Super User is a question and answer site for computer enthusiasts and power users. It's 100% free, no registration required.

Sign up
Here's how it works:
  1. Anybody can ask a question
  2. Anybody can answer
  3. The best answers are voted up and rise to the top

There's a small little debate going on in a small little corner of right now.

Two households, both alike in dignity,

In fair SuperUser, where we lay our scene,

From ancient grudge break to new mutiny,

Where civil blood makes civil hands unclean.

From forth the combative mouths of these two foes

A new question is born, meek like a doe;

The which if you with patient ears and good answers attend,

What here shall miss, our toil shall strive to mend.

Apple has long been accused of imposing the "Apple Tax" due to them being in control of both hardware and software, and charging a premium (arguably) for Macs - that premium is called the Apple Tax.

Microsoft has been accused too of having a "Windows Tax". From Wikipedia :

A common complaint comes from those who want to purchase a computer without a copy of Windows pre-installed because they intend to use another operating system such as Linux or BSD instead. More recently many other computer manufacturers have begun to offer specific product ranges with Linux pre-installed. These include Lenovo, Dell, Acer, MSI,Intel and others. Nonetheless, all large computer vendors continue to bundle Microsoft Windows with the majority of the personal computers in their ranges. The Findings of Fact in the United States Microsoft antitrust case established that "One of the ways Microsoft combats piracy is by advising OEMs that they will be charged a higher price for Windows unless they drastically limit the number of PCs that they sell without an operating system pre-installed. In 1998, all major OEMs agreed to this restriction." This has been called the "Windows tax" or "Microsoft tax".

Thus, the question posed: Can, and should, Microsoft be accused of a Windows Tax It's actually 2 questions, thus it'll be good if you have two parts to your answer. To simplify that one-line question, I state it more clearly :

  1. Is there even such thing as a Windows Tax?
  2. If yes, should Microsoft be blamed for having a Windows Tax?
  3. If no, should Microsoft be blamed for the perception that there is a Windows Tax"?

I will be offering up 500 bounty points for this question. However, the last time I had a 500 bounty answer, the quality of the answers were... slightly lacking. Hopefully the answers will be more polished this time round.

Also, this time, the answer is not chosen by popular votes like my previous question. This time, I will choose the answer that is most convincing, well-composed, and rational. Weightage will be given to votes as well in deference of the majority's opinion. Feel free to edit your answer as many times as you want.

share|improve this question

closed as not constructive by slhck Dec 3 '12 at 16:12

As it currently stands, this question is not a good fit for our Q&A format. We expect answers to be supported by facts, references, or expertise, but this question will likely solicit debate, arguments, polling, or extended discussion. If you feel that this question can be improved and possibly reopened, visit the help center for guidance.If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

Didn't realise / forgot this was a bounty. Thank you very much!... just read and you said 500 points, I got 275 :S... Anyway, not complaining! I answer to help and the points are a VERY nice extra! so thank you! – William Hilsum Sep 20 '09 at 18:30
@caliban, you should have interacted with this question more. Either Wil or Kevin deserved a chosen response rather than the default half. – hyperslug Sep 21 '09 at 19:05
up vote 11 down vote accepted

I say not a "fair" term.

I sell and assemble computers and if a client wants Linux or anything their heart desires, I will happily not include Windows.

At one point, I sold a few machines with Linux on and it was costing me so much in support, that I decided not to offer it by default and only upon request - people typically snap up a free offer even if they do not understand it, where as the people who request it, actually understand and know what they are doing.

Is it a tax, in the same way as people ask if Microsoft is a monopoly, I have to say no... there is free choice out there. If a company doesn't offer choice or give you the option, come to a company like mine that will be very happy to support and sell non Windows machines in any and every configuration you require!

Has anyone ever bought a Apple machine and managed to get cash back for not agreeing to the EULA? You do know there is actually a special Microsoft code called br99 which is valid and has a name "customer does not accept T&C’s"... It comes with a FULL refund!

The thing is, If you are just a one person (or a few) company, You may think that Windows licence is expensive, but in a business of a few hundred people, Less than £1 per person, per day, really does not make a huge difference when you look at how much they get paid anyway - Things like group policy are real good in business (setting something similar in Linux is not really an experience I want to do again for a long while) - but anyway... I am not here to talk about the benefits of Windows

share|improve this answer
Good point about Apple not having the same return policy vis-a-vis their OS. and also for not expounding the benefits of Windows when it's not valid in this answer. – caliban Sep 11 '09 at 17:43

"Tax" applies when you don't get any more value but have to pay extra.

There is a 7% Sales tax if I buy an item from down the street, but I could get the same item in Vegas without paying that tax. It is non debatable.

There is (sometimes) a $10 price difference in buying a game for the Xbox 360 or PS3 when an identical game costs less on the PC, that's a "Next Gen" tax. This is debatable because the item isn't technically identical.

There is a mark up on Apple products because you can get the same powered hardware elsewhere for a lot less. This is an "Apple Tax" and is debatable, because you can't get identical hardware from someone else.

There is a "Windows Tax" when you buy an OEM system because you can't find an identical system elsewhere. This is hardly a tax because OEM's do sell OS-less versions of a bunch of their hardware, and you don't have to look far to find very-comparable hardware from another OEM. It's debatable because it's still not a 1:1 replacement every time.

share|improve this answer
Ha, finally someone who knows how to use words. +1 – D'Arvit Sep 15 '09 at 11:59

The terms "Apple Tax" and "Microsoft Tax" are similar in structure, but differ in meaning.

When applied to Apple, it usually connotes a "premium in cost, without a corresponding increase in value." In other words, a Mac does the exact same job as a PC, but it costs more. That's the "tax." It's your decision to pay this tax, and if you want to avoid it, simply buy the PC instead. (This happens to be Steve Ballmer's opinion!)

Applied to Microsoft, it has a connotation of "something you are forced to pay against your will." As a consumer, I may prefer to use an alternative OS, but due to Microsoft's monopoly in the marketplace, it is very difficult to find a PC without Windows included with it. If I buy one of these, I am paying a "tax" for an OS that I do not want to buy.

Such a consumer has the option to demand a refund for the cost of Windows, by refusing to accept the EULA. Many retailers make it difficult to do this.

To your points:

Is there even such thing as a Windows Tax?

Yes, the cost of Windows increases the price of most PCs in the marketplace.

If yes, should Microsoft be blamed for having a Windows Tax?

Yes, because Microsoft strongly encouraged PC retailers to include Windows, by offering discounts to retailers that do not offer alternative choices.

The Findings of Fact in the United States Microsoft antitrust case established that "One of the ways Microsoft combats piracy is by advising OEMs that they will be charged a higher price for Windows unless they drastically limit the number of PCs that they sell without an operating system pre-installed. In 1998, all major OEMs agreed to this restriction."

(Quote wikipedia.)

If no, should Microsoft be blamed for the perception that there is a Windows Tax?

Yes, because they created the situation in the marketplace.

share|improve this answer
Could you address certain points in your answer for me : "The cost of Windows increases the price of most PCs in the marketplace." If manufacturers choose not to bundle Windows, then Microsoft will jack up the price, in essence making people who wants Windows with their notebooks pay more. Since these are the majority of consumers, can I not say that this "Windows Tax" actually lower costs? How would you address this line of thought? Think in terms of real taxation, does your answer create a situation where more people get higher taxes whereas only a few benefits from the change? – caliban Sep 11 '09 at 20:30
Also, the other two points - Is it wrong for Microsoft to strongly encourage PC retailers to include Windows? Many other companies does this too, should they be blamed - it's called exclusive distributorship rights. After all Microsoft is a company - there's something MS did wrong, but I can't put a finger to it, and I also don't think this is it. Let me consider your statement. :) – caliban Sep 11 '09 at 20:32
Did MS create the situation, or did the consumers themselves create the situation where Windows become the dominant OS? Anyway, if you think your answer is good enough, leave it be. Of course, do feel free to edit, and +1 for giving me food for thought. Thanks, Kev. – caliban Sep 11 '09 at 20:34
Most PCs use Windows, so its cost is included in the price. Most also use an Intel CPU, and the cost is also included. If you do not want Intel, you choose a computer with an AMD chip instead, and Intel does not get your money. But if you do not want Windows, it is hard to find a PC without it. (It's hard, but far from impossible.) Now, the majority of people want Windows, and getting it included for a lower price is great. It's only the vocal minority who protest, "I do not want to pay the Windows Tax!" – Kevin Panko Sep 11 '09 at 22:07
Microsoft is a monopoly in the OS market, that much is clear. Did this happen because of fair competition in the marketplace, leading to them coming out on top because they had the best product? Or did they compete unfairly to get where they are today? Both the United States and the European Union took Microsoft to court to decide that question. The EU fined them $800 million. – Kevin Panko Sep 11 '09 at 22:28

The Windows Tax was a glass tax which was a significant social, cultural, and architectural force in the kingdoms of England, Scotland and then Great Britain during the 17th and 18th centuries. Some houses from the period can be seen to have bricked-up window-spaces (ready to be glazed at a later date), as a result of the tax.

A similar tax existed in France from 1798 to 1926, the Doors And Windows Tax.

just kidding ;)

Microsoft can be accused of many 'atrocities' but they do not have the power of taxation, thus there cannot be any such thing as a 'Windows Tax'.

Using the term 'Windows Tax' in this context is polemical populism.

But like the English and Scots of old, many of us are looking for hardware without Windows (ready to be glazed at a later date).

share|improve this answer

Can they? Sure. But I don't think they should, just as I don't think Apple should be labeled this way. It's hardly fair to complain that a company makes profits. You know what you pay and you know what you get.

Plus there's the fact that taxes do actually give you some value for money, so the whole metaphor is broken.

share|improve this answer

I don't believe thier is that much of a windows tax or apple tax for that matter. Heres why:

Windows: This is most supported OS on the planet. It supports the most hardware, software and flexibility of options. I guess you could see a little "tax" because it is bundled with most, but that was the companies choice to do that. They have to support whatever they release with their machines and windows is the easiest OS to support. In the end, it comes down to support and what most of their customers will find easier to use.

Apple: I believe there is a little tax involved here, but you are buying a completely custom computer here. Apple spends more on R&D on usability and design than 95% of companies out their. They like to come up with new ideas and stir things up. OS X follows some of the same priciples, plus the power of OS in general is impressive. I think it is just the price of their OS and hardware. They custom design the hardware to the design and support of the OS. They also don't share the same goals as other major tech companies in some terms.

Overall view:

Most people pick a computer that works for them. What kind of computer helps them accomplish the work they want to do in the way they understand? Some people find os x to be very efficient, others find it horrifing. Others love linux variants because of the customization and flexibility. Some people want Windows because that is what they are used to and know how to use. I use XXXX OS because the software that runs my business uses it. In the end, you buy what works for you and only you wether thats for business, corporate, or personal.

share|improve this answer

If “Windows Tax” merely refers to Microsoft’s anti-competitive practices with regard to vendors and bundling, the sentiment behind it isn’t really deserved. One big reason vendors don’t offer much resistance to that policy is that no alternative operating systems would be profitable anyway.

Wil’s point above indicates that Linux is not yet viable as an average household desktop OS in general. Munich, with its over-budget, past-deadline city-wide Linux migration, is making the same point for the office. And there’s really nothing stopping Mom and Pop from ditching Windows and installing Gentoo except that they don’t know how to compile the kernel. It doesn't help that Linux is part of the Open Source culture which in some cases has not welcomed newbies or women.

Apple has a tighter coupling between OS and hardware, but not having the dominant OS marketshare makes all the difference. They have endeared themselves to graphic designers and are making headway into other areas, but are still comfortable with their computer appliance niche. They're still managing, though, to justify their own “Apple tax” moniker (proprietary cables?), but unless they oust Microsoft, it’s not such a big deal.

The lack of choice is actually an advantage. Windows’ domination means standardization across the board. Compare this with the cell phone industry and their complete lack of interoperability. Will your Samsung/LG/Nokia/Motorola/iPhone work on the GSM/CDMA/3G network using T-Mobile/AT&T/Verizon/Sprint/Nextel?

Bottom line, yes, there is a "Windows Tax" that stifles choice somewhat, but vendors and the general public don’t choose the available alternatives because they aren’t compelling enough. Linux distro vendors and Apple have carved out their own niches and are not even marketing hard for a piece of the desktop OS pie. Serious quality/value will overcome any “Windows Tax” out there.

(It’ll be interesting to see how Google Chrome OS does…)

share|improve this answer
The reason Apple doesn't have the dominant OS is because of their tighter coupling. They went the proprietary route and lost their dominance. – Lance Roberts Sep 18 '09 at 20:09

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.