Kearn's column: Get rid of Windows, and get your money back!

They say, "You can't fight city hall," which in modern geekspeak usually comes out as, "You can't fight Microsoft" ... and win. But every war is a series of small battles, and not every battle is an assault on the citadel.

Geoffrey D. Bennett is a computer systems manager for NetCraft Australia and is also in charge of the company's Linux sales.

Bennett wanted to buy a new laptop to take on the road. Naturally, he preferred the Linux operating system to Windows 9x. What he found (and what many of us have found) is that it's next to impossible to buy a computer - especially a laptop - without some version of Windows installed.

Bennett spoke to salespeople and sales managers, but no one would sell him a laptop without Windows. Because he needed one anyway, he finally bought a Toshiba he liked, brought it home and turned it on. That's when he discovered his weapon.

When you first turn on a computer with Windows pre-installed, you're presented with the End User License Agreement (EULA). Few of us have probably read it, simply clicking the "I Agree" button so we can get on with life. But Bennett read the agreement, and he discovered this clause: "If you do not agree to the terms of this EULA, PC Manufacturer and Microsoft are unwilling to license the SOFTWARE PRODUCT to you. In such event, you may not use or copy the SOFTWARE PRODUCT, and you should promptly contact PC Manufacturer for instructions on return of the unused product(s) for a refund."

There it was: a way out! Bennett contacted Toshiba, Australia, and after a protracted discussion (read it at http://www.netcraft.com.au/geoffrey/ toshiba.html - it's truly fascinating), actually got a refund ($110 in Australian dollars, which is about US$70) for the operating system he wouldn't use.

Hearing about Bennett's saga, the folks at Linux Mall (http://www.linuxmall.com/) are now promoting Windows Refund Day (Feb. 15, 1999) when they hope everyone wanting to run a non-Microsoft operating system on a new computer that already has Windows will demand a refund.

Microsoft claims it's just a public relations stunt by the Linux community and says that no manufacturer is required to ship Windows pre-installed. Call your local retailer or go online at http://www.dell.com/ or http://www.gateway2000.com/ and see for yourself if you can buy a desktop or laptop without Windows pre-installed.

Kearns, a former network administrator, is a freelance writer and consultant in Austin, Texas. He can be reached at wired@vquill.com.

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