Bundling of Microsoft Windows

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Bundling of Microsoft Windows is the installation of Microsoft Windows in computers before their purchase. Microsoft encourages original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) of personal computers to include Windows licenses with their products, and agreements between Microsoft and OEMs have undergone antitrust scrutiny. Users opposed to the bundling of Microsoft Windows have sought refunds for Windows licenses, and although some customers have successfully obtained payments (in some cases after litigation or lengthy negotiations), others have been less successful.

The "Windows tax"[edit]

Microsoft encourages original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) to supply computers with Windows pre-installed,[1] saying that consumers benefit by not having to install an operating system.[2] Analyst Vishal Tripathi said that many consumers purchase PCs with pre-installed operating systems because they do not want to deal with the "learning curve" and inconvenience of installing an operating system.[3] Virtually all large computer vendors bundle Microsoft Windows with the majority of the personal computers in their ranges. In 1999, Maximum PC wrote that non-Windows users "have long griped that machines from large companies can't be purchased without Windows".[4] In 1999, analyst Rob Enderle attributed the lack of computers without Windows available for individual purchase to economic impracticality, citing certification and warranty requirements.[4] Microsoft once assessed license fees based on the number of computers an OEM sold, regardless of whether a Windows license was included; Microsoft was forced to end this practice due to a consent decree.[5] The decree, entered into in 1994, barred Microsoft from conditioning the availability of Windows licenses or varying their prices based on whether OEMs distributed other operating systems. Author Wendy Goldman Rohm said that the decree was effective in allowing Dell and HP to offer Linux computers,[6] and Jeremy Reimer of Ars Technica stated that the decree made it "fiscally realistic to sell computers with alternative operating systems".[5] In 1999, a Microsoft representative stated that their contracts with OEMs did not "stop[] any OEM from shipping any operating system on their PCs".[7] In 2010, Microsoft stated that its agreements with OEMs to distribute Windows are nonexclusive, and OEMs are free to distribute computers with a different operating system or without any operating system.[2] In a 2001 article in Byte, it was reported that license agreements between OEMs and Microsoft forbade OEMs from including Windows alongside another operating system on the same computer.[8] According to a 1999 New York Times article, "critics assert that the company continues to use its market clout to ensure that nearly all new personal computers come with Windows pre-installed."[9]

In 2009, Microsoft stated that it has always charged OEMs about $50 for a Windows license on a $1,000 computer.[10] In 2007, Dell stated that its computers with Ubuntu installed would be priced about $50 lower than comparable systems with Windows installed.[5] In a 2010 ZDNet article, Chris Clay wrote that Dell computers with Ubuntu preinstalled were priced higher than identical systems with Windows preinstalled, even though Ubuntu is free and open source.[11] The claimed increase in the price of a computer resulting from the inclusion of a Windows license has been called the "Windows tax" or "Microsoft tax" by opposing computer users.[5][12]

Some computer purchasers request refunds for Windows licenses included with their purchased computers because they do not want to use Windows, preferring an operating system such as Linux instead.[11] Jeff Walsh of InfoWorld said that businesses with site licenses can save money by requesting refunds of Windows licenses included with purchased computers.[7]

Users can avoid the "Windows tax" altogether by assembling a computer from individually purchased parts or purchasing a computer from an OEM that does not bundle Windows. Some smaller OEMs and larger retail chains such as System76 have taken to specializing in Linux-based systems to their advantage from major suppliers' paucity of non-Windows offerings. Beginning in 2007, Dell offered computers with Ubuntu pre-installed.[5] In 2014, Hewlett-Packard stated that it sells "units bundled with a built-in OS and those without".[3] Some Linux distributors also run 'partnership' programs to endorse suppliers of machines with their system pre-installed.[13] Chris Clay of ZDNet wrote that employee discount programs create a financial incentive to purchase computers from a large manufacturer, even if the manufacturer does not offer computers without Windows.[11]

Boot locking concerns[edit]

Microsoft requires that OEMs support UEFI secure boot on their products to qualify for the Windows 8 Logo Program.[14] Concerns have been raised that OEMs might ship systems that do not allow users to disable secure boot or install signing keys for alternative operating systems.[15][16] Such computers would be unable to boot any non-Windows operating system (unless that operating system was signed and its keys included with the computer),[17] further complicating the issue of Windows refunds. While Microsoft claims the OEMs would be free to decide which keys to include and how to manage them,[18] competing OS vendors' relative lack of influence on the desktop OS market compared to Microsoft might mean that, even if signed versions of their operating systems were available, they might face difficulties getting hardware vendors to include their keys, especially if end users won't be able to manage those keys themselves.[19] Boot locking is now required for ARM devices.[20]

License refund policy[edit]

Microsoft does not provide refunds for Windows licenses sold through an OEM, including licenses that come with the purchase of a computer or are pre-installed on a computer.[21] A Microsoft Denmark representative stated that Microsoft's Windows license terms allow OEMs to offer a refund for just the Windows license.[22] According to Microsoft's End User License Agreement for Windows 7, the ability to receive a refund for the operating system is determined by the hardware manufacturer:[23]

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 1999, the relevant text read[7]

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.

In 1999, according to InfoWorld, "Some users are taking this EULA literally and plan to demand a cash refund."[7] In 1999, a Microsoft representative described requesting a Windows refund on the basis of rejecting the license as "a technicality where someone is twisting the language a little bit to come up with the idea that they can run back to the OEM with this".[7] Laurie J. Flynn of The New York Times characterized the license refund argument as using a loophole in the license agreement.[24]

OEM policies for refunding unused Windows licenses vary. Some OEMs have programs that specifically allow a user to receive a refund for an unused Windows license. Acer US has a Windows refund program where a user can ship a computer with an unused copy of Windows to the Acer service center and have the computer returned without Windows for a refund.[25] Acer's policy requires the customer to return items at their own expense, and the balance received by the customer can be as low as €30.[26] The same applies for EU, the reported refund as of 2014 is €40 for Windows 8.[27] Other vendors, like Dell, have ad hoc procedures for users to request a refund of a Windows license.[28] In some cases, vendors have asked that customers requesting refunds sign non-disclosure agreements.[29][30] In 1999, a Toshiba representative stated that a case where a user obtained a $110 refund was "not the typical policy and not what other people will run into if they try it".[7] Still other vendors, such as Lenovo, have return policies that do not allow for a partial refund for just the Windows license, requiring the entire computer to be returned to obtain a refund.[31] In February 1999 InfoWorld reported that "No PC manufacturers are currently offering refunds for users who do not use Windows".[32]

Litigation by users denied a partial refund for the unused Windows license has resulted in rulings in France and Italy that bundling Microsoft Windows and then refusing to offer partial refunds for just the Windows license violates applicable law.[33][34][35][36] In September 2014, the Supreme Court of Italy in ruling 19161/2014 decided that a laptop buyer was entitled to receive a refund of €140 for the price of a Microsoft Windows license and a Microsoft Works license on a computer, saying that bundling was "a commercial policy of forced distribution" and slammed this practice as "monopolistic in tendency".[37][38][39][40] In India bundling is challenged by users as a violation of Competition Act 2002 and one of them has sent a legal notice to HP.[3][41]

Public response[edit]

Websites have been created for the specific purpose of spreading information about the issue and educating others on their options for getting a refund.[42] A 1999 rally opposing the bundling of Windows[43] attracted about 100 protesters[44] and gained media attention[45][42][46][9][44] The overall goal of such events has been to get OEMs to expand their selection of computers without a copy of Windows pre-installed, with the additional goal of getting them to revise and improve their refund policies while the first goal has not been met.[47] An analyst stated that refund actions by individual users were "a publicity stunt [that] has no impact".[7]


  1. ^ Lettice, John (2000-11-28). "MS: it's (nearly) illegal to buy PCs without Windows". The Register. 
  2. ^ a b Protalinski, Emil (2010-01-07). "Italian class-action suit targets unwanted Windows installs". Ars Technica. Condé Nast. Retrieved 2012-12-28. However, consumers benefit from the preinstallation of Windows on PCs. It provides the best user experience from the time a consumer first turns on the PC, and saves consumers the substantial effort and resources associated with having to install an operating system that functions properly." ... "Computer manufacturers are free to sell PCs pre-installed with another operating system or no operating system at all," the [Microsoft] spokesperson continued. "It's also important to note that Microsoft's agreements with OEMs are nonexclusive. 
  3. ^ a b c "21-year-old takes on HP for bundled OS". Times of India. 2014-09-11. 
  4. ^ a b "Alternate OS Users Ask for Windows Refund". Maximum PC 4 (4): 25–26. April 1999. 
  5. ^ a b c d e Reimer, Jeremy (2007-05-25). "Dell goes Ubuntu; "Windows tax" is $50 according to pricing". Ars Technica. Condé Nast. 
  6. ^ Fried, Ina (2004-07-09). "Microsoft's 1994 consent decree: Boon or bust?". CNET. Retrieved 5 February 2013. 
  7. ^ a b c d e f g Walsh, Jeff (1999-01-25). "PC buyers to demand refund for Windows". InfoWorld 21 (4): 26. 
  8. ^ Hacker, Scot (August 2001). "He Who Controls the Bootloader". Byte. Archived from the original on 2001-12-17. Retrieved 23 March 2014. 
  9. ^ a b Harmon, Amy (1999-02-16). "Self-Proclaimed Computer Geeks Hold 'Windows Refund Day'". The New York Times. Retrieved 2010-11-12. 
  10. ^ Protalinski, Emil (2009-09-16). "OEMs pay Microsoft about $50 for each copy of Windows". Ars Technica. Condé Nast. Retrieved 2012-12-28. 
  11. ^ a b c Clay, Chris (2010-02-10). "Linux users, get your Windows refund today". ZDNet. Retrieved 24 August 2013. 
  12. ^ Demerjian, Charlie (2007-03-03). "Cost of Windows tax calculated". The Inquirer. Incisive Financial Publishing. 
  13. ^ "Find a Partner". Ubuntu Partners. Canonical. 
  14. ^ van der Hoeven, Arie (September 20, 2011). "Delivering a secure and fast boot experience with UEFI". 
  15. ^ Garrett, Matthew (September 20, 2011). "UEFI secure booting". 
  16. ^ Anderson, Ross (September 20, 2011). "Trusted Computing 2.0". 
  17. ^ Leyden, John (September 21, 2011). "Windows 8 secure boot would 'exclude' Linux". The Register. 
  18. ^ Sinofsky, Steven (September 22, 2011). "Protecting the pre-OS environment with UEFI". 
  19. ^ Garrett, Matthew (September 23, 2011). "UEFI secure booting (part 2)". 
  20. ^ Williamson, Aaron (January 12, 2012). "Microsoft confirms UEFI fears, locks down ARM devices". 
  21. ^ "Microsoft North American Retail Product Refund Guidelines". Microsoft. Retrieved 2012-08-27. 
  22. ^ Gitte Bank Jensen (2011-01-14). "Køb din computer billigere uden program" (in Danish). 24timer. 
  23. ^ "Microsoft Software License Terms: Windows 7 Professional" (PDF). 
  24. ^ Flynn, Laurie J. (1999-01-25). "Linux Users Planning to Take Demands Straight to Microsoft". The New York Times. Retrieved 5 August 2015. The users are hoping to use a loophole that they say they have found in the end user licensing agreement for Windows 
  25. ^ "How do I obtain a refund for the Microsoft Windows Operating System?". 2011-04-04. 
  26. ^ "Man wins damages from Acer over Voleware refund". The Inquirer. Incisive Financial Publishing. 2007-09-22. 
  27. ^ "Acer 2014 refund story (Czech Republic]". www.root.cz. Retrieved 5 April 2015. 
  28. ^ Ward, Mark (2006-11-14). "User refund for no Windows option". BBC News (BBC). Retrieved 2010-01-15. 
  29. ^ Hillenius, Gijs (2008-08-31). "CZ: Lenovo fails to silence GNU/Linux user on Windows refund". Open Source Observatory & Repository Europe. Archived from the original on 2011-07-20. 
  30. ^ Lilian, Niv (2008-12-03). "Dell customer awarded Windows refund". Ynetnews. 
  31. ^ "Lenovo community: Windows Refund". 2009-10-01. 
  32. ^ "End-users rally for Windows refund". InfoWorld 21 (8): 18. 1999-02-22. 
  33. ^ "Italy: High Court shoots down Windows tax". Free Software Foundation Europe (quoting La Repubblica). 2014-09-12. 
  34. ^ "Ruling: Acer must refund purchase price of pre-installed software that is not being used" (PDF). heise online. 2007-09-26. 
  35. ^ "HP must reimburse Italian PC buyer the amount paid for Microsoft software". 2007-10-29. Archived from the original on 2009-03-04. 
  36. ^ Sayer, Peter (2012-02-07). "Lenovo ordered to pay €1920 for making French laptop buyer pay for Windows too". Techworld. 
  37. ^ Windows Tax Shot Down In Italy, slashdot.org, 14 September 2014
  38. ^ Italy: High Court shoots down Windows tax, Free Software Foundation Europe, 12 September 2014, accessed 14 September 2014
  39. ^ Hp perde causa: il software preinstallato indesiderato è rimborsabile, La Republica, 11 September 2014, accessed 14 September 2014
  40. ^ Guerrini, Federico (2014-10-10). "The Windows tax fight is finally over: Buyers can get a refund on their Microsoft OS in Italy". ZDNet. Retrieved 5 August 2015. 
  41. ^ "Refund for unused Microsoft Windows 8 Operating System Software" (PDF). Software Freedom Law Center, India. 2014-09-02. 
  42. ^ a b "Windows refund day". BBC News (BBC). 1999-02-16. Retrieved 2010-01-05. 
  43. ^ Merlin, Marc. "Windows refund day". Retrieved 2010-11-12. 
  44. ^ a b Evangelista, Benny (1999-02-16). "They Don't Do Windows". The San Francisco Chronicle (Hearst Communications). Archived from the original on 2009-04-27. Retrieved 2010-11-12. 
  45. ^ "ABC News: Windows refund day video". 1999-02-15. 
  46. ^ "A tiny protest makes a big noise". Slashdot. 1999-02-17. Retrieved 2010-11-12. 
  47. ^ Kosmin, Adam (2003-06-27). "Windows Refund Day II: Next Steps". Linux Journal. Retrieved 2010-11-12.