| By Scott Dunn |
In last week’s issue, I told you how to get great prices on Windows and other software using educational discounts. Unfortunately, not everyone has the credentials to get these discounts.
For those lacking the academic qualifications, Original Equipment Manufacturer (OEM) discounts offer a tempting alternative.
Who can buy OEM software?
In theory, software sold at OEM discounts is intended for the makers of computers to install on their systems before selling the systems to the public. In practice, however, anyone can purchase OEM software. But because of its purpose, the package usually assumes a level of expertise higher than the average software buyer, omitting, for example, instructional manuals and technical support options. I’ll tell you more about that later.
One advantage of OEM products over academically discounted software is that more programs are available in OEM versions. For example, if you’re shopping for a copy of Windows Vista, only the Home Premium Upgrade version is available for academic discounts. But, you can get OEM discounts on nearly every edition of Vista that Microsoft makes. (Note that OEM discounts of upgrade versions are rare, since OEM products are typically intended for new computers.)
In addition, educational discounts are usually limited to a single copy. But you can buy many copies of OEM-discounted products, some of which come in multi-packs that let you save a few dollars more.
Big savings in the U.S. and U.K.
OEM versions of Windows offer substantial savings over the equivalent retail versions. My survey of prices of several online stores in the U.S. showed savings up to 47 percent. (Amounts are averages.)
|Vista Home Premium||$121.26||$230.69||47%|
|XP Pro SP2||$151.07||$275.21||45%|
My survey of online stores in the U.S. showed OEM prices even beat out those of upgrade versions by more than 20%. (Amounts are averages.)
|Vista Home Premium||$121.26||$157.87||23%|
|XP Pro SP2||$151.07||$205.60||27%|
Of course, nobody actually pays an “average” price. To get you started, here are the lowest prices I found as of April 24, 2007 (with links to the online sources I found):
|OEM price (U.S. $)||OEM price (U.K. £ incl. VAT)|
|Vista Home Premium||$119.99||£67.79|
|XP Pro SP2||$126.95||£64.99|
OEM software isn’t without risks and limitations
Products intended to be pre-installed on machines for other customers omit some of the goodies normally included with full versions and have some licensing restrictions as well. For example, OEM software lacks the usual packaging and instructional manuals. But since third-party books on Windows abound, this shouldn’t be seen as a hurdle.
In addition, OEM software usually doesn’t offer any free options for technical support from the software publisher. If you have a problem, you may be able to use paid support or consult one of the many third-party technical support Web sites. Some, such as Experts Exchange, will cost you ($13 a month, or $100 a year). But several of these are free, including the following examples:
• Google Groups
• Suggest a Fix
• Tech Support Forum
• Tech Support Guy
OEM versions of Windows cannot be used to upgrade an existing system. The only option available is a clean install, which, according to one dealer (Tiger Direct), will delete your existing data. For a trouble-free experience, most PC gurus recommend a clean install of new instances of Windows anyway. So the lack of an upgrade option is not necessarily a problem.
The OEM discount also comes with some extra licensing restrictions. In particular, you’re limited to installing the product to a single machine — the license cannot be transferred to another machine. Although it’s normal for Windows to be limited to a single machine at a time, the EULA for retail versions usually permits Windows to be removed from one computer and transferred to another. (See section 14 of this typical Microsoft EULA for XP.)
In many cases, OEM software also comes with a no-refund, no-return policy, even if the package has not been opened. So, make sure you specify the right product at the time you place your order.
Still more ways to save big
OEM and academic discounts are not the only way to trim your software budget. For example, cheaper even than an OEM version is a “work at home” package of Windows XP Pro SP2 available in the U.S. for $105 from Von1. According to Christina Philpot, manager of operations at Von1, the lower price represents a promotion to home and student users — the product is not to be used for businesses.
Reader Chris Miller points out that Microsoft offers a similar deal for Office Home and Student 2007, which includes Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and OneNote. Like the “work at home” XP product, Office Home and Student is for noncommercial home (not business) use. Despite the name, you do not need to have a student in your home to buy this product, according to a Microsoft FAQ. (See question 13.) Microsoft’s suggested retail price in the U.S. is $149.
Last, and most certainly least expensive, here’s a tip from reader Linda Jones. She points out that TechSoup, which coordinates donation programs by software vendors, lets qualified nonprofit organizations purchase software for a substantial discount. For example, U.S. libraries, 501(c)(3) nonprofit organizations, Canadian charitable organizations, and Canadian nonprofits can purchase Windows XP Professional Upgrade with Service Pack 2 for as little as $8. That’s hard to beat.
Scott Dunn is associate editor of the Windows Secrets Newsletter. He is also a contributing editor of PC World Magazine, where he has written a monthly column since 1992, and co-author of 101 Windows Tips & Tricks (Peachpit) with Jesse Berst and Charles Bermant.