Weekly Wire
Nashville Scene System Wars

A long time ago on a desktop far, far away

By James Hanback Jr.

MARCH 1, 1999:  In the early 1980s, passersby at Apple Computer's headquarters may have looked up to see a black Jolly Roger pirate flag fluttering in an early morning California breeze. It was the Macintosh development team's way of saying to the world, "Hey, we're doing something different in here." The Mac generated a frenzy of loyal followers that continues even to this day.

They considered themselves renegades, rebels, and outcasts--the alternative to the great Big Blue and Microsoft team.

Nowadays, Microsoft has taken IBM's place as the "evil empire" of the computer industry, and a newer, small, but growing band of rebels has taken up the cause of consumer choice. This time, it's not the Mac fanatics who are leading this charge of consumer advocacy. These disciples of a different OS follow the likes of Tux the Linux Penguin or the FreeBSD Daemon.

They are the users of alternative PC operating systems. Most of them use Intel-type processor PCs that came with Microsoft Windows as the pre-installed OS. And they're demanding their money back. Their reason: "Why should we pay for an operating system we don't use?"

On Feb. 15, a large group of mainly Linux users converged on Microsoft's Foster City, Calif., offices, carrying unused copies of Windows that shipped with their PCs, and asking for refunds, as they say is laid out in the Windows End User License Agreement (a sample of which is available at http://www.linuxmall.com/refund).

Microsoft refused the refund requests, informing the Linux users that they must talk with their hardware manufacturers about that. The confrontation between Microsoft and the protestors, according to varying news sources, was calm and polite.

Perhaps partly symbolizing the "small band of rebels versus the evil empire" theme, as well as the open source code movement's motto "Use the Source," one of the organizers of the group of Linux users arrived at the event dressed as Obi-Wan Kenobi from Star Wars.

For years, operating system manufacturers have complained that Microsoft holds an unfair monopoly over the makers of Intel-type computer hardware. Most PCs (some estimate about 85-90 percent) on the market today come with some version of Microsoft's Windows pre-installed, and critics have alleged that Microsoft strong-arms hardware vendors into shutting out other operating systems.

Microsoft spokespeople maintain that the company does not force users to purchase its software, that people simply choose Windows over other operating systems. Linux users point out that Microsoft's dealings with hardware vendors make choosing another OS too difficult, although some vendors are now offering Linux systems. (IBM is the latest to join the groundswell of support for the Linux OS. Starting next month it will bundle Linux on some PCs and will develop its own version for its RS/6000 servers).

The Windows Refund Center was created after a Linux user asked Toshiba for a refund for the unused Windows software that came with his laptop. The story circulated through technology-oriented Web sites, and the organization was formed.

Upon contacting Microsoft, users were reportedly informed that they must contact their hardware vendors to discuss a refund for pre-installed software. Upon contacting several different hardware vendors, however, users said they were given various responses, none of which were, "Yes, we'll send you a refund."

The Windows Refund Effort's leaders have said that they hope to be a catalyst for change in the way Microsoft deals with original equipment manufacturers (OEMs), as well as a voice for users who prefer non-Microsoft products.

According to the CNET article the day after the event, the Windows Refund Day movement has disbanded, but the protestors are investigating other options, like taking Microsoft to small claims court.

Kill all the (non) lawyers

WWTN-FM radio talk show host Darrell Ankarlo recently reported that a Texas judge has suggested banning software like Parsons Technology's Quicken Family Lawyer in that state because it allows people a do-it-yourself method for preparing legal documents, like estate planning and pre-nuptial agreements.

Reportedly, U.S. District Judge Barefoot Sanders said that the use of materials in Quicken Family Lawyer by unlicensed people amounted to "unauthorized practice of law."

Ankarlo, after evaluating Quicken Family Lawyer '99 on the air, concluded along with a majority of his callers that individuals should have the right to complete and make use of the legal documents inside the software without hiring an attorney.

A new generation?

The Intel Pentium III processor is scheduled for release Feb. 26. The chip is controversial because of new "e-commerce security" measures which will broadcast a unique serial number to Web sites users visit.

Intel said the serial number would assist e-commerce sites in detecting fraud, while computer privacy groups contend that the processor's new technology would also allow those sites to track what other sites Net surfers have been visiting. The feature can be enabled or disabled by the user. Critics say that is not enough, and are attempting to widen a boycott on the Pentium III.

The chip is also debuting to slightly mixed reviews from those in the industry. The majority of its features differ little from the Pentium II, although the Pentium III requires less power and has better support for multimedia.

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