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Linux art stunt takes jab at Microsoft

A Linux credit card company hopes a publicity stunt will help raise a little money while poking fun at Microsoft software licensing policies.

A Linux credit card company hopes a publicity stunt will help raise a little money while poking fun at Microsoft software licensing policies. sells credit cards emblazoned with the Linux penguin mascot--has launched a program called "Expose Microsoft to Art." The stunt is meant as a jab at the Windows licensing agreement that has irked users of the upstart, open-source operating system.

The licensing issue became a concern with people who had bought computers with the Windows OS installed, but never used Windows. According to the terms of the Windows license agreement, they argued, they should be eligible for a refund for their unused software.

But the Windows license protest has been de-clawed somewhat since it arose last year. Numerous smaller manufacturers have begun selling Linux computers, mainstream giants such as Dell Computer offer Linux preinstalled, and some companies such as the Linux Store offer systems that boot into both Windows and Linux.

Benjamin Cox, founder of LinuxFund and organizer of the art stunt, described how the project works: First, people who buy computers with Windows preinstalled but who don't want to use Windows send their licenses and CD containing the software to LinuxFund. LinuxFund will then divvy out the licenses and the CDs to people who sign up so they can turn them into art projects for a contest.

The art projects will be unveiled in February at the LinuxWorld Expo.

"Basically, people mail us their Windows license, and we give them a competitive upgrade to Linux. We donate their license to the community, and art will be made out of that," Cox said. "We really want to change what [Microsoft is] saying, or cough up the money."

Microsoft representatives weren't available for comment on the art project, but the Redmond, Washington, software company isn't standing still as Linux fans rally against their nemesis. This week, the company publicized its new Linux Myths Web site, incurring the wrath of Linux fans.

Cox hopes the art stunt will net him another few thousand credit cards. He currently has more than 1,000 active accounts--including one from Linux leader Linus Torvalds, he said.

His business works by diverting a fraction of each charge made on the credit cards to the Linux Fund. Eventually, part of the proceeds will be used to fund Linux development projects and scholarships. Cox signed a deal for the cards through MBNA, a bank that provides credit cards tailored to appeal to fans of everything from the National Football League to Star Trek.

With the rising popularity of Linux and the successful IPO of Linux seller Red Hat, a new breed of entrepreneurs has sprouted up around the open-source operating system. But Cox denies he's trying to exploit Linux while not giving anything back.

"I'm not making a buck off the Linux movement," he said. His project pays the rent, but it also is set up to support worthy projects, he said.

Cox said he'll begin taking applications for Linux development projects beginning in November and hopes to start distributing money on January 1.

Some customers, such as Geoffrey Bennett, went through contortions to get the refund. Bennett was denied a refund three times, but he eventually prevailed and received a check for 110 Australian dollars, about $73.

Microsoft's end-user license agreement, or EULA, states in part, "If you do not agree to the terms of this EULA, PC Manufacturer and Microsoft are unwilling to license the software product to you. In such event, you may not use or copy the software product, and you should promptly contact PC Manufacturer for instructions on return of the unused product(s) for a refund."

During one Windows Refund Day event earlier this year, the Microsoft response said that customers must contact the PC manufacturer if they want to try to get a refund. "The license agreement that accompanies the version of Windows preinstalled on new PCs clearly states that if users for some reason choose not to agree to that license, they should contact their PC maker to address this issue," Microsoft said.

The contest also is sponsored by Linux Mall and Penguin Computing.