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Microsoft tells kids PC charity to pay up

By CNN's Kristie Lu Stout

SYDNEY, Australia (CNN) -- A spat over licensing royalties has erupted between Microsoft and a children's charity group in Australia.

Microsoft Australia is asking the Victoria-based "PCs for Kids" to pay for copies of obsolete Windows operating software installed on the group's supply of used computers.

The non-profit, which has donated used computers to about 10,000 needy children in Australia, Vietnam, East Timor and elsewhere, has been forced to limit its activities due to the licensing infringement.

'Hard loading'

"Our key objective here is just to help kids," PCs for Kids founder Colin Bayes told CNN.

"Microsoft basically closed our operation."

In June and July, PCs for Kids received letters from a Microsoft corporate attorney. The letters accused the charity of illegally "hard loading" Windows 3.11 and Windows 95 onto its refurbished computers.

"You will fully appreciate that Microsoft must insist that you find some other source of software for the PCs which you sell and donate so that these practices do not continue," said a letter dated July 9 from Microsoft corporate attorney Vanessa Hutley.

"But people don't donate computers with the original software," says Bayes. "We work with equipment from the era of 1991 to 1995."

Asking Bill for help

The non-profit appealed to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to ask for a site license to continue its work, in lieu of paying for authorized copies of Windows software.

"Bill Gates sent us a letter saying that they support our objectives and endeavors to bridge the digital divide, but the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation cannot assist us because we are in Australia and copyright laws are different," says the charity group founder.

PCs for Kids then appealed to Microsoft's Australia operations.

"Microsoft in Sydney told us we do not fit any of their current community aid programs and issued a letter to me stating that unfortunately there is nothing they can do to help us," says Bayes.

"Microsoft is adamant we have to find alternative sources of software. Basically, they don't want to have us around."

As a compromise, Microsoft last week agreed to donate 10 refurbished computers and 150 Windows 95 licenses to another charity associated with PCs for Kids.

'We will defy Microsoft'

But the group remains unsatisfied.

"We will defy Microsoft," says Bayes.

"We just want to know why you can't supply refurbishment licenses. Kids shouldn't suffer."

The group is now relying on the kindness of the greater IT community to continue its work.

PCs for Kids will ship 50 refurbished machines to children next week, thanks to members of the IT public who donated old copies of their Windows 95 certificates to the group.

"We will give each system Windows 95 and load a full version of Sun Micro-Systems Star Office which was donated by Sun to pass onto our less fortunate children," reads a statement from the charity group.

The Linux community has stepped in as an agent to assist PCs for Kids maintain operations without reliance on Microsoft products.

"We have just completed training with Linux in Melbourne and are looking at offering children the choice of both," the statement adds.

Another Microsoft software alternative, Apple, also expressed support for the group's efforts.

"Apple has issued a letter supporting our efforts and fully agree that children need assistance with any means of computer technology."

"We will be sending to Tonga another 20 refurbished Apple units early next month."

• PCs for Kids
• Microsoft

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