From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
A Windows refund is a type of refund claimed by a user when they purchase a computer with the Microsoft Windows operating system pre-installed on it. The refund is issued by the hardware manufacturer, or occasionally the retailer, for the copy of Microsoft Windows, rather than the whole computer. Due to Microsoft's dominance in desktop computing and a lack of understanding on the manufacturer's or retailer's part, it is often difficult (but not impossible) for users to obtain a refund.
The "Windows tax"
A common complaint about Windows comes from those who want to purchase a computer without a copy of Windows pre-installed and without paying extra for the license, because they intend to use another operating system instead, such as Linux, FreeBSD, OpenSolaris or any other libre-free open source OS, or because they already own a Windows license (like university students who are able to acquire a free Windows license through the MSDN Academic Alliance program). Since free operating systems provide strong competition to Windows which is a non free OS, Microsoft tries to force users not to choose an operating system by creating a market where most computers shipped from OEMs come with Windows preinstalled, and by secretly agreeing with OEMs by means of rebates, to make it very hard to receive a Windows refund.
While many computer manufacturers have begun to offer specific product ranges with Linux pre-installed (these include HP, Lenovo, Dell, Acer, MSI, Intel and others), finding such a computer from a major OEM is challenging. These models are mostly limited to high-end workstations and enterprise servers, or budget, domestic models. Dell for example sells Linux pre-installed on home systems, but it is only offered on a limited number of models and configurations and Dell also explicitly warns prospective buyers that "The main thing to note is that when you choose open source you don't get a Windows operating system."
Formally, computers with free operating systems can be obtained, but practically most large computer vendors continue to bundle Microsoft Windows with the majority of the personal computers in their ranges. The Findings of Fact in the United States Microsoft antitrust case established that "One of the ways Microsoft combats piracy is by advising OEMs that they will be charged a higher price for Windows unless they drastically limit the number of PCs that they sell without an operating system pre-installed. In 1998, all major OEMs agreed to this restriction." This has been called the "Windows tax" or "Microsoft tax".
Some smaller OEMs and larger retail chains such as system76 have taken advantage of the paucity of non-Windows offerings by major suppliers by specializing in Linux-based systems. Some Linux distributors also run 'partnership' programs to endorse suppliers of machines with their system preinstalled. Sun Microsystems, which supports OpenSolaris distribution, runs a partnership program with Toshiba which provides Toshiba laptops with OpenSolaris preinstalled.
Windows tax can also be avoided by assembling a computer from separately purchased parts, thus not buying it from an OEM. This however requires extra effort and technical knowledge, and is even more difficult in case of a laptop. Another option is buying a preassembled white box machine.
License refund policy
According to Microsoft's End User License Agreement, the end user can return Windows for a refund by refusing the terms of the license:
By using the software, you accept these terms. If you do not accept them, do not use the software. Instead, contact the manufacturer or installer to determine their return policy for a refund or credit.
However, many vendors try to avoid refunding the unused copy of Windows by claiming that the customer must return the computer along with the operating system in order to get a refund, despite this being a violation of consumer protection law in many countries. Acer has a policy of charging for the provision of the refund such that the balance received by the customer is as low as €30. In other cases, vendors were trying to enforce non-disclosure agreements on the customers who requested refunds.
License refund cases
- In 1998, Geoffrey Bennett purchased a Toshiba Notebook with Windows preinstalled, after much struggle, Geoffrey received a AU$110 check from Toshiba as a refund.
- In 2006 a British man purchased a Dell Inspiron 640m laptop bundled with Microsoft Windows XP Home SP2 preinstalled, but did not accept Microsoft's End User License Agreement (EULA). Within one week of requesting a refund from Dell, the customer received a "goodwill" refund of GBP £47 (£55.23 including VAT) from Dell for a "no Windows" option, as the copy of the system was an "unused product" according to the software license agreement. Dell had not asked for the installation medium to be returned and commented that although it doesn't have a Windows refund program, giving a refund in an individual case isn't forbidden either.
- In the same period, a Swiss man received a refund of about CHF 150 from Dell. The laptop model and refund procedure was the same.
- In 2007, Serge Wroclawski, an American Dell customer purchased a laptop and received $52.50 refund from Dell for unused Windows bundled to the computer.
- According to Süddeutsche Zeitung, a German Dell customer replaced the preinstalled Windows with Linux and was credited the amount of €78 for the operating system and a further unspecified Microsoft program. According to ynetnews, an Israeli Dell customer received a refund of $137 for an unused Windows Vista, after filing a small court claim. As it was reported a Russian customer received a refund of $73.90 from BenQ for an unused preinstalled copy of Microsoft Windows Vista. It took him approximately 4 months.
- In October 2009, after two months and 14 e-mails of negotiations with Dell representatives, Graeme Cobbett received £70 ($115) refund from Dell for rejected Windows Vista Home Premium license, as he intended to use Linux Mint on his Dell Studio 1555 laptop.
- A French court ordered Acer to refund the purchase price of preinstalled laptop software amounting to €135.20 for Windows XP Home.
- In a civil suit an Italian court rejected HP's argument that the licensing conditions had been set unilaterally by Microsoft and ordered HP to reimburse a customer the amount of €90 for an unused copy of Windows XP bundled with a Compaq notebook. The court was of the opinion that HP had to know about the conditions, because they most likely constituted part of the agreement between them and Microsoft. It also found the fact that computers without an operating system are available on the market to be irrelevant.
- In July 2008, an American HP customer from Hawaii was able to receive a $200 refund from HP for unused Windows Vista, after going through a lot of time consuming interactions with HP representatives.
- While in general Lenovo tries to deny the availability of Windows tax refund, in 2008 a customer of an official German Lenovo dealer claimed and received €30 from Lenovo Germany for preinstalled Windows XP Tablet Edition bundled to the Lenovo X60 laptop which he bought.
- In August 2008, Mr. Kamil Páral, Lenovo ČR customer, tried in accordance with the EULA of the Windows Vista Business OEM software, to exercise his right to return the license for using the preinstalled operating system from Microsoft because he wanted to use Linux on his computer. In accordance with the terms of the EULA he contacted Lenovo ČR for refund, and after some lengthy negotiations with representatives of Lenovo ČR's technical support and management, he was offered financial compensation for returning the license in the amount of CZK 1950 ($130, €78), pending his acceptance of the non-disclosure agreement. Mr. Páral decided not to accept the offer under such conditions, and forgo the offered compensation. He published an account of his experiences on http://abclinuxu.cz. The editors of the website decided to reward Mr. Páral for publishing the article by paying him an author's royalty in the same amount as was the offered compensation for returning the license.
- In August 2009, Danish programmer Poul-Henning Kamp asked Lenovo for a refund of a Windows Vista licence preinstalled on a newly purchased laptop. Lenovo refused the claim. Mr. Kamp then filed suit against Lenovo and the case is currently pending trial.
- Those who were forced to pay for Windows Home Server can also be eligible for a refund if they have not used the software before removing it from their systems. This version of Windows usually comes bundled with headless servers which are capable of running many other operating systems. Nevertheless it is often hard or impossible to acquire this hardware without a bundled copy of Windows Home Server. In one example of such a refund the owner of a Fujitsu Siemens Scaleo Home Server was refunded $68  in September 2009.
Microsoft Windows bundling policy and artificially imposed difficulties in obtaining a Windows tax refund from OEMs caused different groups of activists to publicly react on the matter organizing such events as "Windows refund day" when "hundreds of people who prefer other operating systems, but had to buy Microsoft software with their new computers, converged on Microsoft offices carrying shrink-wrapped manuals and disks and wielding the penguin mascots of the free Linux OS, demanding their money back". 
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