My initial reaction was "WTF?! You discourage a monopoly by giving everyone their software for free?!"... but, no, the settlement is better than that, fortunately. The vouchers can be used to buy non-Microsoft products -- both hardware and software.
Consumers can start filing claims as soon as the settlement receives preliminary approval from a San Francisco court, which is expected to come as early as next month. By spring, consumers should look for media ads, e-mails and mailings with information on how to file.
Despite a potential value of $1.1 billion for the settlement, the final price tag for Microsoft won't be known for some time because it depends greatly on how many consumers choose to seek the vouchers... but since any Californian can make a claim of $100 or less against Microsoft without a proof-of-purchase required, it's free money -- even if you didn't hold on to your receipts. File early, because it's first come, first served! (I will let people know how to file when I find out myself.)
If you want to discourage monopolies, it's your *duty* to file a claim so that Microsoft has to pay out the full $1.1 billion. You should then take that voucher and spend it on a non-Microsoft product. Incidentally, this is really good way to help out California's high-tech industry. It will do far more to help the economy in the near term than Bush's regressive economic recovery plan. Don't forget to buy local!
You can almost hear the giant sucking sound as money flows from Redmond, Washington to the Silicon Valley. Gee, thanks Bill!