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Install Linux, Void Your Netbook's Warranty?

By Katherine Noyes
Jan 11, 2010 5:00 AM PT

Best Buy has never been a favorite company among Linux fans, and that feeling was not improved by the Microsoft ExpertZone training scandal that erupted last September. A whole new crop of reasons to hurl insults at the chain came up in recent weeks, however, following news of one blogger's experience.

Install Linux, Void Your Netbook's Warranty?

"My four month-old netbook's touchpad and power adapter all stopped working," began the anonymous reader on the Consumerist blog. "I took the machine into Best Buy for service under the Geek Squad's Black Tie Protection Plan on Saturday, and demonstrated its problems."

Ready for the kicker?

"The manager of the Geek Squad informed me that installing Ubuntu Linux on my machine voided my warranty, and that I could only have it serviced if the original Windows installation was restored," the reader wrote. "Furthermore, he insisted that the touchpad and power adapter had been broken because I installed Linux."

'Why Do People Still Buy From Best Buy?'

Heard enough? Wait, there's more!

Upon reinstalling Windows so as to return the device, the user was later told by the store's Geek Squad manager that Linux had "permanently voided" his warranty, as well as causing the computer's hardware problems.

The Geek Squad staff then physically ejected the user from the store.

Is it even possible to wrap one's head around a story like this? Bloggers tended to think not.

"After all these stories -- why do people still buy computers from Best Buy and deal with the Geek Squad?" asked Dirtylicious in the Consumerist comments, for example. "Yes, we can all say that Best Buy should be abiding by their own rules ... but we all know they don't ... they continue not to, and probably never will. Thus it begs the question, why buy 'high end' electronics from them given their continuing shoddy customer service issues?"

'I Might Have Just Clocked the Guy'

Similarly: "Real IT people don't work at Geek Squad," agreed all4jcvette. "We don't want that stain on our resumes, or our name associated with wanna-be IT people."

And again: "I feel for you man, linux does not cause hardware problems. but maybe best buy does," sympathized atomoverride. "If it was me I might have just clocked the guy."

Similar sentiments could be heard from one end of the blogosphere to the other -- including the lively crowd on Digg, who chimed in with more than 1,700 Diggs and 300 comments of their own -- so Linux Girl knew the topic deserved a closer look.

'It Makes Me Sick'

"Oh boy, that is a nasty case," Slashdot blogger Jeremy Visser told LinuxInsider. "It makes me sick just thinking about it."

The Best Buy manager's claim that the store could refuse service for any reason "is a completely bogus claim, because he is bound by warranty laws," Visser asserted. "Best Buy could have a warranty that says, 'We don't honor any warranties whatsoever' and they would still be obliged to perform a warranty service if the customer is eligible, because the law takes precedence."

It is for cases just like this one, in fact, that warranty laws exist, Visser pointed out -- "to stop companies from screwing over customers like this. Imagine if we didn't have any warranty laws at all -- *every* visit back to the store with a malfunctioning item would be met with the same response."

In any case, "I think the customer will have an easy victory in court, were he to pursue it further," Visser predicted.

'A Clear Violation' of the Law

"I'm no lawyer, but this seems like a clear violation of the Magnuson-Moss Act, which states that you may not deny warranty protection for the use of a compatible product," agreed Slashdot blogger drinkypoo.

"I can see them refusing to work on it with Linux on it; although that is a bit pathetic, you can't expect them to support Linux," drinkypoo told LinuxInsider.

"You CAN, however, expect them to know that nothing Linux will do can damage your power supply or your trackpad," he added.

'Completely Out of Line'

Once he realized there was a problem, the user "should have immediately restored the computer's configuration to factory default," Montreal consultant and Slashdot blogger Gerhard Mack asserted. "I do this even on Windows installs when I know the hardware will need replacing, especially since the factory repair center will probably do that anyway. "

Having said that, however, "the manager was completely out of line for refusing to help," Mack told LinuxInsider.

"You would think by now that people would know better than to buy computer equipment at Best Buy," he added. "At best, Geek Squad should *only* be used for home entertainment systems."

'Deserved with a Capital D'

Indeed, the user's first mistake was "having anything to do with Geek Squad," agreed Barbara Hudson, a blogger on Slashdot who goes by "Tom" on the site.

Slashdot blogger hairyfeet went even further.

"The moron deserved with a capital D to lose his warranty" because "if he is smart enough to install Linux, he should be smart enough to avoid Worst Buy," hairyfeet told LinuxInsider.

'A Recipe for Disaster'

"As someone who has been doing PC repair since the days of Win3.x, I can tell you horror stories about that place," hairyfeet asserted. "Guys bringing in PCs and finding out their expensive graphics card had been stolen and a cheapo one put in its place; missing RAM sticks (one even ripped the stick out so hard they broke the clips off the mobo); hardware put in wrong, etc. It is about the worst possible place to buy a PC, which is WHY we call it Worst Buy!"

There are plenty of sites -- like System76 -- "that actually sell and support Linux laptops," hairyfeet went on. "Buying a Worst Buy 'Windows special' and then putting Linux on it is a recipe for disaster."

The user "should file a $5k claim in small claims court, but ultimately it was his own stupidity," hairyfeet concluded. "Sorry, but this guy got what he deserved."

'Install a Second Hard Disk Just for Linux'

Ultimately, buyers of cheap netbooks get what they pay for, Hudson told LinuxInsider: "You can pay less and complain all the time, or pay more and only complain once."

Then there's "the reality of Linux," she added.

"If you're going to install Linux, you're in the same position as someone who buys any other product and modifies it in an unusual way," she explained. "The safest way to add Linux to a laptop and not have warranty problems if something goes wrong is to install a second hard disk just for Linux -- and for that, you're looking at a 16- or 17-inch laptop, not a netbook.

"Otherwise, just get a big USB stick, install Linux on it, and use the netbook's storage for your files, at least until the device's warranty period is over," she advised.

'Take Time to Write Letters'

Of course, for true Linux advocates, "it is better to tell the retailer/OEM that you will not buy their product without GNU /Linux on it," blogger Robert Pogson told LinuxInsider. "Take the time to write the letters. They will count eventually, because there are tens of millions of people who prefer GNU/Linux.

"2009 was the last year anyone should have been forced to buy that other OS," Pogson added. "There are lots of choices -- seek them out. If there is no choice locally, write local letters and indicate the mail-order source you chose instead."

Putting it another way, Linux Girl would add, there's no better way to have your say than with the almighty dollar!

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