Vista: an inquest
Before I dive into Vista’s bugs and problems, there’s the small matter of the money to deal with. I point my web browser at www.amazon.com and find it’s selling Vista Home Premium (full package) for $239.95, while the very same item at www.amazon.com comes in at a list price of £219.99, luckily discounted down to £187.48.
That US price is the equivalent of £124 converted at today’s rate. I accept there are matters like VAT in the UK, and that sometimes sales and state tax are levied in the US, both of which can confuse the issue a little. But there’s no doubt that the UK price for Vista is getting on for 50% higher than the US price, and it’s hard to come up with any reasonable justification for this. Of course, Microsoft has to take a longer-term view about likely currency rate movements when setting its prices, as it can’t change the Vista pricing on a weekly basis. In the past, I’ve loudly criticised other vendors for their rapacious pricing in the UK, mainly Adobe, and so it’s only fair the same criticism be applied to Microsoft in this case. Look at Vista Ultimate: $399.95 in the US, £369.99 listed on Amazon UK (with a discount to £313.48). That’s getting on towards pound-for-dollar pricing, which is unacceptable these days when the exchange rate hovers close to two for one.
Microsoft might say, with some justification, that Vista Ultimate needs to be pricey because of all the new features on offer. You can’t compare it to XP Professional because of all the Media Center bits, nor to XP Media Center because of all the domain administration, BitLocker and similar components. All of this is undoubtedly true, and I’d expect Vista Ultimate to cost more than the previous version of XP, but that still doesn’t explain the gross price difference between territories.
Things get even more complex when you scroll down the list of available products at Amazon.co.uk. What’s this, “Microsoft Windows Vista Ultimate OEM/OEI” package for £119.99? It appears this version “intended for system builders and small OEMs (Original Equipment Manufacturers) who manufacture computer systems and preinstall Microsoft OEM system builder software onto those systems” is just a one-click purchase nowadays. Am I really to believe that my local computing shop, which assembles new computers from components, is going to buy its OEM editions of Vista Ultimate through Amazon? The mind boggles. Of course, there are licensing restrictions on what you can do with the OEM/OEI version if you’re a genuine OEM – you must supply technical support to the end user, for example, and clearly stick your contact details onto the case of the computer. The install can only go onto one machine because it becomes tied to that motherboard, and you get no manuals or packaging, but that’s a small price compared to the almost £200 saving.
It’s hard to know what to recommend here. Not only do we have a significant price difference between the US and the UK, we also have OEM products being openly sold through one of the biggest online retailers. So why would anyone buy the full Vista Ultimate retail package for £369.99 when they can have the same thing for one-third of that price? All right, it isn’t “the same thing”, the licensing is different, but does anyone give a stuff about that at the end of the day? I’m not going to venture down the thorny path of condoning mass piracy – theft is theft, and that’s plain and simple – but there’s now a vast grey area, brought about by the sheer confusion and flood of choices.