PCs with Compulsorily Bundled Software Should Be Outlawed

The Windows Tax

The Windows Tax

I’ve written about the Microsoft Tax many times before and have even had a minor success with regards to getting it refunded.

Now a fellow Open Source blogger and businessman, Dr Adrian Steel of Mercian Labels, is trying, so far without luck, to get the cost of an unwanted Windows License refunded from a company called Fonestop Ltd. He’s kindly providing an ongoing record of the correspondence between himself and the supplier whilst he seeks a fair refund for the software that he does not want nor require.

This example goes a long way to indicate why the bundling of software and hardware in this way is so wrong. It is incredibly hard to buy a computer in the UK that is not already infected with an inefficient, outdated, expensive, bloated and, still alarmingly, insecure operating system called Microsoft® Windows. It is also becoming increasingly difficult to get even a partial refund due to the updated terms in the EULA that comes with version 7 of the OS (you can read most of the license agreements here):

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 its return policy. You must comply with that policy, which might limit your rights or require you to return the entire system on which the software is installed.

In earlier versions the statement about returning the entire system was not there. Here’s what the Vista EULA said:

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.

Reading Adrian’s struggle to get back the money that is rightfully his makes me quite angry. There are plenty of computer users that do not want or need Windows software when they buy a new computer. Even if they are not aware of the great Free Software operating systems such as Ubuntu or Fedora or many others, they probably already have a perfectly legal and valid CD of Windows in a drawer or cupboard anyway. Even I have a legal and valid Windows XP CD in my office; not that it ever gets used nowadays…

So what’s to be done? I really feel like starting some kind of campaign to get the lawmakers here and across the EU to make this kind of practice illegal. I as a consumer should be able to select and buy any computer I like and decide for myself if I wish to pay for a pre-installed operating system or not. That should be a choice I am free to make. Currently, apart from a few very brave and admirable vendors, I do not have this choice. And now it’s even harder to obtain a refund due to the change in the wording of Microsoft’s EULA.

These Brave and Admirable vendors deserve a mention:

  • Brave because I’m sure that they will come under pressure from businesses like Microsoft to bundle their software and conform to the way that they want you to sell Computers.
  • Admirable because they are standing up for something which is good and noble and may not be the most profitable course for their company to take.

As many of you know we started a website some time ago called Naked Computers to track these Brave and Admirable suppliers around the world. It’s been useful to many but it has been quite quiet recently and it could definitely do with a revamp to make it look more appealing (any WordPress Theme designers fancy knocking up a new look and feel for the site?).

In the UK there is one computer supplier that, in my humble opinion, should be applauded for their attitude: Novatech. I think that every machine they sell from their website or retail outlets are offered with or without an Operating System; it’s your choice. It’s quite interesting to look on their site and see just how expensive Windows really is: ~£70 to ~£800 or more!

Recently I noticed Novatech making a few noises on Twitter and I commented positively on their approach to selling naked computers. This was their reply to me:

@opensourcerer Thanks for recommending us, we sell all systems without operating systems as we like to give our customers a choice.

So come on you lot! Let’s try and come up with a plan, ideas and suggestions as to how to go about fixing this problem once and for all… Our company, The Open Learning Centre can host a wiki or something if needed but please use the comments here to start the ball rolling.

Are there any lawyers out there who fancy a challenge? Want to fight for Freedom and allow consumers to make their own choice rather than be forced to pay for something they frequently neither need nor want?

Finally, for those naive souls who believe that an EULA gives you some protection or guarantees, think again…

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8 Comments

  • Ramón says:

    I didn’t realize the EULA became even more restrictive in that regard! That’s horrible.

    I’ve been fighting compulsory OS bundling for over a decade now in Switzerland, and there is absolutely nothing we can do. I even set up a company that sells PCs without operating systems, but we can only do this for PCs we assemble ourselves. Any brand-name PCs come with at least a Win 7 Home license which can’t be returned. Only if we’d buy 1000+ pieces in bulk would we get any say in what goes onto the box.

    The situation is even worse with laptops, where only BtO (built-to-order) devices are available without OS (well, with FreeDOS). But these BtO devices usually cost MORE than the same laptop would cost with Windows, so this is not in the customer’s best interest.

    We’ve had to go as far as to recommend Dell to our customers, since Dell usually has a good return policy and does refund the money for the software bundle (Windows and usually a trial version of MS Office that also gets refunded).

    Unbundling the software is something that should be forced through in court. In France, customer protection laws did exactly that, it’s much easier to receive a refund there because there are laws that customers can cite. There are dozens of court cases where customers received their money back (see e.g. http://racketware.info/index)

    In Switzerland, no such luck. The “Federal Competition Commission” (Commission de la concurrence) states that since most customers want Microsoft Windows as an operating system, Microsoft is not abusing their dominant position by enticing vendors to bundle that operating system. Also, cheap Chinese no-name manufacturers do sell laptops in Switzerland without OS. So the commission sees no reason to do anything on the legal front.

    Sad, all this. We’ve been fighting for decades and we ended up in a worse position than where we started. Except in France.

  • [...] Lord said last week that “PCs with Compulsorily Bundled Software Should Be Outlawed”: I’ve written about [...]

  • Hi Alan, we met the other night. I’m a WordPress developer and I’d be happy if you want to have a talk about a new theme for your Naked Computers site.

  • LIAR says:

    Just a few remarks from France ;)

    – Yes, in France, /the law/ allows you to be refunded, but we have at the same time inherited of many rights-reducing laws like: LCEN, DADVSI, HADOPI 1, HADOPI 2, LOPSI 1, LOPSI 2… That are very close to prohibiting FOSS, based on fallacious arguments (artist’s defence, state security, etc.)…

    – Also philosophically, do you find it normal to have to go through the process of “getting a computer with many options you don’t want and then be forced to do a complicated procedure to get reimbursed, rather than simply buying the stuff you need? (and why is it the case for computers and not cars or washing machines?) Indeed, unfortunately, /the practice/ is still so complicated that many buyers don’t even try to be refunded, they simply buy the machine “as is” and drop Windows & al. Unfortunately, this still contributes to support M$ & al practices… (an example of complication is that some sellers – ASUS for instance – require you to return your machine for Windows “to be removed by one of their employee”, which takes around 1 month… even if it has been declared illegal many times during many trials…)

    And for you, Alan, more particularly:
    – in France there exists a similar initiative as your ‘naked computers’ website. Maybe, it would be worth linking it on your site:
    http://bons-vendeurs-ordinateurs.info/
    – also, for those French consumers that want to be refunded or simply consumers that would like to know more about their rights, more information is present here:
    http://racketiciel.info/

  • Bryan says:

    In my house there are 3 laptops and 2 netbooks in use, all 5 devices have windows licence stickers attached, all 5 devices were instantly formatted from day 1 and Debian installed on each.
    This infuriates me that we have been hit with “windows tax” 5 times and Microsoft have racked up another 5 sales for their unwanted operating system, just from 1 family home.
    How many millions of unwanted sales are being forced upon people from the dubious sales practices of the Microsoft monopoly.
    In this day and age and in democratic societies this kind of salesmanship should definitely be outlawed.
    I don’t see any other company being able to get away with this type of “selling”, it’s a disgrace.

    If suppliers really insist on bundling Microsoft insecure operating systems to the masses, it should be as trialware, with the option to go online and buy a licence key for the product, that way the consumer has a choice.

  • Edwin Cluck says:

    I’m in the same boat. Dell Online Outlet has just supplied a very nice laptop, sadly with Microsoft Windows cluttering up the hard disk.

    For over 20 years, I’ve been a *nix user. The new Dell laptop could only be supplied with Windows 7 Home Premium pre-installed, along with various pieces of Microsoft “crapware” – ad-laden copies of Microsoft Office, etc.

    It’s aggrieving that Microsoft has taken my money for software that I neither needed, nor wanted.

    I’m painfully aware of Microsoft’s unethical business practices, not least the persistent allegations of the corporation’s involvement in the untimely and suspicious deaths of its business rivals. For more on that, see the opening words to Andrew Tanenbaum’s 2006 book on Operating Systems…

    For these reasons, I asked Dell for a refund on the cost of the bundled MS software. I was refused.

    Yet, I see that there have been fruitful recent court cases in France and Belgium, in which the litigants have successfully argued that the unrequested bundling of expensive software with the purchase of a new computer system is in breach of Directive 2005/29/EC, the Unfair Commercial Practices Directive.

    http://translate.google.com/translate?hl=en&sl=fr&u=http://non.aux.racketiciels.info/

    It could also be a reasonable legal argument that the terms of Microsoft’s End-User License Agreement cannot form part of the Contract of Sale, since that too would be unlawful.

    Under the 1999 Unfair Terms in Consumer Contract Regulations, the OFT Guidance is that it is considered unlawful to “irrevocably bind the consumer to terms with which he had no real opportunity of becoming acquainted before the conclusion of the contract” (See Schedule 2 to the Regulations.)

    http://www.legislation.gov.uk/uksi/1999/2083/schedules/made

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