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 is advocating users who don't want or need Windows attempt to exploit a little-known loophole in Microsoft's End User License Agreement (EULA) by approaching their hardware vendors for Windows refunds.
In the past couple of days, visits to thenoodle.com have skyrocketed, Webmaster Matt Jensen said Thursday. Jensen, a Seattle--based contract programmer, said he has not been contacted by Microsoft about his site.
Since Wednesday, Jensen has added explicit instructions to his site meant to inform users who believe they are due a refund as to how to collect. Jensen's instructions tell alternative OS users they need to make sure to load their alternative operating systems before turning on their new PCs in order to insure they are applicable for a refund.
Microsoft says it is not taking the threat of a potential Windows revolt seriously. "We consider this a bit of a PR stunt by some Unix guys," says corporate spokesman Adam Sohn. "OEMs are completely free today to ship any OS they choose. There is no provision in any of our contracts telling OEMs they can't ship something else" or even a so-called "naked" system without any operating system preloaded.
Sohn adds Microsoft has no plans to orchestrate a counter-demonstration emphasising customers' "high satisfaction" with Windows. He says that Microsoft also has no plans to discuss formally with OEMs potential ramifications from a Windows Refund protest. "OEMs will have to make their own decisions. They are 'adults.' They don't need Microsoft to tell them how to deal with their customers," Sohn says. He adds that if, how and when OEMs opt to refund customers if they can prove they never used copies of Windows that came preinstalled with their machines is up to each individual OEM.
Others aren't quite so quick to dismiss the implications of the Windows Refund campaign, however. Consumer advocate Ralph Nader, who previously championed the idea of targeting the top PC makers with requests for operating system choice, is using the Windows Refund campaign as an opportunity to bring up again OEM pricing and control issues. "Nader asked me to draft a letter to be sent to antitrust authorities in Japan, Australia, Canada, the European Commission and the U.S. on the OEM issue," says CPT director Jamie Love. Love says the letter will revisit the failure of the 1995 Consent Decree to prohibit Microsoft from allegedly engaging in monopolistic pricing practices. "Microsoft can charge different OEMs different prices. We think nondiscriminatory pricing should be applied not just in Windows, but in Office and NT, too," says Love. In short, he says, "Microsoft has OEMs by the shorthairs, and the shorthairs are price."
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.
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