Microsoft fights Linux, piracy with cheap Windows for used PCs

Microsoft has introduced a new pilot programme to encourage refurbishers to instal legitimate copies of Windows XP on used PCs.

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Microsoft has introduced a new pilot programme to encourage refurbishers to install legitimate copies of Windows XP on used PCs.

The new Microsoft Authorised Refurbisher (MAR) programme offers a discount on the retail price of Windows XP, along with deployment tools to help refurbishers quickly and easily reinstall Windows and all of the relevant drivers on renewed PCs, said Hani Shakeel, senior product manager of the genuine Windows product marketing team.

When MAR is fully rolled out, it will also help stem what Microsoft acknowledges as widespread flouting of its XP licensing rules by refurbishers.

Observers say MAR also attempts to ameliorate another risk: that refurbishers, frustrated by the high cost and difficulty of following Microsoft's arcane Windows licenses to the letter, will simply install a free Linux operating system on renewed PCs instead.

Some resellers "are saying, 'We're just going to ship this stuff out with Ubuntu Linux,'" said Adam Braunstein, an analyst with the Robert Frances Group.

Braunstein estimates that for now, no more than one in ten refurbished PCs goes back out for sale sporting Linux rather than Windows. But Microsoft is worried. "There are pieces of the armour that are pretty rapidly deteriorating," he said.

Two large US refurbishers: Redemtech and TechTurn have been initially selected to participate in MAR.

Microsoft has long encouraged the donation and reuse of older PCs, albeit in a limited way. Its Community MAR program lets PC recyclers obtain cheap copies of Windows that they could use to install on used computers.

But the catch was that those licenses were only available for PCs destined for use by charities, schools and other non-profit groups. As a result, only 200,000 refurbished PCs worldwide last year benefited from the Community MAR program, according to Microsoft.

Meanwhile, up to 28 million refurbished PCs will be sold this year, making up 10% of the global PC market, according to Microsoft's Shakeel. Nearly all are destined to consumers and smaller companies.

Many of those PCs shipped will be violating some aspect of Microsoft's complicated End User License Agreement (EULA) for Windows.

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