Linux protestors fail to win rebate of 'Microsoft tax'

Those hoping to get money back for their unused operating systems during Windows Refund Day were met with locked elevators at the office of Microsoft in Foster City, California. Twenty people looking for a refund -- along with nearly 100 supporters -- marched on the company's building Monday afternoon, but the elevator doors wouldn't open when they reached Microsoft's office on the ninth floor.

Those hoping to get money back for their unused operating systems during Windows Refund Day were met with locked elevators at the office of Microsoft in Foster City, California. Twenty people looking for a refund -- along with nearly 100 supporters -- marched on the company's building Monday afternoon, but the elevator doors wouldn't open when they reached Microsoft's office on the ninth floor.

Instead, the Linux supporters staged a rally on the top of a parking structure adjacent to the building, where Microsoft had placed a sign saying "Microsoft welcomes the Linux Community."

"It's disappointing," said event organizer Don Marti, after several small groups failed in their attempts to reach the Microsoft offices. The company said last week its offices would be open.

Marti and other Linux supporters held the event to protest having to pay for a preloaded copy of Windows, even if they never use it and install another OS instead. They say the Windows licensing agreement provides for a refund if a user doesn't want it. The issue mostly affects owners of laptops because desktop computer can be made to order without Windows.

Microsoft Windows product manager Rob Bennett met the Linux group out in the parking lot. He said disgruntled PC owners should take up the issue with computer makers.

"There is nothing in particular that Microsoft does that in any way restricts PC manufacturers from giving refunds to customers," he said, calling the event a "publicity stunt."

Some in the crowd threatened class actions suits. Organizer Marti later said a flurry of small claims actions could ensue.

High noon showdown Earlier in the day, Linux lovers from throughout the Bay Area prepared for a procession to Microsoft's offices at high noon, meeting beforehand at a staging area known among organizers as "Point D" -- the Denny's strip mall a few blocks from the company's offices.

The backpack- and t-shirt-clad group then marched through Foster City, holding stuffed penguins and carrying signs with phrases such as "I want Linux, why should I pay Bill?"

One young, ponytailed marcher broke into the chant "One, two, three, four. We are not your Windows whore," before being admonished by the man next to him.

"I agree with the sentiment, but we're trying to make the world a better place," the older marcher said.

Those seeking refunds said they didn't know where else to turn to get their money back -- or how much they should be seeking. Microsoft keeps the prices it charges its PC maker partners secret.

Retired engineer Charles Lingo brought along his Acer Inc. computer, which has OS/2 installed. He said he's had no luck getting money back after repeated calls to Acer and Microsoft."Microsoft has no right to force people to pay for an OS when they don't want it," he said.

Marcher Heather Stern said she called around before buying her Ricoh laptop, but couldn't find a non-Windows computer. Now she wants her money back because she's installed Linux instead.

"The computer makers say, 'our customers want Windows,' but when we don't want it, there's nothing we can do," Stern said.

Chris Schoedel, one of a handful of people who's actually received a refund, said she was marching to show support. Schoedel -- who opted to use Linux over Windows on her new Emachines computer -- said the manufacturer has promised her a $26 refund check, but only after she repeatedly called and e-mailed the company demanding her money back.

"I did it. It is possible," Schoedel said, holding up a sign saying "What part of 'refund' don't you understand?"

After airing their woes before a flurry of cameras and reporters, the group turned and marched home. But not before a piece of final instruction from march organizer Chris DiBona, who himself had unsuccessfully sought a refund for Windows on his Sony laptop.

"Now let's all point at Microsoft and laugh," he said, motioning upward at the ninth story building.

And they did.

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