The Microsoft tax and Windows refund in Canada: Lenovo

I am one of those (quietly) rabid Microsoft opponents. I believe Microsoft represents a collossal market failure, in that it has added very little in innovation  towards making better software. Instead, its innovation has nearly entirely been in capturing and maintaining monopolist influence and consumer dependency — buying up and co-opting others’ ideas, and designing software to increase dependency rather than to improve quality, performance, or productivity.

Anyway, there are countless users of open-source operating systems (primarily GNU/Linux) who protest at the unconscionable, flagrant anti-competitive tactics that Microsoft gets away with in controlling the bundling of new computer hardware with their own operating system. In many parts of the world, it is very difficult or impossible to buy most computer hardware without paying for a copy of Windows, even if you will never use it. There is much secrecy amongst computer manufacturers about how much of their new computer prices are actually going to Microsoft, and there are many tricks and obfuscations used to frustrate consumers who reject the Windows end-user license (EULA) and wish to receive the ostensibly offered Windows refund for their new computer. It’s scandalous that these monopolist practices persist. With many manufacturers, like Lenovo, it is currently impossible to get a refund for recent Windows versions even if you prove you did not accept the EULA and deleted Windows before ever using it.  Worse, companies who offer some of their computers loaded with GNU/Linux or who offer a choice between Windows and GNU/Linux tend to charge a premium on the hardware without Windows installed, even though it’s much cheaper to produce for them (or else maybe they are actually still paying Microsoft for these machines as part of their horrific agreement with that firm?).

Recently and unfortunately, I decided I wanted a ThinkPad and ordered one, convincing myself that I’d request a refund for the operating system when I received the computer. Then I read that this was no longer possible with Lenovo and Windows 7, and that there was no way to get ThinkPads without Windows, ie without paying the Microsoft crooks on the order of a couple of hundred bucks. On the day (13 October, 2010) that I received a notice of shipment by email from Lenovo, ie telling me that my system was on its way, I had decided I should have purchased a system from a vendor that ships with GNU/Linux instead (and offers better specs but maybe cheaper build), so I got around to phoning Lenovo Canada’s returns department and asked whether I could return the computer, unopened, as soon as I received it.

“Why do you want to return it?” asked Lenovo.

“I found out that I won’t be able to get a refund if I reject Microsoft’s EULA”, I replied.

After a short amount of time, and mentioning something about a Return Prevention Program, Lenovo asked “How much were you wanting to get back for Windows?”  I replied $150.

“I can offer you $120” was the immediate response.

“Uh, okay,” said I, misunderstanding at the time that this money would not be taken at all from Microsoft’s share of profits, but rather from Lenovo’s simply as a disincentive to me to return something I’d already ordered.  Had I returned the machine, I would have paid 15% restocking fee. Instead, they prefer to pay me about 10% to keep the machine.

So here is my advice to all GNU/Linux users ordering from Lenovo in Canada (at least).

  1. First, file a formal complaint to the Canadian Competition Bureau (I’m happy to provide you with what I sent them). It’s very important that you write to them and register with them your estimated losses. Such reports may be the only way that the government has to estimate total consumer losses due to enforced purchase of Microsoft products (direct losses, I mean!).
  2. Do as I did, after you’ve placed the order. You might also refer to the different policies that other computer manufacturers have about Windows refunds (search the web). Call them up and tell them you want to return it because you do not plan to use Windows and cannot get a refund if you reject the EULA.

You may not be retrieving your money from Microsoft, but you will be putting pressure on Lenovo, through its Return Prevention Program, to change their horrific anti-competitive contract with Microsoft.

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3 Responses to The Microsoft tax and Windows refund in Canada: Lenovo

  1. Azeem Michael says:

    Thanks for the advice. I also tried to have Lenovo give me refund for unwanted Windows 7 Pro. Unfortunately, however, this did not work for me. I’m now planing on filing a lawsuite in small claims court. I have also filed a complaint with the U.S. DOJ Antitrust Division as well. I hope they do something soon about this. I also encourage other U.S. residents to do the same as well.

  2. cpbl says:

    Good luck. I hope you make a public record about how it goes somewhere, or let me know privately if you end up signing a NDA about your efforts. There seem to be suspiciously few records on the web about people’s attempts in small claims courts against the “Microsoft tax”. Is this because they tend to settle with NDAs? Or because those as dedicated as you are truly rare?

    Anyway, I hope you saw my followup to this article: it explains why it may not be worthwhile in Canada complaining to the Competition Bureau.

  3. Pingback: Review: System76 and their “Sable Touch” desktop computer | The Red Pen

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