Linux a Gateway to Windows Piracy?

CNet News is reporting a Gartner Group study that says as many as 40% of Linux desktops are being purchased to use pirated versions of Windows. This is especially true in developing countries where Windows piracy is rampant.

The first reaction may be to snicker at Microsoft, but there are a few problems here. The problem for Linux is it seriously skews desktop usage numbers. Any reports about Linux on the desktop will be at question because people (especially Linux detractors) will wonder how many of those shipped units were actually wiped and loaded with pirate Windows. Vendors, at least, are still getting paid for their hardware and any Linux documentation or support that comes with the boxes, but this may also make it difficult for them to pitch Linux to retail chains in countries like the US, where chains won’t want to be associated with piracy and probably won’t bother to sell an OS that it looks like nobody’s using.

Microsoft’s solution unfortunately contributes to the problem. They’re selling their stripped-down “Starter Edition” of Windows in India and a few other countries. This Starter Edition is essentially crippleware: networking is disabled, and only three programs/windows can be open at any given time. Prices have been quoted around US$36.00, which is still more than most of these people can afford. Why should they buy crippleware when they can get a full-featured pirated copy for a buck in some corner market?

With a little luck, the 60% of users keeping Linux on their machines will spread the good word and the pirated numbers will decline. For now, though, it looks like it’s a lose-lose situation for both arenas.