Get your money back from Microsoft. Conditions apply.

by Niyam Bhushan

    There's a bomb on the bus. If it stops, or even slows down as it hurtles through the morning rush hour traffic, it will explode.

    Sure. You remember the movie, 'Speed' starring Keanu Reeves. But, do you remember the advertising signboard at the rear of the doomed bus? An ad for a bank, it said, "Money isn't everything. Yeah right." Well, money is everything. And reading the fine print could get you a couple of thousand rupees from Microsoft. Especially if you read the fine print on your Microsoft package carefully.

    "If you do not agree to the terms of this [agreement], PC Manufacturer and Microsoft are unwilling to license the software product to you," according to a copy of the Windows end user licensing agreement, "and you should promptly contact PC Manufacturer for instructions on return of the unused products(s) for a refund."

I Want My Money Back

    So how does it work? Simple. After purchasing your computer, do not yet switch it on. Read the Microsoft End User License Agreement (EULA) carefully, looking for a clause that is similar to the one above. Then, bring along a Linux or other OS system floppy, and, preferably in the presence of the vendor that sold you the machine, and along with a few witnesses, boot up the machine using your Linux, NetWare, BeOS, OS/2, or other OS floppy, and delete the partition tables of your hard disk. You would have then erased the Microsoft OS from your hard disk, without having launched it even once. Then, contact the vendor or Microsoft immediately, state that you have not accepted the EULA, and ask for instructions on how to return the unused manuals and CD, so you may get your refund.

    So you think I'm kidding. Go check out Here you'll find the six-month saga of Geoffrey Bennett. This intrepid Australian Linux user bought a Toshiba laptop, and followed a similar procedure to delete his Windows installation, and then kept following up with a startled Toshiba until they sent him a refund cheque for A$ 110 in August 1998. Immediately after Geoffrey updated his website, news travelled around the Web and millions of people descended on his and other newly spinning Web sites across the Web on the refund. To be fair, it was actually a woman called Donna who got the first refund, from Canon, almost a year before Geoffrey got his. But Geoffrey documented his story well, and even published a scanned image of the cheque online. That of course, is like hungry sharks tasting blood in the ocean. The scanned image of this historic cheque is eagerly loading into thousands of browsers around the world, even as you read this.

Pulling out All the Stops

    The Windows Refund Center,, is spearheading the effort to reimburse PC users running a non-Windows operating system for the cost of their pre-installed OS. This Web site has a FAQ, as well as several links to press coverage, area-wise centres, and online newsletter subscriptions. Several campaigns are especially being waged among Linux users, and, to publicize the movement, these groups have declared February 15 "Windows Refund Day." Admittedly motivated by the possibility of a nice-sized check from Microsoft, the organizers say the larger goal is to bring public attention to the open source movement, and to Microsoft's licensing agreements with PC makers that preclude hardware vendors from loading non-Windows operating systems.

    "A lot of the people involved want a refund on principle," said Matt Jensen, Webmaster for the Windows Refund Center site and a Seattle-based Linux user. "My longer-term goal would be to have Microsoft change its licensing so they don't force companies to bundle Windows."

    I am quite certain that Microsoft, in all fairness, will refund those people who prove they did not agree to the EULA. However, it throws open the possibility of several unscrupulous people who may demand a refund after pirating a copy of the pre-installed software, or demanding a refund when they have launched or are still using the software anyway. Cross-verifying the computers of thousands or even millions of people is going to be costly and full of hassles. A better option is for Microsoft to not bundle the software, and let users decide at the time of purchase. Surely Microsoft has nothing to worry about; they own nearly 90% of the market anyway.

    If any one of you has already got a refund in India, or on reading this is applying for one, do let us know. I'm sure all readers would be interested in your story.

Niyam Bhushan, Director, Digital Dionysus, consults and trains in digital imaging, design, and publishing. Contact him at

Reprinted from the March 1999 issue of PC World India, by permission of the author. Copyright © 1999, PC World India. All rights reserved.

Webmaster's note: Please see Windows Refund Newsletter Issue #4 for why cooperating with Windows Refund Day will aid Microsoft in combatting bootleggers, rather than impeding it.