Windows Refund Day II: Next Steps
WindowsRefund.net was created in September 2002 to provide a central point of collaboration for refund-seekers all over the world. As many people already know, computer manufacturers have been pushing the "Microsoft Tax" onto consumers for years. Today, this situation has gotten worse, as many customers are forced to pay for multiple versions of Microsoft's operating system when purchasing a new computer. For some, this may come as a shock when the growing momentum of "Desktop Linux" is considered or when the publicity generated by the original Windows Refund Day event is remembered. However, the reality is this: no major computer manufacturer has gone on record as having defined a company-wide refund procedure designed to honor the language of Microsoft's End User License Agreement (EULA). In other words, if someone managed to obtain a refund for the unused Windows software they were forced to pay for, it was simply because they were in the right place, at the right time, dealing with the right person.
I am currently in the process of making my case against Toshiba America Information Systems (TAIS) in Small Claims court. I will be making my court appearance on June 30, 2003. TAIS has made it clear they are not going to budge an inch. They will spend thousands of dollars in legal fees to protect the hundreds that would be paid out for this individual refund request. Does anyone honestly think that they would continue to follow this path if only 10 additional customers filed similar actions? Personally, I don't think it is unreasonable to expect at least one case to be filed against a major computer manufacturer in every state of the US. Multiple concurrent claims (regardless of which manufacturer is targeted) will open their eyes to the magnitude of this situation. This is the logical course of action for us to take in order to achieve the change we are seeking.
Small Claims is not a big deal. It's simple to do if you follow the HOWTO I published on WindowsRefund.net. After filing, you can publish your story on the site so we all can see how many of us finally have taken action. It's okay if you lose. It even happened to Walt Pennington because of a minor technicality. The important thing is to bring the manufacturers into court so they know we are serious about this.
We need to do more than debate this issue on mailing lists and Slashdot. I am suggesting that those of us who agree consumers should not have to be forced into accepting the unwanted expense of a preinstalled Microsoft product need to step up to the plate and bring this into the courtrooms. I have laid the groundwork, and I know this is strictly a numbers game at this point.
Windows Refund Day II, held on January 23, 2003, was born out of a simple idea. Rather than trying to organize a group event dependent on physical location, we recognized a distributed approach could be both easier to manage and more effective. The idea was to declare a day where refund seekers all over the world would take their cases to court. In preparing for the event, I was able to accomplish a few things:
A Refund HOWTO was written and published on WindowsRefund.net. The purpose of the HOWTO was to provide as much of my knowledge and real world experience to people who had never filed a Small Claims action in court and who may have otherwise felt intimidated by the process.
An official Call for Action was written up and published on the LJ site. Over the next few weeks, this news spread like wildfire all over the Internet.
Several interviews were given on popular Internet radio shows, including CNET and The Linux Show.
Signature gathering was organized from several booths in the .org pavilion during LinuxWorld Expo New York 2003.
Finally, I filed my Small Claims action against TAIS on January 23, 2003.
What we have here is low hanging fruit that we are not grasping. After all of the Slashdot debates, mailing list threads/flames, petition signing and general applause that I have heard from our community, it appears we still are waiting for the market to correct this injustice. But remember, the market created the problem in the first place. We don't need another article written or another thread started. We need people who are willing to get up from their couches, stand in line and file their claims, so this issue can start getting its recognition in court. We have a unique opportunity to introduce change and correct this problem once and for all. But, it's going to take commitment and a showing of hands. We should not confuse this issue with the efforts underway to see Linux deployed as an alternative OS on computer systems. The refund issue is a much easier battle to win, one that is absolutely critical if we're ever going to get to that point anyway.