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3/2/2007
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Free Software Foundation Urges Computer Makers To Replace Windows Vista With Free OS

The FSF sent five proposals to Sun Microsystems, HP, and Dell in January that would aid in the spread of free operating systems.

The Free Software Foundation, taking advantage of what it says is the rejection of Microsoft's Windows Vista operating system, is urging major computer hardware manufacturers to offer consumers computers without any operating system or with a free GNU/Linux OS.

"We see Microsoft Vista as being a failure," said Peter Brown, FSF executive director, in an interview Friday. "People aren't buying new hardware because of Vista."

Brown says five proposals designed to encourage hardware manufacturers to work with the free software community were sent to Sun Microsystems, Hewlett-Packard, and Dell for comment in January. The paper, titled "The Road To Hardware Free From Restrictions," was publicly released on the FSF Web site this week.

The FSF's suggestions that hardware makers can adopt to aid the spread of free software range from supporting free software drivers and a free BIOS to removing proprietary BIOS locks and rejecting digital rights management systems, which the foundation calls digital restrictions management. Brown says the most important of the five proposals is to convince PC makers to ship machines without an OS or with a free operating system.

Brown believes many consumers want computers without pre-installed operating systems so they can choose a free OS. As evidence, he pointed to Dell's new IdeaStorm site that solicits consumer opinions.

The idea on the Dell site that's generating the most votes by far is, "offer the top free Linux versions for free pre-installation on all Dell PCs." Other top ideas call for "pre-installed OpenOffice" and a "stripped down fast Linux box." OpenOffice is a low-cost and sometimes free office software offering that mimics Microsoft's Office software.

Brown notes that Dell and other hardware manufacturers may offer computers without Microsoft operating systems, but when they do, the hardware is difficult to find and few consumers realize they can purchase a machine without Windows. HP also offers computers without Windows, says Brown.

Shortly after Vista was released, Microsoft said analysts' projections of sales of the operating system had been too optimistic. Later, Bill Gates said the OS was well-received.

The FSF's Brown believes that a new dialog on the issue of Vista versus free OS has started largely because of the FSF proposals. "The manufacturers can act on this quickly," he says. "Our other proposals will require more community involvement."

As things stand now, it's nearly impossible to purchase a computer without pre-installed Microsoft software, says Brown. "The vendors that do offer such systems usually discourage their purchase by hiding them," he says. "Vendors that pre-install GNU/Linux often only list the option for select systems."

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