Microsoft Windows tax refund, from Dell

So I got a new computer from Dell UK. Unfortunatelly it came with Windows Vista Home Premium (32-bit) SP1 and Microsoft Works 9.0, which I did not intend to use. I contacted Dell Customer Care last Wednesday and they promised to call me back to inform me of their course of action. On Thursday morning I got a call that Dell is in the process to issue the refund and that they will contact me during the coming week when they actually issue the refund. I got the call today Monday at 15:09 that the refund has been issued, £31 for Windows Vista Home Premium SP1 and Microsoft Works 9.0.

Dell Credit Note (refund) for Microsoft Windows Vista SP1 and Microsoft Works 9.0

In detail, the Credit Note says

Item No.  Description                    Quantity Unit Price  Net  VAT
          Cust Invd b4 parts recd 3rdpty    -1      26.96   -26.96  S

                                                                 GBP
  VAT Summary                                      Subtotal   -26.96
                                                   Freight      0.00
   VAT    VAT Rate      GBP        GBP             VAT £       -4.04               
   Type     %       Total Net £   VAT £                
    S      15         -26.96      -4.04           
                                                   Total      -31.00

Now, that was the short story for getting my Windows refund. The long story was that I had to go through several weeks of effort to figure out how to get a new computer without Microsoft software. I contacted by phone both Dell and Microsoft and I estimate I was on the phone for about four hours in total. To save you the effort, here are some tips,

  1. You will get stonewalled. I did not get any reliable information on how to buy a computer without Microsoft software while I was researching my options. I actually gave up and proceeded with buying a computer with Windows, considering that my last resort was to use the EULA method as soon as I got it delivered (I would not accept the EULA, thus I would be entitled for a refund or credit).
  2. Apart from phone calls, I spent some time on Dell Chat. In one case, I was told that I can get a computer from the Latitude range with FreeDOS. They would have to get the precise configuration of the computer so that they can give me a quote. We made sure that the configuration was correct (the one in my basket with the one I would get the quote for). It sounded very promising, however, at the end the computer with FreeDOS would be about £30 more expensive than Vista. I asked for clarification on this issue but I did not get any.
  3. You will be often told that you are the first person that asks for a computer without Microsoft software. Try to think that you are a pioneer and don’t feel let down.
  4. When calling by phone, avoid using premium telephone numbers. Get a good SIP account and configure Ekiga or SFLPhone (has recording feature). For Dell UK, try 01344 373727 which apparently is fine even if you are not a Public sector customer.

Microsoft Vista first boot screen, EULA or refund/credit.

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 their return policy for a refund or credit.. (why are there two dots? — simos)

When you first boot a new computer that has Windows pre-installed, you are presented with the above screen. Why would Microsoft give the option to reject their software? I believe the reason is that they want to enter into a contract directly with the customer, thus there is no issue with removing this facility in future versions of Windows (probably for similar reasons, Hotmail now supports POP3, apparently so that small mobile devices can retrieve e-mail. You can now migrate from Hotmail to GMail easily.). However, the whole environment is setup in such a way that virtually noone would be able to pursue a successful refund. One has to scroll the tiny text box in order to find the pictured paragraph (no option to print!). Even the Microsoft Customer Care EMEA are not aware of the option not to accept the EULA.

In your case, if you do not intend to use the pre-installed Microsoft software (apparently includes the case where you already have a license, such as an Academic License), you have the option to reject for a refund or credit. Simply press the Shutdown button and do not accept the license. Then, get on the phone.

Antirrhinum (Snapdragon)

I installed Ubuntu 9.04 (x86_64) and the computer runs fine ;-).

It was unexpected when Intel got a heavy fine from the EU for anticompetitive practices. Does this practice by Microsoft (making it extremely difficult to obtain a refund or credit) constitute an anticompetitive practice?

23 comments

  • yungchin

    It keeps puzzling me: all this hassle cost both them and you a lot of time, and I imagine the total cost of this affair for Dell may well be as much as double the refund they gave you…. so why not ask a fair price for the FreeDOS version and save everyone the trouble?

    The only answer I can think of is that MS asked them to raise the price on the FreeDOS version to discourage buying those for use with illegal Windows installs. That’s not anticompetitive by intent, but the effect is the same….

  • nnonix

    “Does this practice by Microsoft (making it extremely difficult to obtain a refund or credit) constitute an anticompetitive practice?”

    No. Obviously the function to reject the EULA and obtain a refund exists. This is a failure on the part of Dell customer service alone.

  • Simos Xenitellis

    @apol: It is an issue of insisting enough, keeping calm and polite, and being comfortable to talk to many people about the same issue on a single phone call.

    @James: This whole mess is created by Microsoft, which does not document clearly the process for the rejection of Microsoft software, and does not communicate with manufacturers the issue about refund or credit.

  • Simos Xenitellis

    @ethana2: Dell does not sell Ubuntu laptops in Europe anymore. In the UK there are only Ubuntu netbooks.

    @yungchin: I asked for a fair price for FreeDOS and I got a quote that was £30 more expensive.

    @nnonix: I called the Microsoft Customer Care for EMEA and there was no clue as to the facility to reject Microsoft software. The customer care was not trained about this issue. I even called the department that is dealing with licensing issues. I was simply given the generic customer care telephone number of the manufacturer.

    In all cases (both Dell and Microsoft), the customer care was polite and tried, in their capacity, to help as much as they could. In most situations, they did not receive the appropriate training to deal with the issue of rejecting Microsoft Windows software.

  • Jay

    I’d like to tell a much different experience. I called Customer Service shortly after receiving a machine, explained to them that I do not use MS Windows and that upon initial bootup I had to accept a Windows agreement which included a clause saying that I would be eligible for a refund in the event that I do not agree with the terms. The rep was unaware but took some notes down to forward up the chain. A few days later I got a call saying my CC was charged back 30 or 60 bucks. Easy if you just be nice and honest.

  • Steve Dodier

    Seeing how hard it is in most cases to get a refund and how cheap it is compared to the real price of the software, it is illegal for sure at least in France, but also in the whole EU (but i don’t know the exact law number for EU. In France it’s mostly violations of L122-1 L113-3 and L111-1 of the Code de la Consommation).

  • nnonix

    @Simos

    I doubt Microsoft would make it any easier than it is. None of this constitutes anti-competition as it all happens after you knowingly (and by purchase, willingly) chose to buy a computer with Windows already installed.

  • Simos Xenitellis

    @nnonix: The issue with Intel and the fine they received from the EU had to do with special agreements between Intel and manufacturers to avoid using AMD products. Manufacturers would get preferential treatment, lower prices, if they avoided AMD CPUs.

    There are indications that Microsoft has such agreements with some manufacturers. See, for example, which manufacturers are able to sell discounted Windows 7 computers.

    @Martin, @TheOpensourcerer: Thanks for the links. I went through the stores at nakedcomputers, though I did not find a computer with my preferred specs.

  • nnonix

    @Simos

    Great but the question you asked and the question I answered had specifically to do with the ease at which one could obtain a refund and if that constituted anti-competition. It does not for the reasons I stated earlier.

    It’s becoming obvious that you really want to condemn Microsoft for something. Surely Microsoft deserves to be condemned for several things but this isn’t one of them.

  • Simos Xenitellis

    @nnonix: I presume neither of us has the full picture of the contracts between Microsoft and the manufacturers, and specifically how to deal with the case when the customer rejects Microsoft software. And in order to figure out whether anti-competition takes place, you take into account the full picture. That is, how easy it is for a manufacturer to sell computers without Microsoft software (Microsoft apparently gives discounts to those who sell only Windows, promote Windows on their website, products). For the case of Microsoft software rejection, the real issue is what effect does that have to the manufacturer. Does the manufacturer get any money back from Microsoft for the credit/refund they gave to the customer? Most likely they do not.

    I suppose neither of us are anti-competition experts, nor we know the full picture of the Microsoft-manufacturer contracts. We are mystified as to why there are no computers in the market without Microsoft software.

  • Simos Xenitellis

    @yungchin: Thanks for the ZDNET URL. It appears it mainly has references from 2006 and 2007, and nothing newer than 2007.

    Regarding the relative difficulty in getting the refund, there is another case I have been into that I did not blog about yet.

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