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Bay Area Windows Refund Day group issues press release

Jan 27, 1999, 00:00 (1 Talkback[s])

SAN FRANCISCO, CA -- Why should we pay for a product we didn't ask for and don't use? That's the logic motivating a group of Bay Area computer users, who next month plan to seek refunds for copies of Microsoft Windows they've never used, but received along with their new computers.

The copies of Windows in question came bundled with the sale of new computers. Microsoft's operating system is frequently pre-installed by computer vendors (original equipment manufacturers or "OEMs") in a practice called "preloading." OEMs claim that preloading Windows is a service to consumers, while non-Windows users have maintained that being made to pay for software they don't use is a needless expense.

Typically, customers are charged for a preloaded copy of Microsoft Windows for each computer they purchase from an OEM, whether that copy of Windows is actually used or not. This fee has been described as the "Microsoft tax," from the implication that Microsoft collects a "tax" on virtually every new computer sold anywhere in the world.

Although many alternatives to Microsoft software exist, most major OEMs still refuse to ship a computer without a preloaded copy of Windows or other Microsoft software. But OEMs are theoretically allowed to give customers a choice of whether or not they want to buy Windows with a new computer; for instance, OEMs could offer a refund to customers who chose not to use Windows.

And Microsoft's "End-User License Agreement" (EULA), a document listing the terms under which software is licensed to customers, contains a provision for just such a refund. A current Microsoft EULA advises customers who decline to accept Microsoft's terms that "you should promptly contact Manufacturer for instructions on return of the unused product(s) for a refund."

Geoffrey Bennett, an Australian computer user, reported last week that he had persuaded a computer vendor there to give him a full refund for his unused copy of the Microsoft Windows operating system. But users here who tried to request such a refund from their computer manufacturers said that the manufacturers claimed unfamiliarity with the refund offer. And a report by David Chun, then an intern at Ralph Nader's Consumer Project on Technology, said in June that not one of the 12 OEMs he contacted was willing to sell him a computer without Windows or to provide a refund for Windows if he used another operating system. As a result, computer professionals here who don't use Windows have decided to ask Microsoft why American OEMs won't honor the offer, and whether Microsoft will make good on the refund clause in the EULA.

Since the manufacturers were "acting as agent for Microsoft," said Rick Moen, a San Francisco computer professional, "we feel it's in Microsoft's, the OEM's, and the users' interest to have this refund handled efficiently, directly through Microsoft, and we are estimating they will agree." Moen added that the Microsoft EULA doesn't merely allow consumers who don't agree to its license terms to return Windows -- it requires them to do so.

To substantiate the legitimacy of their requests, those seeking refunds at the event next month are being asked to bring detailed proof that they have been using some operating system other than Windows on their new computers. "People who really want Microsoft software should pay for it," said Don Marti, an event organizer. "We will have nothing to do with helping them rip Microsoft off."

The group expects to make a formal request for refunds to individual members in a February 15 meeting at Microsoft's offices at 950 Tower Lane in Foster City, CA. Members of the public and the press are invited; exact meeting times for the event will be posted on the Web.

For more information, please consult the Bay Area Windows Refund Day web site at http://hugin.imat.com/refund/.