Strike me pink! Less than a week after OSIA sent its submission to a Victorian Parliamentary inquiry into how Victoria can better engage with open source, Cafuego reports some very concerning goings on to do with the Acer Aspire One, the Victorian Department of Education and Early Childhood Development and apparently discriminatory treatment by the Department of machines loaded with XP compared with those loaded with Linux (when being sold to eligible purchasers).
Somehow it seems that the Acer Aspire One loaded with Linux, a freely available operating system for which no licence fee is payable is $156* (ex GST) more expensive than exactly the same machine** loaded with Windows XP, a closed operating system for which a not-insubstantial licence fee is payable and for which additional inventory costs must be incurred (eg acquiring, tracking and managing those stupid authentication stickers). Scotty might not be able to change the laws of physics, but someone has managed to change the laws of economics. [Update 14/9: I have received second hand reports that the low price is a tender price to Victorian education. That seems unlikely, given how recently the Aspire One has been released (and how long a tender process takes). Rather, there is probably a standing purchasing arrangement that this has been brought under?]
Online prices from LWT tell a similar story. The Acer Aspire One loaded with Linux, is $72 (ex GST) more expensive than exactly the same machine loaded with Windows XP. Well, actually, that’s not entirely true. The Windows XP version is not “exactly the same machine”. That was a lie. It’s actually a higher spec machine with a better warranty service. (The differences for the LWT machines are: Linux/XP: 3 Cell – up to 3 hours vs 6 cell – up to 6 to 7 hours battery life; no HDD/120GB (this may be a typo??); 3 year courier pick up vs 3 year on site warranty; case blue only vs blue or white).
Details of exactly how such steep discounts can be given are unclear at the moment. There are suggestions that this too-good-to-be-true deal is brought to you by the Victorian Department of Education and Early Childhood Development, which is apparently paying a subsidy on the XP loaded versions (and, of course, by the gormless taxpayers of Victoria on whose behalf the Department is spending the money – cheers!).
Maybe we’ll find tomorrow this has all been a big mistake, that there’s a simple explanation to it all. Maybe SSDs are outrageously expensive? Tonight it looks very worrisome. If the Department really is engaging in gobsmacking discrimination against Linux then:
(a) it shows that the value for money fit for purpose metric used by the Government is fatally flawed;
(b) it’s an excellent example of how whole of government purchasing helps create and perpetuate monopolies; and
(c) whoever within the Department thought this was a good idea should be sent to the Reflection Room with a copy of Baxter Healthcare.
In addition, it would be nice if netbook sellers dropped the pretence of trying to hide the cost of the OEM licence for XP. Artificially offering different specs simply to hide the OEM licence price undermines effective price competition. Rather than encouraging this practice, the government should be outlawing it, given that the industry has failed to self-regulate this disclosure.
* This figure is based on Cafuego’s photo of the catalog posted on his blog.
** Actually, not exactly, the XP machine has more memory (1GB v 512MB) and a 120GB hard drive v 8GB flash drive on the Linux version.