I went to the PIKOM PC Fair yesterday and I noticed several brands sold with “FreeDOS”. These brands include Acer, Asus, HP, and (I’m told) Dell. None of the sellers seem to know what FreeDOS is, and when asked about it most of them offer to install an unlicensed (illegal) copy of Windows 7 for free with the purchase of the computer. Some even claim that FreeDOS is no operating system and that users need to install Windows.
In the article title, I’m being slightly disingenuous. I know exactly what FreeDOS is. I’ve used it and I like it. It’s an excellent and active free software project, similar in it’s licensing and (lack of) restrictions to most Linux distributions, but that’s where the similarities stop.
FreeDOS has a narrower focus from other operating systems like Microsoft’s Windows, Apple’s OSX, and (everyone’s) Linux. It doesn’t handle audio, video, graphics, or internet connectivity the way we’re accustomed to. It doesn’t even implement the “desktop” metaphor we all depend on. In short, it’s not meant to be anyone’s primary desktop operating system.
So, why are these manufacturers selling computers with FreeDOS?!
I’m guessing that they want to provide a product to consumers who don’t want Microsoft software, but they don’t want to endanger their professional relationship with Microsoft. On one hand, they have consumers who don’t want Microsoft, and on the other hand they are afraid of Microsoft, who doesn’t want Linux. It might seem like a reasonable compromise some marketing executive, but not to me.
Regardless of how I look at it, it’s a bad decision… There is a reasonable expectation that these computers will end up with an illegal copy of Windows, so they’re abusing their relationship with Microsoft. By selling a computer that people can’t use right away, they are abusing their relationship with consumers. And, by installing FreeDOS on these computers as a throw-away operating system, they are exposing it to the wrong audience, disrespecting the effort put into this excellent Open Source Software project, and effectively slandering FreeDOS.
Update 18 March 2011:
I’ve just learned that Ubuntu has an OEM installation option on their Alternate Installation CD and a brief overview provided in their Community Documentation site. This is an especially nice option for owners of small computer shops. I wasn’t able to find a similar option for Fedora or SuSE