Bubble Economy

Meanwhile, test coaches at Kaplan are not particularly worried about refining their methods based on a robotic reader. Asked whether she thinks test takers will be induced by automated scoring to write stiff, structured essays, one GMAT teacher shrugs. "They do that already," she quips.

Signal and Noise

Paige Imatani

Clause Célèbre: "Does anybody know Arnold Diaz?" Jay Sulzberger, the evening's makeshift Marx, asks the crowd. He's looking for the ABC consumer watchdog to film the revolt he's hatching up here on the ninth floor of the IBM building. A strange place to organize a counterculture rebellion, certainly. But not when the enemy is Microsoft.

As "corresponding secretary" for New York's feisty "free computing group" LXNY (lxny.org), the prodigiously bearded Sulzberger is dedicated to promoting the use of free software like Linux, one of the few alternatives to Microsoft's Windows operating system. (IBM has its own, called OS/2.) It's a cause that has now turned overtly political. Sulzberger is helping to coordinate the Manhattan flank of Windows Refund Day, a nationwide protest against Big Redmond, on Monday.

The logic behind Refund Day is irrefutable: people shouldn't have to pay for software they don't want. It's nearly impossible to buy a PC without Windows preinstalled on the system. Even if you don't use the software, you're still forced to pay for it. But last August, an Australian Linux fan managed to force Toshiba to refund his $110 Australian (roughly $70 U.S.) for the Windows product he never used on his laptop. He simply demanded that Toshiba honor Microsoft's End User Licensing Agreement (EULA), which stipulates that if you don't use the preinstalled Windows (and return the machine promptly), you can get a refund for the software from the "PC manufacturer." How much of a refund? Nobody really knows, because no one had ever pressed the issue before. Judging by the testimonies on Linuxmall.org, the individual refund swings from $5 (from Toshiba) to a possible $199 (from Dell).

The movement has mobilized groups across the U.S. and Japan. But for the New York contingent, the hard part is finding a machine to martyr. Sulzberger and crew want to stage an "incident" at the New York Microsoft offices (8th Avenue at 50th), but first they need a buyer willing to purchase a PC so that they can install Linux and then demand a refund. Tuesday night, two women up in front raised their hands. "I've been trying for years to get a computer with nothing preinstalled," said one, Lyn Ohira, later. "But I was told by Gateway that it would void my warranty."

Which raises an interesting point: is Refund Day going after the right target? According to the EULA, it's the Gateways, Dells, and Compaqs of the world who are responsible for the refund. (And thus far Microsoft hasn't paid a dime.) But the protesters say they want to release Microsoft's grip on manufacturers. And with a base of more than 12 million Linux users and growing, they could be a force to be reckoned with. (Check lxny.org for protest details.) — Austin Bunn

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