Dell's Software License Policy

Dude, you're getting screwed.

28 Aug 2003

Kat and I just received the Dell Inspiron 5100 notebook we ordered from Dell Canada. We quickly ran across problems.

I pushed the power button to turn on computer. I got the Dell POST screen, then a screen from Dell (Photo):

                       SOFTWARE LICENSES

- Before using your computer, read all of the software license
  agreements that came with each program that you ordered.
  There may be several agreements to examine.  To comply with
  the terms and conditions of the software license agreements,
  you must consider any CD or diskette set of Dell-installed software
  as BACKUP copies of the software installed on your computer's
  hard-disk drive.

- If you did not order Dell-installed software for this computer,
  or if you do not accept all the terms of the licenses, please call
  the customer assistance telephone number listed in your system

  Press any key on the keyboard to indicate that you have
  read all of the software licenses and agree to their terms.

                            Be Direct TM
                              Dell TM

But there are no license agreements in the box that the computer came in. [There are some shrinkwrapped CD containers, but the "Terms and Conditions of Sale (CANADA)" that came with the invoice says:

   "7. Software.  All software is provided subject to the license
       agreement that is part of the package.  Customer agrees that
       it will be bound by the license agreement once the package is
       opened or its seal is broken.  Dell does not warrant any software
       under this Agreement.  Warranties, if any, for the software are
       contained in the license agreement that governs its purchase
       and use."

I've never agreed to those Terms and Conditions, to my knowledge, but I assume they think they're enforceable, so I can't open up the shrinkwrap to see if the license agreements are in there, without automatically agreeing to them.]

So I called the only Dell number I could find on my documentation (1-800-847-4096) and spoke to a customer support representative. I told her what was on the screen, and told her I couldn't find the license agreements I'm required to read and agree to before pressing any key.

She put me on hold while she looked into where the license agreements might be, and eventually transferred me to technical support. The tech support agent told me her database was down, so she couldn't look up anything at all (I hadn't even told her what the problem was yet), and I'd have to call back in an hour.

I call back, and speak to a tech support woman. She says: "press Tab." I explain that I can't without saying I've read and agreed to documents I don't have. She says "press page down". Same problem. She says "scroll down". I explain it's not a Windows screen. She says "insert any Dell-shipped CD". I exlpain the problem of opening the CD packaging.

She insists I have to press a key. I ask her if she really means that I have to agree to the licenses before it's at all possible that i've read them. She says "yes". I explain that that's not acceptable, and ask for her supervisor.

Her supervisor insists it's a Customer Care issue, and not tech support, and that there's nothing he can do. He can't explain why they sent me to him. He enters my info into the call log databse, and I go to call back Customer Care.

So back into the hold queue I go.

I'm finally connected to a Customer Care representative. [Pretty much each sentence in the following was interspersed with long, long times on hold.]

She looked up the call log to get the background info. She insists she doesn't have copies of the agreements, and that I'm supposed to go online and look them up myself. (?!) She says to use a public computer if I have to. I ask how to know what companies have software on my disk. She goes away for a bit, and says she doesn't have that information, and there's nothing they can do. [And there's no supervisor available.] She asks why I don't want to agree to the license. I explain I haven't *seen* it. She says "it just says you won't copyright any of the files". I ignore the mistake, and explain that licensing agreements are long, long documents that say much more than that, and that anyway, the screen says that I have to have *read* it.

Eventually she does manage to connect me to Alan Burley (Manager, Customer Service).

He said he installs things all the time without reading the license agreements. He says I should just do that. I ask if he's really telling me to lie and to agree to legal documents I haven't seen. He says I don't have to, but the only thing he can do is take the computer back. He says that it's the first time this issue has escalated. He does manage to tell me what software is on the system, and says I need to go to those companies' websites to get their agreements. [Never mind that I need the OEM version and that's unlikely to be there.] I ask _him_ what if this was my first computer. He said I would have to go to a library or a friend's house. He really couldn't send me the agreements that Dell insists I read and agree to before using the computer.

He said he couldn't give me his phone number or mailing address, and that he didn't have a boss who could talk to me.

So we've got nothing left to do but send it back. He says he'll send waybills, and will refund the cost of the computer, including the original shipping charge, and won't charge a restocking fee. We will have to pay for the shipping back to the Oakville depot. I figured we could just run it by there ourselves (it's not too far), but he said that that's not possible. (I don't understand why. We'll probably try, anyway.)

It's crazy that it came to this. If they had said *anything* reasonable, we would have been happy to just install Linux on the thing and be done with it. But they were saying that anyone who uses a Dell laptop (with this startup screen) *has* to just lie about having read the licenses, and just blindly agree to them. That's unacceptable enough that it's going back.

It's also interesting to note that everyone except Mr. Burley assumed that I was talking about a Microsoft screen which included the Windows EULA, until I told them otherwise. This was a Dell screen, with no EULA, and I'm surprised that none of these people were aware of its existence.

After all this, we *did* try to boot off a Linux install CD. That just took us to the same screen as before. So we had to go into the BIOS so that it would try to boot off the CD before the hard disk, but after we did that, Windows started to boot, without having displayed the "press a key to agree" screen. We quickly powered the machine down before Windows started. [Though now you no longer get the "press a key to agree" screen when you turn it on, even with the BIOS settings back the way they were.]

This took from around 3pm to around 8:30pm today. I'm just bewildered that Dell corporate policy is that users need to lie to use their new laptops, and to agree to legal agreements that it's completely impossible to have read. This is the next level above "click-through" licenses. Now, they figure no one reads the EULAs anyway, so why bother even providing a copy? Update: The next day, we emailed with a summary of the above. Apparently, that address goes to a crack team of customer service people. We were called back by a helpful woman who insisted the EULAs were in the box shrinkwrapped and didn't acknowledge the dilemma. But she nonetheless agreed to take the computer back for a full refund, and even pay for the shipping. So we did that, and have never considered buying a Dell computer again.

Ian Goldberg and Kat Hanna