP an attractive alternative to Linux for ULPCs. Now here's the catch -- to be eligible, the PC vendors must limit screen sizes to 10.2 inches and hard drives to 80G bytes and they cannot offer touch-screen PCs. The story further reports:

Besides limits on the screens and hard drives, to be eligible, the systems can have no more than 1G byte of RAM and a single-core processor running at no more than 1GHz. The program makes an allowance for some chips, including Via Technologies' C7-M processors, which run between 1.0GHz and 1.6GHz, and Intel's upcoming Atom N270.

The hope is that this deal will keep ULPCs from taking away market share from the more expensive variety that would be running Windows Vista. These are fairly reasonable requirements for the design of ULPCs. However it is not for Microsoft to demand such things. A hardware maker should be free to build the best PC it can for its target market and not be forced into maintaining an artificial status quo so that the operating system maker can protect its cash-cow business.

And the thing is, PC makers are free. They need Microsoft less and less. The more Microsoft behaves in ways that puts its own interests ahead of the customer and partner, the more motivated the entire market is to put resources into Linux and the open-source movement.

Dangling XP as a carrot is a futile gesture, too. The so-called popularity of XP has less to do with how great XP is (or Windows in general for that matter) and more to do with a backlash from users who are angered by an operating system too loaded down with gadgets that it grabs an unnecessary measure of resources and/or performs poorly. Those PC makers interested in the ULPCs market would also be just as likely to be interested in desktop Linux and the cost benefits of the open source applications available for it. (Would a customer who only spent $300 on the PC want to spend $100 - $150 on Office productivity software for it, for instance? Or would that customer prefer pre-loaded freeware like

Microsoft needs to put less energy into manipulating situations to protect its turf and more energy into improving its products and services in ways that benefit the user.

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