If you pull out a magnifying glass and read the conditions stipulated in software license agreements, you will find them to be absolutely outrageous. They seek to remove all consumer protection by pretending that the customer is not purchasing software and manuals, but only the right to use the software and manuals. Most go as far as to state that you are legally required to destroy all copies of these materials without compensation or appeal if so ordered by the publisher.
My favorite part, however, is the section that always seems to be printed in all caps. In this section you "agree" that you don't require the software to work as advertised, as documented, or even to work at all. You effectively agree that if this new $2,000 software package does nothing but pop up a dialog box saying "You've been had" the software has fulfilled your expectations.
Now, what I find most galling about this Windows refund situation is not that the refunds have been withheld, but that despite the fact that these companies carefully craft software licenses to strip consumers of every legal protection, they do not seem to feel they should be bound by the terms they have dictated. These companies view it as a one way street. They have rights. You don't.
Research done by David Chun in June of 1998 determined that none of the 12 major PC manufactures were willing to offer refunds even though their own contracts specifically require them to do so. My own calls to the four biggest PC manufactures in Japan produced identical results.
I cannot comment on the legality of these licenses other than to say it is hotly disputed. However, they are unfair to the point of idiocy. The consumer has absolutely no way of knowing the terms of these agreements, or even that there are additional terms beyond those implied by purchase, until after the transaction has taken place.
If such practices are legitimate, it would seem that Microsoft could solve this refund problem simply by claiming that the user had actually purchased the right to have the option to use the software. Thus, a consumer would not be entitled to a refund simply because he decided not to exercise that option. This seems no more unreasonable than the current fiction that users are only purchasing the right to use the software at the discretion of the publisher.
If fact, the whole premise of an opened package being proof of consent of the purchaser is rather questionable. Can a six-year-old make a contract for her parents by opening a box? Can a temporary employee commit his employer to a legally binding contract? Can you image what Federal Express could do with this? "Special delivery. Sign here."