Microsoft is coming under fire for a new program that promises prizes to computer-system builders who report customers ordering PCs without a preinstalled operating system.
Microsoft announced the program in an E-mail apparently sent last week to system builders on the West Coast. The E-mail explains that the program is meant to insure compliance with software-licensing agreements. "Many organizations that are sending out bids believe that because they have enrolled in a Microsoft volume-license program... that operating systems for newly-acquired PCs are automatically enrolled," it reads. "There is no volume-licensing program at Microsoft that covers operating systems for new PCs."
As such, Microsoft asks that the builders turn over suspect bids to them. If they're found to be due to a site-license violation, informants will earn one point for each PC specified on the bid. The points can then be redeemed for prizes--five Microsoft game titles for 250 points; a Fossil "Big Tic" watch for 500; and a "Fast Cook & Grill Combo and Travel Chair" for 1,000.
Critics of Microsoft fear that the program will be used to track down or intimidate users of operating systems like Linux, who might order the machines "naked" in order to install the software themselves. "I think an argument exists that gathering information to [potentially] request an audit on businesses that choose not to buy Windows creates a chilling effect," wrote one poster on open-source advocacy site Slashdot.org.
"I think it's pretty sleazy," says Andrew Grygus, owner of Automation Access, a systems integrator for small businesses. Grygus received the E-mail last Wednesday. "Microsoft doesn't seem to have a lot of respect for people." He says Microsoft is being "heavy handed" in its efforts to enforce licenses, but doesn't think the company is actually hunting Linux users. "I'm sure they'll be happy to get those names, though." Grygus says he won't participate in the program. "I have no inclination to turn in my customers."
Representatives of Microsoft were unavailable for comment.