Culture

Group of PC users wants Windows refund

The Windows Refund Center wants reimbursements for PC users running a non-Windows operating system--Linux, mostly--for the cost of their pre-installed OS.

Some PC users believe they have discovered a loophole in Microsoft's licensing which entitles them to a refund--and are trying to entice others to join them in their quest for reimbursement.

The Windows Refund Center is spearheading the effort to reimburse PC users running a non-Windows operating system for the cost of their pre-installed OS. The site tracks the months-long battle of one user, Geoffrey Bennett, who says he successfully lobbied for a refund from Toshiba, his notebook manufacturer.

Several campaigns are being waged among Linux users confident that Microsoft's own end-user license agreement guarantees a complete refund in the case that the Windows operating system pre-loaded on the PC is never used. To publicize the movement, these groups have declared February 15 "Windows Refund Day."

Admittedly motivated by the possibility of a nice-sized check from Microsoft, the organizers say the larger goal is to bring public attention to the open source movement and to Microsoft's licensing agreements with PC makers that preclude hardware vendors from loading non-Windows operating systems.

"A lot of the people involved want a refund on principle," said Matt Jensen, Webmaster for the Windows Refund Center site and a Seattle-based Linux user. "My longer term goal would be to have Microsoft change its licensing so they don't force companies to bundle Windows."

The Linux activists claim that this clause in the Windows user agreement entitles them to the refund:

"If you do not agree to the terms of this [agreement], PC Manufacturer and Microsoft are unwilling to license the software product to you," according to a copy of the Windows end user licensing agreement, "and you should promptly contact PC Manufacturer for instructions on return of the unused products(s) for a refund."

Microsoft confirms that the clause is included in the user agreement, but says it has not yet received any refund requests, and suggests that interested parties contact their PC makers about reimbursement. "Customer satisfaction is very high," said Tom Pilla, a Microsoft spokesman.

"This is a PR activity launched by Unix enthusiasts, and it's up to the OEM to handle any requests for refunds," Pilla said, stressing Microsoft's position that PC makers are free to ship PCs with "whatever operating system they choose."

Linux users are attempting to get the refund money from Microsoft rather than individual PC makers in an effort to simplify the process, according to Don Marti, co-founder of Electric Lichen LLC and a participant in the refund event, which includes a visit to Microsoft's office in Foster City, California.

"It's all going to happen very smoothly," he said. "We are not looking for a bunch of software pirates to show up and claim they're not using Microsoft products when they really are."

Every interested user must produce the original installation CD-ROM, the original user's manual, and certificate of authenticity, Marti said. Many of the event's logistics are still being worked out, he added, so interested Linux users should visit the Windows Refund Center or the Bay Area refund site for more details in the coming weeks.

Although the idea and the event were only conceived in the last couple of days, traffic to the Windows Refund Center has skyrocketed, according to Jensen.

Jensen estimates that the site, which was launched in response to a discussion on Slashdot.org, has generated about 200,000 hits since it went public earlier this week. The increased traffic has not slowed the site down though, he said. "It's running Linux."