What if all computer users who aren't using their preloaded Windows copies tried to get their money back from Microsoft Corp. -- all on the same day?
This experiment in exploiting a little-known loophole in Microsoft's End User License Agreement (EULA) may come to pass on Feb. 15, if a self-appointed "Windows Refund" group has its way.
Organisers at www.thenoodle.com, a web services site, have created a "Windows Refund Center," meant to appeal to users of Linux, NetWare, OS/2, BSD, BeOS and other alternative operating systems who balk at paying what they are calling a "Microsoft tax." The group established The Refund Center on Jan. 19.
The idea for a mass revolt against Windows preloads, according to thenoodle.com web site, was spawned by the web posting of one user's tale of triumph in getting Toshiba Inc. to refund him $110 (Australian) for the copy of Windows that came preloaded on his laptop.
The Australian Linux user, Geoffrey Bennett obtained the refund after three months of e-mail, regular mail and voice mail exchanges between Toshiba and himself, he says in his posting. Bennett claims he was due the refund because he did not agree to the terms of the Windows 95 EULA, which was included as part of his Toshiba system. The Windows 95 EULA states that: "If you do not agree to the terms of this EULA, PC Manufacturer and Microsoft are unwilling to license the SOFTWARE PRODUCT to you. In such event, you may not use or copy the SOFTWARE PRODUCT, and you should promptly contact PC Manufacturer for instructions on return of the unused products(s) for a refund."
But rather than seeking redress directly from PC makers, as Bennett did, the Windows Refund group is looking to Microsoft and suggesting disgruntled users look to Redmond for their refunds. At press time, a Microsoft corporate spokesman said the company was preparing a response to the campaign.
The Windows Refund group isn't the first organisation to suggest that Microsoft and PC makers offer customers operating system choice. Last spring, consumer advocate Ralph Nader's Consumer Project On Technology sent letters to six of the top PC vendors, requesting they preload alternatives to Windows on their machines.
In addition, a number of OEMs have complained about their lack of operating system alternatives in the form of sworn depositions collected by the U.S. Department of Justice in its antitrust suit against Microsoft. Some of these OEMs have said that Microsoft's alleged monopoly position has allowed it to control prices because there are few, if any, viable alternatives to Windows on the desktop.