Windows Refund day

The page now has the higher quality jpegs, and two versions of the videos of what was shown on TV (actually you probably want the the longer Mashup of 4 TV news reports on windows refund day on youtube.


For those who hadn't heard the story, February 15th 1999 was windows refund day. It was a worldwide day when open source OS users went to microsoft's offices to return their unused licenses of windows that they were forced to acquire since they were bundled with the machine they bought.
The windows EULA (End User License Agreement) clearly states that the agreement can be refused by the end user, and that windows can be returned to the manufacturer. In real life, however, manufacturers typically say that they can't refund the windows license and tell the user to contact microsoft directly. I can't say I really blame manufacturers for doing that because:
  1. I don't have proof for this (only a few top executives would), but I'm convinced that manufacturers would lose the money they would reimburse because microsoft would not pay them back.
  2. They wouldn't be allowed to re-use the license on another machine
  3. Microsoft would impose a different OEM pricing on them if they decided to ship non ms OSes, or if they shipped machines without an OS (did you notice that typically, the only place that will sell you an OS free machine is a little shop, because they pay retail price for windows licenses anyway, so ms can't put any pressure on them).
  4. If they were to refund windows, this would reveal their (secret) OEM pricing agreement with ms and I'm not quite sure manufacturers, as well as microsoft, wants people to have that information.

Anyway, a few people from SVLUG, including Don Marti, Rick Moen (yes he was there), Chris DiBona, the world famous Nick Moffitt, and Tabinda Khan, organized the Bay Area windows refund effort.
Since at the Linux tea party, microsoft showed up at our meeting point to try to deter us from going to their offices in Palo Alto, this time, the ultimate meeting point was kept secret, and 4 officers revealed it at the last minute to the crowd that had gathered, as planned, at the four meeting points around the Bay Area.


Where do we go, when we don't know were to meet? Denny's! :-)
So, the final gathering point was in front of a Denny's in Foster City, about a mile away from the microsoft office.

Some of the press was there and filmed/interviewed us, while we were preparing our signs.

[preparing signs]

Then, we rehearsed, and made sure the signs worked :-)

[showing signs]
Some even came up with nice NQPC (not quite politically correct) signs :-) (Nathan Myers, on the left, can take all the credit for this one. If you don't understand, it's because you don't watch South Park)
(Fred Boak ( later reported that it actually comes from the movie Passion Fish)

You've heard about computer wearables, but there's no reason why you can't have penguin wearables. I need to thank Mark Bolzern from Linuxmall, for the penguins I had, since those were a gift from him. You can buy your own here

[penguin gear]
Yeah, I'm sure my Mom is real proud of having as a son a nutcase who wears penguins :-)

Also, V.A. Research was generous again, and made special T-Shirts for the event. Once again, thank you very much V.A.

[V.A. t-shirt]

[V.A. t-shirt]

[V.A. t-shirt]
"We didn't want your operating system, this is what we want"
(please, next time make it a little narrower, so that it fits on my scanner) :-)

Going to the microsoft office

So, once we were all there, and ready, we left for the ms office, and were occasionally cheered at by passing drivers who would honk at us.

[walking to the ms office]

When we got closer to the MS building, we saw on the top of the parking lot that many people were waiting for us, including a lot of reporters, from several magasines, and at least 4 TV stations.

At the microsoft office

They had signs saying "linux press conference" or "linux event", which led us to the top of that parking lot, and there were a few microsoft representatives, along with the reporters.

They tried to pull that "welcome" thing, just like at the Linux tea party, but this time we weren't ready to play along. We weren't there to make fun of them, we were there for business.

[welcome sign]
Sorry, but this time, a nice sign and a few drinks won't be enough

For reference, also, even though a majority of the crowd were linux users, it was in no way a linux only event. Other alternative OS users joined us, including FreeBSD users, and I'm told a couple of SCO users. However, I don't really blame people for mistaking this with a linux only event, as it was mostly announced as such.

We had a lot people to talk to the MS folks, including Oby One Kenoby^H^H^H^H^H^H^H^H^H^H^H^H^H^H^H^H^H^H ESR (Eric Raymond, the guy who wrote the Cathedral and the Bazaar, and who released the Halloween Documents)

[picture of Eric Raymond]

And all the reporters were here:

[picture of the reporters]

[picture of the reporters]

[picture of the reporters]

Basically, the ms folks told us the press and us that the EULA explicitly says that we should talk to the PC manufacturer. They also issued a written official statement (you may want to read it in order to understand what's below)
This is obviously rather lame since as far as I know manufacturers are coerced into fulfilling this agreement and yet wouldn't be refunded by microsoft if they refunded a customer. Can anyone tell me how different it is from the per CPU licensing they used to have before they were restrained by the department of justice in 1995?

As for the official statement:

Arne Knut Roev ( also wrote a few words about the ms response.

After speaking to the journalists for a while, we decided that ms had stalled us long enough, and that it was time to go inside to their offices. To make a long story short, all we found were closed doors, and an elevator that had been reprogrammed not to go to the 9th floor (where their office is). People did try to go to the 10th floor and take the stairs, but those stairs had doors that wouldn't open from the stairs' side.

[picture in the elevator]
You can press the 9th floor button, but it won't go anywhere...
(picture courtesy of John Beale)

Can anyone say "cowards"?
On the TV news, I saw an ms lady saying that people were working and that we couldn't disturb the office, but that's BS because we only send a very small group of people who had licences to return, exactly because we didn't want to cause trouble and disturb the other companies in the same office.

While a few were still trying to get in, the rest of us stayed outside.

[picture of the crowd]

[picture of the crowd]

[picture of the crowd]

[picture of the crowd]

and eventually left...

[picture of us leaving]

...for the CoffeeNet, were Rick Moen (there is no Rick Moen) doesn't live since he doesn't exist. (don't be overly concerned if you don't understand :-)).

[picture of the coffeenet]

[picture of the coffeenet]

Newspaper coverage

I'll fill those as I get them.

TV coverage

In the past, a couple of SVLUG members had been on TV for a minute or so to talk about linux. This time however, it was much better than anything else we'd done so far.

We ended up on all four newscasts that were on TV that evening. I have encoded those and made high bitrate MPEGs of them. They're nice, but since they're a bit big, I'll try to encode them again with a lower bitrate this time.

  1. The ABC Video
    They had a segment that lasted about 2:30mn. They showed the bald ms guy saying that our event was only about PR, and that we should see the manufacturers for refunds. Then they did show the counterpoint of us saying that manufacturers won't refund us and that they tell us to talk to microsoft.
    They compared the day to some independence day that happened all over the country, and they also mentioned that microsoft refused us entrance to their offices.
    The really cool thing is that they explained briefly what linux was, and showed a demo of a V.A. computer running linux and the KDE desktop (probably because pretty much like windows).
  2. The CBS Video
    Their segment lasted about one minute, and showed us preparing our banners, and they also showed microsoft's "welcome sign" for us. Like the others, they showed both sides of the story with regard to the refund issue.
  3. The NBC Video
    Their segment, which lasted about 2:30mn, did mention that we did a "small orderly protest", and mentioned the issue of with the elevators that did prevent us from going to the microsoft office.
    The funny thing is that you can distinctively see the "I didn't ask for the Anal Probe" sign :-).
    They also nicely spent a little time mentioning what linux was, and explaining that it was a free operating system created by Linus Torvalds.
  4. The FOX Video
    FOX was last (the page used to say UPN, this was an error), around 22:30, and only showed 30 seconds or so, but like all the others, mentioned the license issue. They did however say, I quote, "they prefer something called linux". You can tell the news anchor wasn't quite sure what she was talking about...
  5. CNN Headline News, as reported by a few people. Mark Mealman ( says: "They did a mention of it during their biz segment, comparing it to a march on Washington by users seeking a refund for their unused copies of Windows. They also said that the majority of the marchers were users of the Linux operating system." If anyone taped it, please let me know.
I'd like to say that for once, I've been positively impressed by those journalists. I'd say they all did a pretty decent job, and didn't make any blunders, or say something completely incorrect (not like it hasn't happened before). Yes, it'd have been nice if they had emphasised a little more on the fact that microsoft wrote an agreement that they manage not to respect, but that would be taking sides, and it's not their job.


I honestly never expected microsoft to pull out a check book, and start writing checks because it would not only set a bad precedent for them (many others would start asking for refunds), but also because it wouldn't have been practical for them to do so. As I mentioned earlier, each OEM gets a different pricing, so they would have had to make different checks to different people, and reveal their secret pricing agreements.
Yet, I'd have been more than happy for them to prove me wrong... Anyway, I came because the ultimate goal was to draw attention to the problem in the hopes that it would get fixed eventually (i.e. that manufacturers would truely refund people who ask, or better, that OEMs could really bundle any OS they wanted (or no OS at all), without being penalised by microsoft).

This time was really different from the Linux tea party, when they not only didn't lose face, but handled the matter very well.
This time, we clearly came out ahead. They were the ones who had to hide in their building and lock the doors, and the PR we're getting from this event is really great. I just hope it will help move things in the right direction.

Thanks all those who came, thank you for all having been orderly and for having behaved professionally, and see you all next time.
Marc Merlin (

(this was all written late, so please feel free to point out spelhing mistakes and factual errors if there are any, I'll update the page quickly. I also gladly welcome additions to the page, especially links to newspaper articles and/or scans of those).
(just to make sure since I got a few Emails about it, yes, I know how to spelh "spell", that one was a joke :-))

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99/02/16 (05:00): Version 1.0
99/02/16 (11:58): Version 1.1. Added remark on the letter, pointed out by Arne Knut Roev ( Yuan Chiao ( gave me a link to the SJ Mercury article. Mark Mealman ( and David Bubar ( mentioned a segment on CNN Headline news. Taniwha ( corrected my mistake about the UPN newscast, it was of course FOX (UPN doesn't have evening news here). Herbert Gangl ( was nice enough to correct several spelling mistakes 99/02/16 (12:20): Version 1.2. Added msnbc link
99/02/16 (12:47): Version 1.3. Added other news links from Slashdot
99/02/16 (15:34): Version 1.4. The Anal probe quote comes from the movie passion fish. Thanks to Fred Boak ( for the report. Thanks also to Benjamin Weste Pearre ( and Fred Henle ( for pointing out that I messed up while reading one of the ms quotes
99/02/16 (15:44): Version 1.5. Reworked the answer to ms's letter
99/02/17 (00:30): Version 1.6. New, rescanned jpegs of the pictures
99/02/17 (13:50): Version 1.7. First version of the videos (high bit rate)
99/02/17 (14:48): Version 1.8. Added link to linuxworld article
99/02/17 (15:40): Version 1.9. Added link to SD Union tribune article (thanks to Michael Marion ( for the link)
99/02/17 (17:20): Version 1.10. Added link to BBC news article
99/02/18 (12:36): Version 1.11. Added links to two new news sites (courtesy of Hubert Figuiere (
99/02/18 (16:14): Version 1.12. Added new videos
99/02/18 (22:26): Version 1.13. Added Mercury Center link (courtesy of Steve (
99/02/18 (22:33): Version 1.14. Added link to Arne Knut Roev's ( page
99/03/11 (23:15): Version 1.15. Added link zdnet article
99/12/06 (00:32): Version 1.16. Removed 4 broken news links