LXer Feature: Early results of the (Dutch) Windows refund survey

Posted by tadelste on Jan 1, 2006 2:37 AM EDT
LXer; By Hans Kwint
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 LXer feature

Sometimes as a Linux user, you wish you could buy any computer with Linux preinstalled, or if that's not possible, just without an operating system, but that's not the reality. If that isn't possible, is it possible to buy any computer with Windows pre-installed, and then, return the unused Windows, and ask a refund for it? That's a question many non-Windows users ask themselves. The answer however, isn't clear to consumers. There's only one way to find out: ask your hardware manufacturer. Or do they neither know the answer? Time to find out.

In many countries, tying sales of two products is sometimes forbidden. So, when trying to get a refund for a Windows OEM product, you could state, the Windows OEM is tied to the purchase of a computer, and try to sue someone.

Officially, Windows OEM can't even be bought without buying a computer also. On the other hand, it often is also impossible to buy a computer without Windows OEM tied to the purchase. This is a hindrance to competitors. If people buy a new computer, they can't use their products without also paying for Windows, and most people don't need two operating systems.

The most important indicator of tying is probably the price: Windows OEM is always included in the price of purchasing a computer. This means, people don't know how much they pay for their software in first place, which is anti-competetive. In the second place, people cannot buy some (in practice, that means 98%) models of computers, without also buying a Windows XP OEM license. In most countries, including The Netherlands, where I live, it is not clear if this is forbidden. But since Microsoft didn't want to face the risk of being sued over this, they gave the EULA a strange twist.

The first lines of the (Dutch) Windows XP OEM EULA state:

This User-agreement ("Agreement") is an agreement between you (the end-consumer / natural person or 'rechtspersoon') and the manufacturer ("Manufacturer") of the computer system or the computer system parts ("HARDWARE") where you obtained the mentioned Microsoft-software products ("SOFTWARE").

So, if you agree, you don't have an agreement with Microsoft, but with the manufacturer which made your computer. That way, Microsoft can't be sued for tying, since it is the hardware manufacturer who is responsible for this. If that's the case, we should also try to get our refund at the hardware manufacturer.

Point one of the Dutch Windows XP OEM EULA states:

If you do not agree with the provisions of this Agreement, you're not allowed to use the SOFTWARE, or copy it, and you should directly contact the Manufacturer for instructions concerning the returning of the unused product following the return policy of the Manufacturer.

So, we only need to know what the return policy is, it seems. However, this term is (deliberately?) vague: What do you return? Your whole lap- or desktop? Or just the Windows CD? And then there's the stuff on your hard drive, if Windows is on your harddrive, how can it be returned?

The return policy of the hardware-manufacturers tells this. Though, this policy can't be found on the sites of the hardware-manufacturers, or it must be I'm blind. Then, there's nothing else we can do, than contacting our hardware-manufacturers to straight this out.

I decided to do this, and sent out nine letters, in my own language (Dutch), to the big hardware-manufacturers. I did this first in an electronic way: find forms on the websites of the manufacturers, or find an e-mail adress. This is where the first troubles arose: which department should I ask? For registered customers or companies having questions for soft- or hardware support, there are plenty places to ask. But there are no forms or mail-adresses to ask questions about the policies of the companies. So tired of it, I just picked some addresses and started. Finally, IBM (Lenovo), NEC/Packard Bell, HP/Compaq, Acer, Dell, Toshiba, Medion (sold at the Aldi in Europe), Fujitsu-Siemens and Sony ended up with one of my letters. Sony got a written one since I couldn't find a right e-mail-address. I got two auto-responses, and after that, nothing.

The first to let me know they received the letter was Medion. They said they forwarded it to the right person. Apart from that, I received no answer within three weeks. I decided this didn't work, and sent written letters by post to everyone, except Medion, and added Targa (sold at the Lidl in Europe) to the list, using the whois output of targa.nl, which probably was a bad idea. Since Sony already had a written letter, I sent them a registered letter. Sony replied, the Dutch Sony-headquarters wasn't the right place to ask, and I should contact the VAIO hotline (couldn't they do that for me instead? I explicitly asked for a written answer, since I knew from windowsrefund.org, phoning eventually forwards you to someone in India). Only Fujitsu-Siemens replied they were working on it, and they would give answers within 10 working days. As you might suspect, it did take them longer, but they were the first to send the full policy, so kudos to them. Nothing from the others and from Medion, even after to weeks. Not even the affirmation they received my letter, like I asked.

As a simple consumer, I needed a more powerful way of communicating, especially since I have no fax (most consumers don't). So, I decided to sent seven registered letters, excluding Medion, Sony and Fujitsu-Siemens. This time, I received more reactions.

Dell contacted me to say they received the letter, and they had several questions for me. They asked why someone not willing to buy for Windows, wouldn't buy one of their non-OS computers. I replied the questions were principal ones about the license, and not all Dell computers can be bought without an OS. After taking notes (how to spell LXer), they promised me to forward the questions to the right person. I sent a mail to Medion if my mail was forwarded, and received an English e-mail from Germany, my mail was forwarded again. I asked to whom, but till now no reply. After that, Acer sent the full policy in a cryptic way, but that was OK for me. Toshiba asked me to sent the letter to their European headquarter in Germany, which meant translating the letter to English. In between, I found a mail-address for Sony, and they also asked for an English letter, so I translated it. So its on its way to Neuss now, and it will go to the same Sony mail address, but this time in English, tomorrow. I also got mail from IBM (well, it came from Lenovo, I should have known that), telling me they were researching it, and after that, HP sent the full policy to me. At the moment, I can't tell about the policies, since I don't want the hardware-manufacturers taking over each other's policies.

What can we conclude after all this?

Getting a refund, if possible, takes very much time and efforts. It may even be not worthwhile all the time and efforts. If you're not willing to have high phone bills and talking to people in India, you need a fax or recorded mail, and probably do it in English. The return-policy mentioned in the Windows EULA, isn't on top of the people of the hel­pdesks. If it even exists, it is hidden far away from usability.

When all answers are in, I hope to publish all policies, so consumers can compare them. If I'm not happy with the answers, and the chances are I'm not, I will ask the Dutch competition authority (NMa) to look at my results. Stay tuned at LXer, and you will be the first to know!

» Read more about: Story Type: LXer Features, News Story; Groups: Microsoft

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