In its ongoing quest to make sure that no potential Windows revenue source is left untapped, Microsoft is expanding its tentacles deeper into the refurbished PC marketplace.
On November 9, Microsoft launched a new program, the Microsoft Authorized Refurbisher (MAR) initiative, designed to make sure that OEMs, resellers, leasing companies and others who resell refurbished PCs are installing "Genuine Windows Software" on them.
The refurbished PC market is big and growing as fast, if not faster, than the new PC market, said Hani Shakeel, Senior Product Manager, Genuine Windows Product Marketing team. Microsoft estimates there resellers will move 28 million refurbished PCs this year, making refurbished PCs over 10% of the worldwide PC market.
Refurbishers reinstall the software that originally came preloaded on a PC -- which legally requires they possess the computer's original Certificate of Authenticity (COA), or a recovery media or recovery image for the PC. Because these proof-of-purchases can be hard to find, many refurbished PCs don't ship with an operating system preinstalled. For Microsoft, that means Windows revenues are being left on the table, with potential paid Windows copies being replaced by Linux or pirated Windows.
That's where the MAR program comes into play. MAR is an extension of Microsoft's existing and low-key refurbished-PC program, which targeted resellers seeking Windows licenses for PCs resold to charities, nonprofits and schools. The program initially is open to Microsoft's major OEM partners worldwide and to other (OEM or non-OEM) refurbishers in North America. Over time, Microsoft is planning to open the program to interested participants worldwide.
Microsoft isn't requiring companies interested in joining MAR pay annually for the privilege (like it does with its Solution Provider partners). Microsoft is offering participants the chance to buy two Windows XP SKUs: Windows XP Home for Refurbished PCs and Windows XP Professional for Refurbished PCs. (I asked Shakeel how much Microsoft is charging MARs for these SKUs, but he wouldn't say.) Participants also get a deployment tool for installing Windows in bulk on refurbished machines. I asked whether MARs must agree to stop shipping "naked" PCs as a requirement for participating in the program; surprisingly, the answer is no, according to Shakeel.
If Microsoft is successful with MAR, there will be a whole new group of PC users who will be subject to the ongoing Windows Genuine Advantage (WGA) authenticity checks in order to obtain software downloads, fixes and updates. And Microsoft will find another way to help grow its Windows sales in a market where Windows already runs on more than 90 percent of all desktop PCs.