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Does Microsoft Violate the First-sale Doctrine?

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Summary: Microsoft's practices in sub-notebooks raise more questions about illegality

WE recently showed that Intel and Microsoft had probably colluded in order to assassinate sub-notebooks as an attractive choice [1, 2]. The evidence is sparse, but it is extensive. As the Managing Editor of Linux Today puts it, "Why are two monopolies allowed to dictate what a netbook is allowed to be like?" She links to this page from PC Magazine which says:

It's no secret that Intel and Microsoft have a firm grip on what a netbook may or may not use in terms of features and parts; hence the many look-alikes in this pervasive category. But there are a handful of them that are considered exceptions to the rules handed down by Wintel.


Another new article from PC Magazine is titled "5 Netbooks Microsoft Has Crushed"

To quote:

Think most netbooks have single-core processors, 1GB of RAM, and a 160GB hard drive because their manufacturers like conformity? Right. The reality -- never officially acknowledged -- is that Microsoft doesn't cheaply license its operating systems to netbooks with specs that are too good (see the limitations at TechARP). The result, as evidenced by the looming retirement of Dell's Mini 12, is tiny netbooks with lesser hardware than full-sized laptops.

A handful of laptops, including the Mini 12, have broken the mold, but they all pay the price in some way. Here's a list of naughty netbooks that Microsoft is crushing with its hardware limitations...


An obvious victim of this is GNU/Linux. But according to a third new article from PC Magazine, "Dell Looks to Linux to Expand Netbook Presence"

In an effort to expand its Linux offerings, Dell is researching new netbook-type devices and will soon offer netbook Linux OS upgrades, a company official said on Wednesday.

The company is researching the possibility of offering new Linux-based mobile devices called smartbooks, said Todd Finch, senior product marketing manager for Linux clients, at the OpenSourceWorld conference in San Francisco. The company will also upgrade its Ubuntu Linux OS for netbooks to the latest version in the next few weeks, he said.


As people may recall, Dell more or less accused Microsoft of lying about GNU/Linux-powered sub-notebooks. That was a few days ago and we are finding new examples of GNU/Linux success in Dell's sub-notebooks.

There are many reasons that this is news. Dell is the quintessential user computing device vendor. They have a well recognized brand and off and on, have courted Linux on the desktop. Linux has a lower acquisition cost for a hardware vendor -- and on a $300 computing device, there isn't a lot of margin.

Barring all of that strategic schpew -- the fact is, my wife uses an Ubuntu laptop and seems to have taken to the netbook with a minimum of fuss. I use her viewpoint as an indicator of sorts. She doesn't hold much back in terms of criticism -- if it sucks I'm going to hear about it in short order. She's not a technology lightweight -- she uses facebook, email and web browsing as good or at a higher competency than all but my tightest technological contacts -- but she's not a programmer or IT type.


"I booted up Linux on a my cousin's computer and she didn't even notice," writes Fewa. "Just click on Firefox icon and was off. The netbook sellers just need to go back to Linux."

MinceR argues that "Dell won't do that," but Fewa -- pointing at the articles from PC Magazine -- insists that "Microsoft needs to be prosecuted for this clearly anti-competitive act. It clearly violates the first-sale doctrine at least."

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