If a PC shipped with Windows preinstalled, can you remove the OS and install Linux instead?
Well, no, according to Microsoft!
A somewhat obscure Microsoft site aimed at helping schools deal with donated computers flatly states: "It is a legal requirement that pre-installed operating systems remain with a machine for the life of the machine."
If this is intended to mean what it says, then Microsoft is effectively treating the hardware and the software as a single, integrated package that you're not allowed to break up.
According to the Win2k EULA (End User License Agreement, the one we had handiest), "The SOFTWARE PRODUCT is licensed with the HARDWARE as a single integrated product. The SOFTWARE PRODUCT may only be used with the HARDWARE as set forth in this EULA."
The EULA also says: "Software Product Transfer. You may permanently transfer all of your rights under this EULA only as part of a permanent sale or transfer of the HARDWARE, provided you retain no copies, you transfer all of the SOFTWARE PRODUCT (including all component parts, the media and printed materials, any upgrades, this EULA and, if applicable, the Certificate(s) of Authenticity), and the recipient agrees to the terms of this EULA. If the SOFTWARE PRODUCT is an upgrade, any transfer must also include all prior versions of the SOFTWARE PRODUCT."
The intent of both of these, and indeed what they more or less say, is that you're not allowed to sell the software without also selling the hardware, rather than you're not allowed to reassign the hardware without reassigning the software at the same time.
Microsoft want to make sure that you have a valid OS, so they go on to explain... The machine should include: "All copies of the software on original disk or CD, including back-up and/or recovery materials; Manuals and printed materials; End-User License Agreement; Certificate(s) of Authenticity." And "If the donor cannot provide this documentation, it is recommended that you decline the donated PC(s)."
Out in the real world it is absurd to expect companies giving PCs to charity to be able to find all of the documentation three years down the line, never mind dig it out and hand it over as well. So it'd be simpler for them just to hand over the machine as a Naked PC, then the school could... Ah yes, but it is "a legal requirement that..." Catch 22.
"Q. What if the donor can't find the backup CDs, End-User License Agreement, end-user manual and the COA? Can they still donate the PC and operating system?
ANSWER: Yes, but the donor needs to sign a letter stating they are unable to find the original paperwork and software.
News source: The Register