Windows Price Ruling Not Enough, Says French Consumer Group

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A French electronics retailer must display separately the price of computers and of the software bundled with them, a Paris court ruled Tuesday. It stopped short of ordering the retailer to sell computers without bundled operating system software, however.

The ruling did not satisfy UFC-Que Choisir, the consumer rights group that brought the case, however. It had asked the court to enforce legislation forbidding retailers from making the purchase of one item conditional upon the purchase of another, but the court took no action on that point.

UFC-Que Choisir said it will appeal the decision, fighting for consumers' right to buy a computer and operating system separately, or to choose the software they want when buying a new computer. In practice, the vast majority of PCs sold in France, as elsewhere, come with Windows installed.

The ruling will give little comfort to those wanting to buy a PC on which to run Linux: they will still have to pay for Windows, although they will at least know exactly how much they had to pay for it.

UFC-Que Choisir filed suit in 2006, asking the court to investigate linked sales by electronics retailer Darty, supermarket chain Auchan and PC manufacturer Hewlett-Packard.

In Tuesday's ruling, the judges accepted Darty's arguments that it was in consumers' interests that computers be sold with an operating system already installed, but the consumer group disagreed.

"The real interest of consumers is in their power to choose between a computer with installed software, or a bare computer, given that their preference may change with time, and according to their needs and the available equipment."

The judge did side with the group on one point: that Darty must display separately the price of its computers, and of the software installed on them.

UFC-Que Choisir points out that the retailers claimed not to know the price of the software installed on the PCs they sell, which is determined by agreements between PC manufacturers and software publishers.

The group called on trading standards officers to closely monitor Darty's compliance with that part of the ruling.

Not everyone was unhappy about the court's decision to enforce rules on price display.

"The ruling is an important first step," said Frédéric Couchet, spokesman for April, a group promoting and defending free and open-source software.

Displaying software prices will help dispel the erroneous belief of many consumers that the copy of Windows installed on their new PC is free, even though the cheapest version really costs at least €100 (US$155), Couchet said.

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