Recently on the Ubuntu Users mailing list there has been a thread on the ‘Apple TAX’ which started as somebody posting about purchasing an Intel based Apple without OS X, but has developed on to a discussion that seems to be comparing the inclusion by Apple of OS X with their systems to the inclusion by Dell and other PC manufacturers of Windows with their computers. I started off putting together a reply to one of the posts in that thread, but having typed it out I decided not to add fuel to the flames on that thread but to post a blog entry instead.
I may well be about to upset the applecart here, but personally do not see Apple including an OS with their hardware as a TAX. Part of this may be historical in that their platform started out back in the days when the primary development model was to create both hardware and OS in tandem to create a new platform. I’m thinking here of platforms like the Amiga, Atari ST, Acorn Archimedes and even IBM’s original intent with the IBM PC (I suspect). The majority of it, though, is the fact that I do not see it as in my remit to demand of Apple the removal of their freedom to create a product to the
specification that they choose. I would see that as against that basic principles of freedom on which Ubuntu, Linux and other free software is based. Apple have a product, and they have defined that the market they are targeting it at is that of people that want a package deal of a computer built, installed and ready to use. That is completely up to them.
Now you can follow this logic through to the x86 Windows PC market, and yes I would argue that Dell or any other manufacturer is entitled to sell a PC complete with OS if that is the market that they wish to address with their product. Our freedom is not being impinged by this in any way, our freedom is to buy or not to buy the product they provide depending on whether it meets our requirements.
Where I see freedoms being removed is in the grey area of the agreement between a company like Dell and Microsoft, and it is largely grey because of a lack of confirmed information – but plenty of speculation and unconfirmed ‘facts’ . If I contact Dell or any other PC manufacturer and ask to purchase a PC without an OS (or Apple for that matter) and they decline because that is not the product they wish to sell then fine. If, on the other hand, I contact Dell or any other PC manufacturer (the Apple case is not the same) and they cannot sell me a PC without an OS because of the agreement they have with Microsoft which forces them to sell a PC with Windows installed then their freedom not mine has been removed. This is where I personally see the issue of a TAX coming in, and primarily because Microsoft has such a huge market share that it has been difficult for a manufacturer to negotiate a better deal (i.e. one that doesn’t force them to include Windows). On one hand it is within their rights to choose to make that deal. On the other hand it is akin to committing commercial suicide not to at least have Windows as an option (although this may be changing perhaps, slowly).
 I have to be honest with this and say that I haven’t felt inclined to research in detail to see if there is any hard evidence to prove these contracts exist, or whether it is all unconfirmed reports. In practise, however, the end result would seem to support the supposed ‘facts’ though.