Microsoft to say no to Windows refund requests

Open source software enthusiasts in five countries plan to ask Microsoft in the US today for a refund for Windows software that came bundled with their PCs. They say they haven't used the software, and claim that a clause in their end-user license agreement entitles them to their money back.

But Microsoft won't be writing anyone any checks, Rob Bennett, group product manager for Microsoft Windows, warned. Microsoft instead will provide information on how to reach computer manufacturers, he said.

"It's fairly clear that if a customer does want to request a refund on the version of Windows that comes with their PC that they should contact their PC manufacturer," Bennett said. "It's funny. These customers have bought Windows PCs and it's almost like being surprised that the cherry pie you bought has cherries in it."

Events planned include a peaceful demonstration at Microsoft's offices in Foster City, California, where organisers say hundreds of users will gather to request refunds. Other activities are planned in New York and Southern California, as well as in New Zealand, France, Japan and the Netherlands, organisers say.

Momentum has been gathering behind "Windows Refund Day" ever since an Australian notebook user apparently secured a $US110 refund from Toshiba Systems for Windows software that came bundled with his Toshiba Satellite notebook PC. The problem, according to critics, is that it is extremely hard for users to buy a PC that doesn't come bundled with Windows, even if they don't plan to use it.

But Microsoft's Bennett argued that there are manufacturers that offer PCs with other operating systems, even Linux. "I think there is some confusion . . . that there's not choice out there and in fact there is an abundance of choice out there," he said.

Organisers of Monday's event say terms of the end-user license agreement distributed with Windows software entitles them to a refund. Essentially, the agreement states that if users don't agree with Microsoft's licensing terms they should "promptly contact PC Manufacturer for instructions on return of unused product(s) for a refund."

"This is coming from all the open source users who are reading their software licensing agreement, finding they are entitled to a refund, and then finding they have to jump through all sorts of hoops to get it," said Donald B. Marti Jr., cofounder of Linux marketing company Electric Lichen and organiser of the Foster City protest.

Users of Linux, FreeBSD, NetBSD, OpenBSD and other open source software programs are invited to attend the events. They are asked to bring their Microsoft Windows original disks, manuals and authenticity certificates which will be presented to Microsoft.

Organisers, who also include Eric Raymond, author of an open source manifesto called The Cathedral and the Bazar, and Larry Augustin, president and CEO of VA Research Linux Systems, say the activities aren't intended to cause trouble or embarrass Microsoft.

"It's not about whether Microsoft's products are good or bad," said Marti. "It's definitely about the money."

The open source community has become increasingly vocal in its criticism of Microsoft and other commercial software vendors. Open source refers to software for which the underlying code is made freely available and can be modified by users to suit their needs. Improvements are built back into the original program, which makes it the preferred method for software development, proponents say.

By contrast, the source code for many commercial programs like Windows is kept a closely guarded secret. Commercial software vendors say their software is more stable and better supported.

Marti has high hopes that Microsoft will start forking out refunds on the spot when users in Foster City are individually present their unused software and ask for a refund today.

"We expect Microsoft to take a stack of checks, stick them in the laser printer and do the right thing," he said.

Information on the organised events, including links to foreign-language Web sites, is on the Web at http://hugin.imat.com/refund/.

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James Niccolai

PC World

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