Windows Refund Day turned into more of a joke than even I predicted, with less than 100 protesters showing up at the biggest get-together, the Microsoft offices in Foster City, California. While the group was hoping for refund checks from the software giant, what they got was some refreshments and a sign welcoming Linux users to Microsoft. They also received pamphlets with the following statement:

    Dear Valued Customer,

    Microsoft welcomes you to its local sales office today. We are always available to answer any questions you might have about Microsoft products and technologies.

    We understand that part of your purpose today is to request a refund for the version of the Windows operating system that came preinstalled on your personal computer. The license agreement that accompanies the version of Windows preinstalled on new PCs clearly states that if users for some reason choose not to agree to that license, they should contact their PC maker to address this issue. When a consumer purchases a new PC, the license for Windows resides with that specific PC maker, and each PC maker has its own process for working with customers on licensing issues. PCs sold with Windows preinstalled are optimized for the Windows operating system by the PC maker to guarantee the best customer experience. At the request of the PC makers that license Windows for resale, Microsoft must direct you to the PC maker from which you purchased your copy of Windows.

    Fundamentally, you, the consumer, have a choice of operating systems and PCs. You can purchase a PC with a non-Microsoft operating system or a PC with no operating system preinstalled at all. In fact, more than 200,000 PC makers worldwide will allow you to choose which exact components you want on your PC, from processor to video card to operating system software. According to the LINUX.ORG Web site, more than 60 OEMs in 14 countries offer PCs with LINUX preinstalled. The choice is yours, and we hope that you, like millions of other customers around the world have done, choose Microsoft operating system products to run your PC and enhance your computing experience.

    As always, we invite your comments and feedback on how we can continue to serve our customers. Feel free to visit the Microsoft Web site at http://register.microsoft.com/regwiz/regwiz.asp.

    Thank you,
    Microsoft

"It's disappointing," said Don Marti, who organized the event. That's an understatement: Despite a nicely orchestrated media blitz designed to heighten awareness of Linux, the number of protesters--and Microsoft's friendly, yet check-free, response--showed that hatred of the software giant and its dominant Windows products is easiest from the comfort of one's own home.

At issue here is the bundling of Windows on over 90% of PCs sold around the world. Linux backers--and, to a much lesser extent, users of other alternative Oses--believe that they should have to pay for an OS (Windows) that they'll never use. They also point to a clause in the Windows licensing agreement that suggests they are entitled to a refund if they never use the OS. But let's be serious: Most of these people couldn't have been expecting a refund, which would have to come from the system maker, not Microsoft. What this event was really about was publicity.

Microsoft Windows Group Product Manager Rob Bennett concurs, calling the event a "publicity stunt." He met the group in the parking lot and told them that Microsoft can't stop PC makers from giving them the refunds they desire. The amount of such a refund is unknown, though it's probably in the $50 range. Moreover, most users won't qualify for a refund anyway.

"It's fairly clear that if a customer does want to request a refund on the version of Windows that comes with their PC that they should contact their PC manufacturer," Bennett says. "It's funny. These customers have bought Windows PCs and it's almost like being surprised that the cherry pie you bought has cherries in it.