Install Linux, Void Your Netbook’s Warranty?

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.

“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!


  • I had quite a similar experience in the UK just yesterday.

    I recently bought a laptop from Currys Digital. I AM a Linux User, so is my wife. When buying the Laptop which comes with Windows7 installed(since I could not find any Laptop that comes with either FreeDOS or Linux) the guy at the counter asked me if I’d like to buy their optional cover for any breakage or damage.

    I asked him if it would have me covered even if I had removed Windows and installed Linux installed and his reply was "No". If we change the software then the warranty is void. So they wont cover for any damage. I argued pointing out that the cover was supposed to be for hardware and not software. He stuck to the point that the cover will only be valid if the software has not changed. Regardless to say, I opted not to have it.

  • A little known company called ThinkPenguin is still getting off the ground- but they have systems available at the moment if people are interested. You can get them preloaded with Ubuntu and they are the only systems that are really designed for GNU/Linux. All the chipsets in the systems are free software friendly- for the most part. Wifi, graphics, sound, etc. You can actually get reliable suspend to ram while having 3D acceleration on your laptop and wifi working in GNewSense even if you wanted. But what really makes them different is they are designing the systems to be usable by the general public-with the support systems behind them. Remote desktop (through firewalls), toll free support, even at-your-door support, and browser plug-ins to make decisions on which packages to download or web-sites to go to when Microsoft or some idiot decided Microsoft Windows was the only operating system worth supporting.

    They’ve got two operations in Portland and New Jersey- but are starting up in New Orleans soon. The company operates under a different somewhat better known brand (although only locally in those regions). Anyway.

    Check em out if you are interested.

  • I had to laugh at the chutzpah of this company. When I was going through an A+ course I had to put up with, one of the students main goal was to get through certification so that they could get from behind a cash register to behind the wheel of a geek squad car!!! What a great goal in life. But seriously, why would anyone have them do anything to their computer?

    Even if the techie knows anything, they are probably constrained by a book of rules that limits what they can actually do for you. Why do you think that the first thing they all do is blow away your system and reload from scratch?…uh er from factory ghost images that even they can not f* up or deviate from?. You can do that yourself just to prove that your machine is or is not broken. You should really stop and think of why this is.

    Firstly you are there with a broken machine. It worked when you left the store ergo you screwed it up and they will unscrew your mess by blowing it back to factory fresh.

    Secondly you are there with a broken machine. It worked before you got your little pickers on it, so therefore no matter how unreasonable or outlandish the techies logic may sound, it worked before you got it so your loading a odd file must have caused the power supply to short out and burn down your office. Or whatever. You stand before the (faux)geek of the local geek squad and you are not worthy and therefore wrong.

    Thirdly many of you are not (somewhat valid assumption the older you are) technically savy (read gullible/rube) and will docilely accept whatever line falls from the (false)god-princes of techdom. They are on the geek squad, so they should know what they are talking about right???

    Enough ranting…..

    • If you went to "Joe’s house of questionable cars" would you expect a fair deal? Welcome to reality pal, Worst Buy has had how many years of horror stories of ripped off customers? Sorry but you get what you pay for. You pay the absolute lowest price on shoddy electronics from a bunch that has a quite well known history of ripping people off, you "expect it to work properly no matter where it’s bought"? Can I have some of what you are smoking?

      It is actually quite simple. Nearly every town has a mom & pop shop, where they will be happy to work with you to get you what you need and actually back up the sale with good service. You go to "Mega Chain of Cheapo Junk" that has a long history of mistreating customers just to save a few $$ you deserve what you get.

      There are plenty of places that will happily sell you a Linux netbook or laptop, and more importantly back it up, instead you help MSFT rack up another sale, go to a dodgy store with lousy quality, and expect premium service?. Did you ever think they got the nickname "Worst Buy" FOR A REASON??

      • There are six separate issues at work here.

        1. Everyone agrees the store manager was a jerk. Best Buy Corporate actually agreed not only to take the netboook back, but gave him a $25 gift card for his inconvenience. Not too shabby on a $300 netbook – they ate any small profit on the netbook (they can’t sell it as new any more, and it’s costing money for salaries and such to have it refurbed, then sell it as used). They also said they would have "the talk" with the store manager.

        2. As I said, you get what you pay for. $300 for a netbook, + $80 for an extended warranty, is a waste of money. Add in the external dvd burner he had to buy to restore Windows so he could return it, and he’s over the $450 for a "real" laptop. Despite Moore’s Law, you still can’t expect to get a decent netbook for $300.

        3. "Geek Squad." If you’re not sure of what you’re doing, you should ask a friend. Not someone who’s opinion is biased because their paycheck depends on it.

        4. Store policies in general. It varies. I used to have problems with Future Shop / Best Buy (they’re both the same company in Canada), but now I recommend them. In many cases, if you snipe a special, it’s cheaper than building your own. An engineer friend took my advice over the holidays, and picked up a quad-core with 6 gigs of ram, DUAL 24" lcd screens, terabyte hard drive, etc., for $1,200.00. One of the screens had a single stuck pixel – they swapped it, no problem.

        5. Differences in the supply chain. For years, products such as LCDs were "tiered" – the ones with no defects were sold in Japan, while the rest of the world got the "crap." Same model number, but the manufacturers knew that the Japanese consumer would not tolerate a single dead pixel.

        I suspect we’re seeing the same thing with computers. Countries (or states inside a country) that have lousy consumer protection laws get the "made on Hangover Monday" product run, same as OEM manufacturers get the lower-defect-rate runs of hard drives by preference.

        Easy way to tell the difference – my HP dv9000 model number ends in "ca" – for the Canadian, not US, market – and I have only good things to say about it.

        6. The modifications didn’t void the warranty, but it’s unreasonable to expect them to support any configuration other than what they sell. Until the warranty is over, the smart thing to do is run any other OS either off either a separate internal hard drive (which means a 17" or larger notebook), removable media (DVD, usb thumb drive, or flash card). Or, if it only has one drive bay, remove the original drive (easier than on most desktops nowadays) and put another drive in.

        Some people will argue that they should be able to have it "their way" – dirt cheap AND hassle-free. In my experience, life just doesn’t work that way.

        Usual caveats – YMMV, etc.

  • They are all the same. My wife and I both bought HP DV9000 series laptops with extended protection plans. She lost a year of college thanks to HP and Office Max fighting over who was responsible for repairs. It turns out my research concluded the HP DV 9000 series as well as the 6000 series were defective for HP .Office Max said if it had to go to repair 3 times it was an automatic replacement. So I got tired of there BS. I put Xbuntu on my Laptop sent it to repair. They were clueless. Sent a note back they replaced the motherboard for a third time. But had no clue how to use Xbuntu. As far as Best Buy telling you you voided the warranty by changing operating systems Do what I did. One I called the State Attorney Generals Office. Second I called the Manufacture people of the motherboard got in writing that Linux works on there Boards. Then You go to the Best Buy district manager or keep going up the ladder and record all your calls as in keep notes of who you talk to and times, dates. I know it sounds drastic and time consuming. For me I AM Disabled Vet. I AM just tired of letting them get away with lies. That is like buying a vehicle and you change a tire and having the dealership tell you that voided the warranty. My advice I come from a family business. Support Mom and Pop operations. As a rule someone with a reputable business. One they usually do not sell Junk like Best Buy and Office Max,ect. You might pay a bit more but the service and integrity is worth it. Just my half a cents worth!

  • Sorry Hudson and hairyfeet, "let the buyer beware" is no excuse for a company to break the law and avoid their responsibility. Anyone who buys a product is entitled to expect it to work properly no matter where it’s bought.

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