Many people are familiar with the Windows refund debate that started in the late 1990s. A Google search turns up dozens of pages belonging to people who have made attempts to provide helpful information to those seeking a refund. Browsing these pages reminds me of a recent trip I took to Salem, Massachusetts, where I participated in a guided tour through the burial grounds of the Witch Trials of 1692. Every link, another tombstone telling a piece of the bigger story, another graveyard where we can pay our respects to those who have suffered.
WindowsRefund.net has been created to provide a safe haven for those who have lost their way in this struggle, as well as to provide guidance to those that are only now getting involved. I, myself, only recently took a personal interest in this situation when I purchased a Portege 2000 laptop from Toshiba American Information Systems (TAIS). Although I was well informed about how I should proceed in my quest to receive a refund for the unused OS (yes, the tombstones were helpful to some degree), I have not yet been successful doing so. I continue to be in pursuit. Linux Journal published my original article, called “The Toshiba Standoff”, on September 13, which describes my ordeal in greater detail.
“The Toshiba Standoff” was a huge success; it received the attention of the Open Source Initiative (OSI), the Free Software Foundation (FSF), the New York Linux Scene (NYLXS), Red Hat, empathetic lawyers, as well as thousands of individuals who frequent the LJ web site. Any questions I had as to whether or not the community still cared about this issue were put to rest within the first two days of the article's publication. My inbox was overloaded with e-mails. It became clear to me that I had not planned my attack as effectively as I could have, because I had no way to wrap my arms around the explosion that the article had generated. WindowsRefund.net is my attempt to do that now. The web site will become the central point of organization and collaboration as we take this battle to the courts.
Over the past two weeks, I have had a chance to hear many different opinions on the Windows refund debate and feel obligated to share my thoughts on the most common misconceptions that people tend to have.
Common Misconception #1: “Microsoft is the problem. The OEMs are not at fault.”
There is nothing to win by going after Microsoft for resolution. The End User License Agreement (EULA) already includes the provision for a refund. At this point, is is the OEM's responsibility to make good on this.
Furthermore, I am a firm believer that human nature justifies the desire to want more. Too much is never enough. All single entities are entitled to pursue this unreachable goal. With this in mind, I place no blame on Microsoft for trying to increase it's market share. I do, however, blame the OEMs for delivering the increase. These OEMs have the ability to ship systems without a preinstalled Microsoft operating system but choose to ignore that option at the customer's expense. By focusing on Microsoft, we are avoiding the real issue. Instead, we need to hold the OEMs accountable and force them to rewrite their policies so that customers are given a choice. The first step in this change is to assure that refunds are granted to those who seek them. Only when customers are given true freedom will the market decide what is appropriate.
Common Misconception #2: “Buy from another vendor.”
This does not fix the problem; it is simply an attempt on the end user's part to avoid the problem. In the case of a desktop system, the approach makes more sense because, at the end of the day, we could always build our own “white box” using the exact parts that we require. However, huge differences exist in the laptop solutions that are being offered today, and no one I know builds their own laptops. For example, in my opinion, the Portege 2000 that I am writing this article on is second to none when it comes to my requirements for portability, power and value. By “blacklisting” Toshiba's products in an effort to escape the bundled OS, I would be limiting myself. This is not the answer.
One other option available today for the Linux enthusiasts among us is to buy a system from a vendor like EmperorLinux.com. Unfortunately, the company did not offer the system I wanted, and I therefore was unable to support their business. To summarize, I don't believe that customers should have to try and escape this problem. I believe customers should be free to purchase whatever product they intend to use and not be strong-armed into paying for unrelated components.
Common Misconception #3: “Some guy in Australia got a refund.”
Good for him. Unfortunately, this is a “one in a million” case, and I do not believe these OEMs have created internal procedures that allow this to happen on an as-needed basis. I have personally been shocked, time and time again, when speaking to high-level personnel from both Dell and Toshiba who never even read the Microsoft EULA. It is the EULA that provides the foundation for this argument. As long as we continue to not hold the OEMs accountable, there is no need for them to educate themselves and create the procedures that we deserve.
WindowsRefund.net is looking for input from the community. You can show your support by completing the surveys, sharing your opinions in the forums, submitting your articles and asking questions to help the FAQ grow. Securing legal representation is a high priority at the moment, and I plan to provide news on it's development through the web site. If you feel you are entitled to a refund and wish to be included in this representation, please send your contact information to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Windows Refund Center (It no longer appears to be maintained, though.)