The Windows Refund Day demonstrators, who clutched stuffed
penguins and shrink-wrapped computer manuals, said they were marching
for their right to chose a computer operating system other than
Microsoft's dominant Windows.
``We don't want their Windows, we want our money back,'' said
computer programmer Eric Raymond, the leader of the rebellion who was
dressed like Obi-Wan Kenobi from ``Star Wars.''
The demonstrators want to take advantage of a clause in
Microsoft's licensing agreement that entitles computer users to a
refund if they have never used Windows software that was preloaded
into computers. Most of the protesters use Linux, a free operating
system whose logo is a penguin.
Microsoft officials agree the licensing agreement, which is meant
to deter piracy, allows a refund, but say consumers must get them
from the computer-maker, not from Microsoft.
The rally was relatively sedate. The protesters didn't chant and a
rock band that had planned to play for the crowd did not appear
because they lacked needed permits.
However, the protesters did carry posters with slogans like ``Pro-
Choice,'' and ``We Don't Do Windows.'' Several tried to barge into
Microsoft's ninth-floor office, but building security officers
blocked the elevators from reaching that floor.
Microsoft set aside space for the protest on the top floor of a
four-story parking garage. Microsoft officials greeted the dem-
onstrators with iced tea and lemonade, but did not hand out any
Instead, Microsoft distributed written statements saying that
refunds for unused software have to come from computer equipment
manufacturers, which licensed the software from Microsoft.
``Calling your reseller is the way to go,'' said Microsoft
spokesman Charles Earnest, who tried to keep a smile on his face even
though a crowd of protesters was closing in on him.
``How many Catch-22s do we have to go through?'' replied Raymond,
president of the Open Source Initiative, a nonprofit association that
advocates making all software code freely available to programmers to
use and improve as they want.
Windows Refund Day was organized by proponents of Linux, but also
drew people using other software like Free BSD, a Unix-based
Brian Targonsky, a computer consultant visiting from Connecticut,
said he didn't expect a refund check, but hopes the rally will
pressure both Microsoft and computer makers to issue refunds to Linux
users like himself.
``All we want is choice and for them to honor their license
agreement,'' Targonsky said.
Other Windows Refund Day events around the world drew small
crowds. Organizers said about 20 showed up at a Microsoft office in
Irvine. Microsoft said only one person appeared in Santa Monica and
seven in New York, while no one showed up at other offices in France,
New Zealand and Japan.
Yesterday's demonstrations could be dismissed as the act of a
small but vocal band of Linux fanatics. Yet computer industry analyst
Rob Enderlee of Giga Information Group in Santa Clara said the
protests may be only the first assault by Linux proponents on
Microsoft's seemingly impenetrable fortress.
``It may seem insignificant now, but it could overthrow the whole
empire,'' said Enderlee, who added that Refund Day events show Linux
proponents ``are dangerous because one, they are organized, and two,
they are willing to be heard.''
Indeed, with large corporations like IBM, Oracle and
Hewlett-Packard starting to embrace Linux, which is freely
distributed on the World Wide Web, even Microsoft CEO Bill Gates
commented publicly that he is worries that Linux could be a threat to
the dominance of Windows.
``Linux represents a growing group of consumers who are
dissatisfied with Microsoft products,'' Enderlee said. ``Linux is a
rally point. People who've never touched Linux may see it as
something they want to get involved in.''
Refund Day protests may become a double-edged sword in the
Department of Justice's antitrust case against Microsoft. Since
November, Microsoft has been defending itself in court against
charges that it illegally used its Windows monopoly to try to snuff
out competition in the Internet browser market.
``Microsoft may use the protests to bolster claims that consumers
have alternatives to Windows,'' said Hillard Sterling, an antitrust
attorney with the Chicago law firm Gordon & Glickson. ``But the DOJ
may use the protests . . . to give life to the government allegations
that Microsoft is a bully and a predator.''
This article appeared on page D - 1 of the San Francisco Chronicle