Microsoft charity licence gets lukewarm welcome

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Microsoft's announcement of changes to the way it charges non-profit and charity groups for its software on second-hand machines has been criticised by refurbishers in the UK.

"Microsoft Authorised Refurbishers" will be allowed to install or reinstall Windows ME and 98 onto refurbished machines they sell to not-for-profit groups. As long as the client is an "Eligible Recipient" like a school, hospital or charity there is only a $5 admin charge from Microsoft.

Jon Godfrey, MD of Life Cycle Services Ltd, which offers refurbished computers, said: "I broadly support it but they could do more. In most cases Microsoft has already sold a license on the machine which comes in - it should be possible to transfer that to a new owner." Godfrey said that administration and replacement of authorisation stickers demanded by the scheme was an added expense for refurbishers.

He said that Microsoft is keen to see its products in developing markets to counter the threat from applications like open office which run on Linux. "Markets like Africa will one day be big markets for Microsoft - this is a way of getting people used to the interface."

Old machines rarely get passed onto charities with all their software disks and documentation included - this means they must have the software removed.

One UK refurbisher, speaking anonymously to The Register, said: "We probably send 1,000 machines a month overseas with no software on. If the licensing was easier they could be going to schools and to fight social exclusion here. I'd welcome anything to make the process easier."

Another UK refurbisher, also speaking off-the-record, said: "This is an extension of a scheme they've had running for five or six years. They require a lot of work in terms of administration and paper trials to get the licenses transferred - for us it's just not worth it. The concept is good but it is just too limited."

The changes are important because upcoming legislation from the European Commission will force businesses to reuse old machines rather than bin them wherever possible. The Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) Directive comes into force later this year. It covers a broad range of goods which must be reused or disposed of responsibly. Manufacturers are to be held responsible for the final disposal of products such as fridges and washing machines as well as computers - when they come to the end of their useful life they will have to dispose of them. ®

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