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
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/.