I am Paul Taylor, the FT’s personal technology columnist and I welcome questions about gadgets, gizmos, software and services. This is the place to ask personal technology related questions and hopefully get answers in plain English. It is also a home for short, sometimes sharp, reviews and observations about the personal tech industry. Comments and criticism are welcome. Read my latest column on my columnist page.

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July 20, 2009

1. Global electronics pricing


I read your article concerning netbooks in the FT with interest. What caught my eye in your article was, I’m afraid, something totally peripheral to what you were trying to say and caused my jaw to drop to the floor.

UK consumers are quite used to being ripped off by global electronics, software and automobile companies, but the prices you quoted for the Asus and Acer netbooks were truly mind boggling. You mentioned that the Asus EeePC 1008HA costs $400 in the US and £422 in the UK, the Acer A0751h $350 in the US and £371 in the UK.

I can see absolutely no justification for these price disparities. Do you have any idea what companies are trying to accomplish in the UK market?

It could be that the UK consumer is simply more gullible than most, but since virtually all global electronics and software companies seem to price in the same way, the UK consumer doesn’t have much choice.

I apologise for the tone of my e-mail as in this case you’re simply the messenger, but the ongoing victimisation of the UK consumer is incredibly frustrating.

From William J Thomson, Leatherhead, England


I share your bewilderment. Often, when I look up the comparative prices I have to double-check to make sure that I have not misread the UK price or that the specs are the same.

I typically compare online prices using Amazon prices in the UK and US or one of the comparative shopping services like PriceGrabber that operates in both geographies. Sometimes however, I have to use the prices submitted by the companies themselves which do not always reflect the reality of “street” prices.

While I do not pretend to speak for the manufacturers, I know some have made efforts over the years to standardise (consumer) pricing in different markets but have found this very difficult because of fluctuating exchange rates, localisation issues that affect costs and perhaps most importantly, the different structure of retail markets in different geographies.

Since most consumer electronics products (including netbooks) are assembled in China using components manufactured in the Asia-Pacific region, it is reasonable to assume that the cost of manufacturing (and transporting) a product sold in Europe and the US is very similar.

Over and above that, localisation costs – eg the different power plugs needed in different markets – and marketing which is typically controlled by the local or regional sales division do have some impact on the final retail price.

When asked, most electronics manufacturers claim that the big differences in street prices for the same device usually reflect local market factors including the size of the market and retailer margins which are notoriously thin in the US, partly because of the big box stores like Best Buy and Staples.

No doubt the UK retail sector would claim that its margins reflect the relative costs of doing business in Britain including property costs and labour costs. But, as you point, none of this is very comforting for UK consumers.

2. Netbook operating systems


Netbooks, in the light of your FT feature, present interesting possibilities for upgrading old creaky junk (my old PC’s), always provided one can add external keyboards, screens and audio sound cards.

However, you have not addressed the question of the operating system. I have the benefit of running both Microsoft and Apple (I have, in the past dabbled with Linux).

My experience with Apple convinces me that Microsoft’s days are numbered; not only because of Leopard’s excellence but also because of the commercially usable state now reached by Ubunto Linux and the merits of Unix embraced within these two systems.

However, I cannot easily drag myself away from Windows software, mainly because my essential market software, namely Sharescope only runs in Windows, also recording software, namely Wavelab Essential and CD Architect.

I do not wish to go down the route of running MS software in Virtual Memory. I feel there is scope for someone to open a site which provides suggestions for comparable alternatives to PC software, such as my three essentials.

When you are speaking either to Apple or to Linux, could you perhaps drop a word in their ear to that effect. How wonderful it would be to be rid of virus, spy and trojan software and their consequences.

Form Harvey Starey, Ware, England


You make several interesting points though I do not think that Microsoft’s days are really numbered and believe that Windows 7 (which is much better than Vista) will breath new life into the Windows PC market.

Indeed, as you acknowledge there are still many specialised software packages – like Sharescope – that only run on Windows. As you point out, one option for the Mac user is to run these Windows-only programs in virtual memory using software like Paralells Desktop for Mac, but there is a slight performance hit and you may increase your exposure to malware that targets Windows environments.

However, while it is true that Macs and Linux-based machines are less vulnerable to malware attacks, this is in part because from the point of view of cyber-criminals behind most of the current attacks, the Windows market is a much larger and therefore more profitable target.

If Macs continue to increase their share of the market, it is reasonable to suppose that the number and frequency of malware attacks on the Mac user base will increase as well.

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