My Refund for Unused Windows 95

If you want a thing well done, get a couple of old broads to do it. -- Bette Davis

I've decided to break this up in date order, so folks can immediately jump to more current information. For newcomers it remains in chronological order, so folks can read it in order without having to back up constantly.

28 January 1999
27 January 1999
22 January 1999
21 January 1999
20 January 1999
November 1997
April 1997
February 1997

In January 1997, I went looking for a new notebook computer. This is the story of my trials and tribulations regarding the freedom to use the operating system of my choice.

Administrative Note: I couldn't get permission to cite the e-mails I received from the OEM whose computer I ended up buying, so per the Fair Use clause of United States copyright law I will be excerpting rather than quoting in toto.

After researching various notebook computer offerings, I settled on a particular brand and model which had the equipment I wanted at the price I was willing to pay: Canon Innova Book 490 CDS.

06 February 1997
I went to buy the machine at a local computer reseller. When I asked to have an unformatted hard drive instead of one preloaded with Windows 95, however, I was informed that this was not possible. Flabbergasted, I argued with the salesman a bit, but he was unrelenting, as was the manager. When I said I wouldn't pay for an operating system I wouldn't use, he said he wouldn't sell me the machine, that the company's license with Microsoft prevented them from removing the OS. (Interested in reading
how a long-time computer geek could not know about preloads prior to 1997?)

Well, I ranted and raved the whole way home about having to pay for something I didn't want and couldn't use. I got it home and started to boot it to see what sort of message this forced OS had for the unsuspecting user. Well, first thing it asked if I agreed with the license agreement, to which I responded (clicked) NO. That's when I the system instructed me to read the End User License Agreement (EULA) to see about returning the product for a refund. So, I clicked the option for reading the EULA.

Armed with my EULA, I went to the Canon web site to see what instructions were there for returning unused Windows 95. There was nothing. So, I hunted around the site for something related to Customer Service, but the only place where I could find an invite to contact them for anything remotely related to this purchase was on the Tech Support Page. I filled out the form, explaining that I wanted my refund as per the Win95 EULA:

> Inquiry:  Portable Computer Technical Inquiry
> Description:  This isn't a =tech= support problem but I couldn't find a 
> place to contact general customer service here on the web
> pages.  Just bought a Canon Innova Book 490 CDS, which came 
> bundled with Win95.  The Win95 EULA says I can return Win95 
> to the manufacturer of the computer product =for refund=. 
> Good.  I was hating the fact that my computer was probably 
> costing me more to come bundled w/ an OS I wouldn't use, 
> anyway.  (I'm a Linux user.)  Please e-mail me instructions 
> for getting my refund for not using Win95.  AdThanksVance. 
> Donna.
07 February 1997
I called Canon's 1-800 number, cuz I was worried they might need proof that I hadn't used the OS, and how could I prove I wasn't using what they'd put on my hard drive? I thought, at the time, that it was possible they would want me to send my hard drive to them and they could replace it with an unformatted drive. The weekend was fast approaching and I desperately needed to use my new computer, but I refrained from doing so until receiving explicit instructions from Canon. The last thing I wanted to do was jinx this refund! The person I spoke to there suggested that I transcribe the relevant portions of the EULA and upload it in a form to the same Tech Services page I'd written to before, which I did.

10 February 1997
I received a response from a Support Representative within Canon. Among other things, this is what she said:

> What is the "Win95 EULA"?  Canon Computer Systems, Inc. is not the Manufacturer 
> of Windows 95.  If Microsoft claims to offer refunds for Windows 95, you need to
> contact them.  

My response to that was as follows:

Date: Mon, 10 Feb 1997 00:06:04 -0700 (MST)
From: "Donna." 
Subject: Re: Portable Computer Technical Inquiry

Thanks for your reply.  As you work further through inquiries sent to your
web site, you'll see where I wrote back, at the request of a customer
support person I talked with on Friday, and included the pertinent part of
the Win95 End User's License Agreement, aka EULA. 

According to the EULA itself:
IMPORTANT-READ CAREFULLY: This End-User License Agreement ("EULA") is a
legal agreement between you (either an individual or a single entity) and
the manufacturer ("PC Manufacturer") of the computer system ("COMPUTER")
with which you acquired the Microsoft software product(s) identified above

Canon is the manufacturer of the computer system with which I acquired the
Microsoft software product, aka Win95.  For point of record, I tried to
purchase the Canon notebook of my choice =without= having Win95 already
bundled on the hard drive, but could not.  

BTW, thank you for your cautionary note regarding Canon's inability to
guarantee drivers for Linux.  I am well aware that Canon technical support
will not be able to support any software other than the Windows 95 which
came bundled with my notebook.  That is not the problem.  The problem is
that the licensing agreement says that if I do not agree to the terms of
the license, I am entitled to a refund from the manufacturer;  I do not
agree to the terms of the license, I have not used the software product, I
have no intention of ever using the product, and I'd like to return it for
my refund according to the instructions in the EULA.

Are you telling me that the End User License Agreement found on my system
at bootup is NOT a binding agreement?

Cybrarian, NiEstu

I felt that my final question was highly pertinent, and something I don't see being addressed in all this talk of refunds: the only way that a manufacturer can get out of giving the refund is to admit that the license is invalid ... which would have incredible rippling effects throughout the world of commercial software, which depends upon the binding quality of their shrinkwrap licensing.

12 February 1997
I received a query for details of the equipment purchase: name and address, what sort of system I'd bought, when I'd bought it, and where I'd bought it. The date on the e-mail was 10 February 1997, but for some reason I didn't receive it until 12 February. I replied with the requested information the same day I received it. I also had to ask what was the significance behind not wanting a Post Office Box for an address, since that's what NiEstu uses.

16 February 1997
After not hearing anything from Canon after their request for information, I queried again. Remember, I had NOT USED my new computer for 10 days, out of fear of doing something wrong that would jeopardize my refund. This was the e-mail I sent:

Date: Sun, 16 Feb 1997 23:28:43 -0700 (MST)
From: "Donna." 
Subject: Re: Re[2]: Portable Computer Technical Inquiry

It's been 10 days since I first wrote to Canon to ask about procedures for
this refund.  Your support people have never heard of it, and it's not
documented on your web page.  I can appreciate that this is an unusual
situation for you and, as such, you don't have an automated procedure in
place for handling it.  However, I hope you can likewise appreciate that,
out of respect for whatever your refund procedure might turn out to be, I
have yet to do ANYthing with the notebook I purchased 10 days ago. 

Therefore, as of this evening, (16 Feb 1997) I'm using FIPS to repartition
my hard drive without touching the Win95 partition, so that I may load
Linux on the remaining hard drive space and actually begin =using= my new
machine.  The Win95 documentation and supporting CD remains unopened and
will be yours for re-use once you've determined how this refund is going
to happen.  The Win95 partition will cheerfully be reformatted once the
refund has come through. 

I trust that, since the delay in using my machine was due to your lack of
administrative procedures to handle what must be for you an unusual
problem -- including not responding to my explicit request for information
as to my using the machine until you resolved the issue -- my warranty
will be extended 10 days. 

Cybrarian, NiEstu

18 February 1997
This time, I got a supervisor rather than a line grunt. The supervisor said he was unclear about whether I was wanting a refund for the operating system or for the entire unit. In my reply, I relied heavily on quoting him, and as I said before I did not receive permission to quote these people in toto, so the copy of my e-mail reply is slightly modified. What is most relevent here, I believe, is the assumption that, without Windows, an 80xxx box could not have been used!

Date: Tue, 18 Feb 1997 19:14:06 -0700 (MST)
From: "Donna." 
Subject: Re: Refund

On Tue, 18 Feb 1997, [name omitted] wrote:

>      Hi.  I am [name omitted] a Customer Care Supervisor at Canon.  I have 

I'm glad to finally have the chance to "speak" with a supervisor.  For the
official record, it took 12 days from the time I first contacted Canon for
my refund for us to get to this point. 

>      received your message inquiring about a refund.  I am unclear as to 
>      whether you are seeking a refund for the operating system or the 
>      entire unit.

The operating system.  This unit was intended to be a Linux box from the
very beginning.  

[most of his text omitted, to avoid infringing on his copyright]

>      In order to consider a refund 
>      from Canon you must have not used the PC.  


>      If this is your situation then I can assist you with your request.  
>      However, if you have used the computer, this constitutes acceptance 
>      and the normal warranty restrictions apply.

Here it sounds as though you're confusing "computer" with "computer and
operating system".  I have not used the operating system that came bundled
with my computer, which is Win95.  I have never agreed to the license, and
have =never= booted in Win95.

Because your office had no idea how to handle this request and refused to
answer my questions regarding the use of the part of the hard drive not
stuffed with Win95, I was forced to use FIPS to repartition my drive so
that I could finally put Linux on it and begin using it.  I couldn't very
well have the unit collecting dust while Canon decided how they were going
to refund my money for the operating system I have no intention of using.
My hardware warranty was racing toward expiration, since I'd taken
delivery of the unit, but never had a chance to actually use it.

Win95 is still hogging some 330Mb of my hard drive.  The machine
technically qualifies as "dual boot" because I left the Win95 partition
untouched until I heard back from you.  However, Linux's LILO manages the
boot record, and defaults to booting in Linux.  The Win95 license has
never been agreed to, and so if the unit is not booted in Linux, that EULA
shows up again.  If LILO is not interrupted, Linux is booted and the user
has no idea that Win95 even exists on the machine except for the loss of
all that drive space.  Once I've got my refund, the partition currently
wasted by holding Win95 will be reformatted as an ext2 file system, and
there will be no hint that Win95 ever existed on the unit, and the unit
will revert to being a single-boot machine.

Personally, I think refraining from using my new notebook for 10 days was
more than reasonable to meet the conditions under the license for
receiving my refund, seeing as how I wrote to your support center
immediately and even called, voice, the very next day, and also especially
since a license regarding Microsoft software shouldn't have any bearing on
whether or not I use my Canon hardware.  Ideally, I should never have been
forced to buy Win95 with this notebook in the first place. Along my
journey to receive the refund rightfully due me, I've met many Linux users
who are anxious to learn of my experiences, as the general perception is
that manufacturers are forcing us to buy Microsoft products we'll never
use as a result of these bundling agreements. 

Now that I've explained this to the third Canon rep, when can I expect my

Cybrarian, NiEstu

24 February 1997
Finally, a manager! He apologized for the delay, explained that he'd never heard of such a thing before (and he'd been in this business a long time!), and promised to keep me updated on the progress toward effecting my refund. I thanked him profusely, told him I understood that this must be unusual for him, but was sure he was up to the task.

Unfortunately, I was not to hear back from him until ....

01 April 1997

Date: Tue, 1 Apr 1997 21:28:43 -0700 (MST)
From: "Donna." 
Subject: Re: EULA

Hi there.  Remember me?  It's been over five weeks and I haven't heard
anything, so I'm checking in.  What's the status of my refund?

Cybrarian, NiEstu

25 April 1997
He wrote back, thanked me for reminding him, said that I should send the Windows CD, supporting manual and documentation, and copy of proof of purchase, to his attention, address included at the end of his e-mail, and promised a refund of $99. He reminded me, of course, that the seal on the packages had to be unbroken. Heh. That wasn't my problem. My problem was finding the darned dust collectors, since they'd been in my way for almost 3 months at that point!

some time later in 1997
This is where the record gets murky. I was getting sicker and sicker, with a medical problem which had been misdiagnosed for almost 10 years and ended up in surgery for me in mid-1997; we had some delay finding the paperweights we needed to send back; and I'm still looking for a paper trail identifying exactly when we sent the stuff back and when we got the refund. I wish now I'd had the presence of mind to scan it in when it came, like
Geoffrey Bennett did, instead of just throwing it into the stack of checks for deposit and taking it to the bank.

I did dig up some old posts I'd written to the AM-INFO mailing list, about the refund.

A few people have asked if the OEM truly refunded what the operating system cost them, and in all honesty I never bothered to ask that question. It never occurred to me that Canon would rip me off, and in retrospect, judging from some of the OEM licensing deals I've been reading about in various media outlets, it seems as if Canon was the one not getting a fair price on their licensing.

20 January 1999
Seeing the comment, on the
Windows Refund Page that Geoffrey Bennett's refund page "started it all", I peevishly sent an e-mail to the admin of the Refund Page, Matt Jensen, and cc:'d places I thought might be interested. Matt was johnny-on-the-spot, writing me immediately to ask for a URL he could link to. Taking a cue from Mr. Bennett's page, I collected old e-mails and stuck them up here, along with my commentary.

In all fairness, Mr. Bennett's refund page did "start it all" in the sense that, about six months after he put it up on the web, a slashdot reader saw it and sent it in, which started a huge flurry of discussion, although I think perhaps that Matt was the one who "started it" in the sense that he set up the initial Refund Page as a repository of easy-to-find information on getting a refund.

21 January 1999
I see that the
Windows Refund page got moved to the Linux Mall, and apparently the links to the postings I gave Matt Jensen (from, where it originated, didn't make the transfer. Oh well. What's important is that the word is finally getting out, and probably doesn't like any reference to the fact that Rob never posted my articles on getting a refund back in 1997 and 1998. *giggle*

22 January 1999
Clifton Wood, who serves as "Mr. Ask Slashdot", has written to me to apologize for my article being lost in the slosh over at While I appreciated his note, I did think it rather strange that an essay on How I Got My Refund would have ended up in the "Ask Slashdot" pile ... not to mention the fact that I don't remember "Ask Slashdot" being as old as that (it might be; dates really aren't my forte and I had to dig up a lot of e-mail to put this page together accurately). What I didn't think to ask Mr. Wood is, if he did indeed see my article, why he answered negatively, as he said he did ("Refunds for Windows in this industry is unheard of.").

I feel bad here cuz it looks like I'm giving Mr. Wood a hard time. Personally, I think he got me confused with the scores of people who did write in to ask if a refund were possible, and that he probably never saw my original article on the matter. Truth is, I've written a handful of articles that I've sent to which have never been posted; most of the discussion comments I've ever entered have either never made it or have been deleted soon after. While it's certainly Rob's perogative to post what he wants on his own site, I'm likewise free to talk about it on my site.

Oh, and Linux Mall has written me to say that my link is back on the Refund Page. Just to keep my own Refund section complete, I figured I'd include it here as well: some posts I dug up from the AM-INFO mailing list.

I'm still hunting down more references, but it's taken a lower priority cuz I do, after all, have a life beyond rehashing what is, for me, two-year-old news.

Later, same day
I forgot to write earlier that yesterday, Jack Brown of the Philadelphia Inquirer in Pennsylvania interviewed me by e-mail. He wrote back today to say that my answers came in too late to be included in his story, but that if there's a followup story he's likely to use them. In any event, he gave me permission to include his questions, so anybody who wants can read what I said to him, and even understand the answers with the questions attached!

This morning, I was also approached in e-mail by Elizabeth O. Coolbaugh of Linux Weekly News, although that happened because somebody told her I'd been "getting refunds from Microsoft for years". I explained the correct story, giving my amateur journalist's perspective on how I think the story should go.

27 January 1999
CNN mentioned that my story exists, but they didn't mention me by name. In fact, it looks like they never came to this site at all, although they do link to my old postings which were up at the old Refund Page. Compare:

When they talk about me they say:
"The first reported "known Windows refund" dates back to a February, 1997 Usenet posting."

When they talk about the rest of the refund story:
They gave David Chun name credit for his June 1998 report on manufacturers unwilling to sell a system without Windows preloaded on it. They gave Dave Farber name credit for his Interesting People mailing list. They gave Brett Glass name credit for sending along a post to the Interesting People list about Matt Jensen, who also got name credit for putting up the original Windows Refund Page. They mention Rob Malda by name when they talk about Slashdot, and Don Marti, some dude they got to talk about the refund (although they don't say why they interviewed him; he does not seem to be playing a crucial role in the refund campaign. He's a Linux developer, as am I, and he doesn't appear to have received a refund, as I have), and Peter Goodman from VA Research. Geoffrey Bennett, the dude who got his refund from Toshiba at least a year after I got mine from Canon (and have been talking about it on the net since then), gets name credit as well.

Me, I'm just some February 1997 Usenet posting. For the record, my name is Donna. -- just six easy characters, five of them unique. I traded in the surname for a period years ago, long before most of the people who will read this even heard of the Internet.

In the Related Sites segment, they direct readers to Bennett's refund saga, but not mine. Rather, they include those old postings I dug up first thing, back when Matt still had the Refund Page.

Considering that they still have as the site for the Refund Page, I guess I shouldn't feel too badly ... obviously, their reporter isn't very good at keeping current before filing stories ... but still.

28 January 1999
I've learned that Don Marti is, in fact, an event organizer, so apologies for not understanding before why he was included in the CNN article. I also apologize to Daniel Dern, the author of the article printed at CNN's site, for my snippish remark last night about his reporting ability.

It took Nick Moffitt's Refund News newsletter (originally started by Matt Jensen), Issue Two, to help me pinpoint what's really been bugging me about the entire refund campaign -- a feeling of hopelessness seems to permeate most of the press regarding the event. The usual players are trying to use it for politicking, and many people seem determined to use it as some weapon in the ongoing software wars.

The problem isn't with Microsoft's contracts with OEMs, with the OEMs who go along with the preloads, nor even with the governments which allow these tactics to continue. The problem is within ourselves, within anybody who mindlessly accepts what some faceless corporation tells us about how we're to live our lives and conduct our business. What kind of people are we if we allow the first "no" some anonymous salescritter gives us to determine our futures?

Geoffrey Bennett's story, as does my own, highlights the importance of perseverence, of a belief in the principle behind refusing to pay for products and services we don't want, can't use, and tried to avoid buying in the first place. Of course the people who answer the phones and who sort the mail -- often, the lowest-paid and worst-trained employees of any corporation -- are going to say they don't know anything about the refund! Of course corporations are going to try to avoid giving us back money they've already deposited, whether or not it was taken unethically! I know of no country on this globe in which life is a charity banquet; rather, we as individuals have to stand for something, and stick to our principles, if we want to be sure to receive our due.

That doesn't mean we have to be stubborn, willful creatures standing firm on illogical conclusions. It just means that we need to recognize that we, as the consumers who pay the profits of these companies, have the power to enact change in practices by those companies. I understand that in some places people don't have the choice, but there are a lot of people who live in places where we do have a choice but neglect to exercise it.

I'm reminded again of a question Jack Brown, of the Philadelphia Inquirer, asked me last week. That question was, "Do you resent being forced to pay for software you didn't want to buy?" Now, Jack and I have had a few e-mail exchanges since that interview, and it is my opinion that at the other end of that e-mail address is an intelligent, thoughtful person who has given more than passing consideration to the issue of preloads. Besides, reporters are obliged to ask the questions their readers will want answers to. But the fact that such a question even needed to be asked jolted me powerfully.

The roots of geekdom include people who would never imagine asking such a question. The whole reason I have a computer to write this on, you have a computer to read this with, and we together have a network which connects us for the message to get out, is that people with vision refused to stop just because someone told them, "No, it can't be done". We created this computer revolution because we listened to our inner voices and shut out the din from the naysayers.

As I listen to various people throughout the storm of discussion surrounding the refund issue, I struggle in vain to find evidence of that truly entrepreneurial spirit.

Those of us who are computer professionals have lost our way if we're letting those of you who aren't computer professionals believe that you're wedded to only one type of software, or one kind of computer, no matter what your computing needs. If ever we have talked you into one system or another, without first confirming that what we're recommending will meet your unique personal computer needs, we've let you down. If ever we have let ourselves get distracted in software wars, considered ourselves too busy to learn about your needs before selling you a system, or given in to greed and/or expediency in order to proselytize our personal brand of computer religion, we've closed ourselves off from the ability to do right by you. If in any way we have ever let -- or even, Bast forbid, encouraged -- you to feel powerless in making decisions about your own computer, we have failed you.

Technology is a tool and, like any tool, can be used to empower or enslave individuals. Taking fiscal responsibility for ourselves doesn't mean we have to learn everything there is to know about computers before buying one. We don't all have to become geeks in order to sensibly and intelligently insist on buying nothing but the most appropriate tools for the jobs we need and wish to do. Rather, we simply need to recognize ourselves for the rational, intelligent people we are, and stick to our principles when a faceless company tries to convince us otherwise.

To anyone for whom this is a foreign concept, I suggest looking at the ways you make other purchasing decisions. If you own a car, did you buy what your neighbor had, or did you pick up a copy of Consumer Digest or similar publication, ask the opinions of several of your friends, and shop around at a variety of dealerships, all before handing over your hard-earned dollars? If you own a microwave, did you first take into consideration what sorts of food you normally cook and, from there, chose which microwave best fit your needs? If you own a VCR, did you compare features and service records from brand to brand? If you're in business, do you hire competent individuals to advise you, or do you hire anybody off the street for that opening in management?

Choosing your computer system is no different from making any other purchasing decision. If we who are computing professionals have led you to believe otherwise, I, for one, apologize.

P.S. to Rick Moen, whose articles I've just seen in Issue Three of the Refund News newsletter: I appreciate your remembering that I exist, but please do spell my name correctly. It's Donna. -- the period is indeed part of my name. AdThanksVance.

Last modified: Wed Feb 3 19:25:41 MST 1999

Copyright 1999 NiEstu
Leave a comment for the NiEstu concierge.