Windows critics ask for refund; Microsoft says 'no' at scattered protests


As mass movements go, Windows Refund Day might not have achieved the political profile of an anti-war protest or the popular support of, say, saving the whales. But for a demonstration over computer software, the turnout yesterday was not too shabby.

More than 100 self-proclaimed computer geeks showed up at Microsoft Corp. sales offices in several cities to make a public display of rejecting the software maker's ubiquitous Windows operating system and demanding their money back.

Organized by advocates of Linux, a free operating system, the first March on Microsoft focused on a clause in the Windows license included with the software that comes installed on PCs. That clause states that users who do not agree to the terms of the license can request a refund.

"People pay extra money for software they don't need, they don't want and they're entitled to return," said Rick Moen, a protest organizer in Foster City, Calif., where a crowd gathered on the roof of a parking garage beside the Microsoft offices there.

Microsoft officials told the protesters to take it up with the computer manufacturers who sold them their PCs.

But several testimonials published on the Internet in recent months recount the difficulties users have encountered in obtaining a refund for Windows, which runs on more than 90 percent of all new personal computers sold throughout the world.

For instance, most new machines are set up to run Windows automatically when a user turns them on. And that, in a classic Catch-22, apparently constitutes an implied acceptance of the license, even though there is no way to get rid of the Windows operating system without turning the computer on in the first place.

Spokesmen for Dell Computer Corp. and Micron Electronics Inc., two of the major manufacturers, said their policy is to give refunds within 30 days to customers who are not satisfied with their computer systems, but they said they do not give refunds for Windows software alone.

"Not only do customers, with very rare exceptions, expect their computer to come with an operating system, but they, with very rare exceptions, expect that operating system to be Windows," said T. R. Reid, a Dell spokesman.

It is not as though the refund would pay for a new monitor. The few who have reported success have apparently received between $25 and $50. But protesters insisted that the point was choice, not money.

"It's not a lot of money," said Mike Schiraldi, 20, who wore a faded Atari T-shirt and black Keds sneakers to the small demonstration in midtown Manhattan yesterday. "It's just the idea that you're forced to buy Windows when there are better alternatives out there."

Paradoxically, that perception supports a central point the Microsoft defense team is trying to make in the company's continuing antitrust battle with the Justice Department. Company executives have pointed several times to the growing popularity of Linux as proof that, contrary to the Justice Department's claims, Microsoft is not a monopoly.

In New York, the protest consisted of fewer than a dozen computer users with an aversion to Microsoft products. About a dozen protesters gathered at Microsoft offices in Irvine, Calif. Demonstrations also were planned in New Zealand, the Netherlands and Japan.

Nobody got a refund.

Pub Date: 2/16/99

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