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The End of the "Microsoft Tax"

Today, bowing to customer demand, Dell launched a new series of desktops featuring the free, open-source Ubuntu operating system.

To my knowledge, this is the first time Dell has ever offered any non-Microsoft operating system on their desktops. Until today, it was quite literally impossible to decline the Windows license when you bought a desktop from Dell. If you bought a desktop PC from Dell, you got -- and paid for -- a copy of Windows, whether you wanted it or not. This is commonly referred to as "The Microsoft Tax". Offering a free desktop operating system is effectively the same thing as selling hardware without any operating system.

Whether you're a fan of the latest open source operating systems, or just a fan of plain old-fashioned consumer choice, the end of the Microsoft tax is a win for customers. I was a little worried that Dell would charge extra for the privilege, but it looks like they played fair and square:

Dell Dimension E520 Dell Dimension E520N
CPU Core 2 Duo E4300 1.86 GHz Core 2 Duo E4300 1.86 GHz
RAM 1 GB DDR2 1 GB DDR2
Hard Drive 250 GB 250 GB
Media CD-RW/DVD CD-RW/DVD
Video Integrated Intel GMA X3000 Integrated Intel GMA 950
OS Windows Vista Home Premium Ubuntu Desktop Edition 7.04
$679 $599

The hardware is essentially identical. We can infer that Dell's price for a Windows Vista Home Premium license is $80. An OEM copy of Home Premium runs about $129, so it's cheaper to buy the license from Dell than it is to buy one yourself. But if you have no intention of running Windows, you just saved eighty bucks.

Kudos to Dell for doing the right thing and ending the Microsoft Tax. It's also quite possible today will be looked back on as an important turning point in the history of desktop computing.

Written by Jeff Atwood

Indoor enthusiast. Co-founder of Stack Exchange and Discourse. Disclaimer: I have no idea what I'm talking about. Find me here: http://twitter.com/codinghorror