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Microsoft denies Linux users refund

February 18, 1999
Web posted at: 12:55 p.m. EST (1755 GMT)

by Judy DeMocker


(IDG) -- Linux users came to Foster City, they saw a Microsoft spokesperson, but they did not get a refund for their unopened copies of Windows 98.
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As a best-case scenario, the open source software community had hoped Windows Refund Day would unite a critical mass of people demanding compensation for having to swallow the cost of a Windows license with the purchase of every new PC and laptop.

Participants branded the grassroots event a success in terms of the media attention it garnered, but at the end of the day Microsoft showed no signs of taking any financial responsibility for the refunds, which it insists will be issued at the discretion of PC manufacturers.

Demonstrators see the problem differently, and believe Microsoft isn't living up to its own End User License agreement

"The point is not to start a lawsuit or say that Microsoft Windows sucks," said Nick Moffitt, a spokesperson for the quasi-official Linux group, Cabal, or Consortium of All Bay Area Linux. "We're just saying we're entitled to a refund. So here we are."

The ragtag band of roughly 100 programmers and system administrators made their demands atop a parking garage in Foster City, CA. Microsoft spokesman Rob Bennett told the protesters they were barking up the wrong tree, and that Microsoft couldn't resolve the issue even if it wanted to.

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"The PC makers are going to have to make their own decision how they're going to handle this based on their own business needs," said Bennett, group product manager for Microsoft Windows. "It's not something that Microsoft can dictate."

PC manufacturers such as Dell, Gateway, Compaq, Hewlett-Packard and IBM were not immediately available for comment. But a call to Dell's customer service line yielded some information on Dell's policies: Because of its testing procedure, Dell does not ship any system without an operating system installed. It does not provide rebates on the operating system because it must be installed when the system ships. And it does not install any operating system but Windows 98 or Windows NT. If customers choose not to accept any part of the system hardware or software, they can return the entire system within 30 days for a refund.

All of these policies, Microsoft insists, have nothing to do with its financial and business arrangements with its hardware partners, agreements which are under nondisclosure. The software giant did not reveal whether it does now or will in the future reimburse its hardware partners for the cost of unused and unsold software licenses.

Microsoft's Bennett simply reiterated his previous statement that PC makers are free to ship any operating systems or software they wish on their systems, and that the license agreement for Windows software makes PC vendors, not Microsoft, responsible for providing refunds for sales of unused software.

Tired of the runaround

The issue won't end here, open source advocates say. And they're tired of getting the runaround from Microsoft and PC vendors alike.

"You're sending us to go talk to the PC manufacturers and the PC manufacturers say go talk to Microsoft," said Eric Raymond, open source advocate and author of the The Cathedral and the Bazaar, a paper that set out the framework for the open source movement. "How are we supposed to get our refund?"
Raymond led a group of 100 Linux users on a march to Microsoft's office in Foster City, California  

Others termed yesterday's demonstration a "penguin Jihad," and hope that ongoing activities in the open source community, such as monthly installfests, will over time wear a chink in Microsoft's armor.

Optimists believe it may be months, not years, before Linux sees a growth spurt on the desktop to match its current success on the server.

"It'll be six months before Linux really hits the desktop," said Chris DiBona, director of Linux marketing at VA Research, a reseller and integrator of products that use open source software.

Since last November, DiBona has seen VA Research's business double and the demand for Linux-based servers skyrocket. Market segments that require stability and efficient file and print services -- ISPs hosting scalable Web applications and technical installations that run customized and compute-intensive programs -- are turning to Linux.

He says he expects desktop application vendors will soon show more enthusiasm for porting their software to Linux. Companies like Corel, with its WordPerfect Office suite, and financial packages sellers Baan, PeopleSoft, and Oracle, will give the Linux movement momentum on the desktop and a richer set of applications to lob at the Microsoft empire, he said.

To cap off the event, which ended uneventfully after two hours, the group stood in the courtyard of the Foster City office complex, pointed toward the Microsoft offices, and laughed.

This isn't their last laugh. Yet.

Linux users demand Windows refund
February 17, 1999
Maybe Linux should be your next desktop OS
February 4, 1999
Windows license opens door for Linux refund
January 25, 1999
Group seeks refunds for bundled versions of Windows
January 22, 1999

Participant's first-hand account of the event, including photos
Windows Refund Effort
Eric Raymond's The Cathedral and the Bazaar
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