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Microsoft offers $5 windfall for errant software

In the depths of its licensing agreement, Redmond promises a wee bit of compensation if its anti-spyware tool messes up your hard drive.

Afraid Microsoft's anti-spyware will muck up your hard drive, erasing your digital photos, music collection and work files?

Don't worry, you've got a $5 rebate coming your way in this worst-case scenario--enough to buy five songs on iTunes. That is, if you read and take advantage of Microsoft's legal promise.

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The company's anti-spyware
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According to the AntiSpyware Beta end-user license agreement (EULA), Microsoft will reimburse direct damages up to $5 for problems associated with the new downloadable tool that wards off spyware, adware and any other "potentially unwanted software."

"It also applies even if Microsoft knew or should have known about the possibility of the damages," states the agreement, in all capital letters.

Most people's eyes glaze over when it comes time to read a software license agreement and simply click "yes" to authorize a new program to install. There are undoubtedly necessary tidbits of knowledge contained in the lines of legalese, such as whether one's privacy will be sacrificed in the name of annoying advertising. Still, most people skip to the end.

Proving the point that EULA's are widely ignored, PC Pitstop recently inserted a "special consideration" clause in its agreement that who sent an e-mail to an address contained in the license. After 3,000 downloads and four months, one person finally took advantage of the offer and received a check in the mail for $1,000, according to the company's Web site.

Microsoft's generosity falls into a slightly different category. The company offered the $5 under its limited liability clause. "You can recover from Microsoft and its suppliers your direct damages up to U.S. $5." However, "you cannot recover any consequential damages, lost profits, special, indirect or incidental damages from Microsoft," according to the EULA.

Microsoft did not immediately respond to a request for comment.