Editor's Outlook: Microsoft's Dirty Vista Secret
The E-mails provide a revealing look into Microsoft’s relationships with other corporate heavyweights, including Intel, HP, Dell, and even Wal-Mart. They also serve to intensify the glare on Vista’s less-than-smooth rollout.
The lawsuit is related to Microsoft’s “Windows Vista Capable” logo program, launched in 2006, ahead of Vista’s release in January 2007. It alleges that Microsoft’s Vista-capable marketing plan misled consumers.
Systems labeled as “capable” contained Intel’s 915 integrated chipset, which boosts a system’s ability to display multimedia effects but lacks the necessary features to support Vista’s 3-D ‘Aero’ interface. “Vista Premium ready” systems used the more advanced 945 chipset. However, only a month before Vista’s release, Microsoft Senior VP Steve Sinofsky warned CEO Steve Ballmer that even the 945 chipset could barely run Vista.
According to the E-mails, Microsoft certified these chipsets under pressure from Intel. In a February 2007 E-mail, Microsoft GM John Kalkman wrote “In the end, we lowered the [Vista Capable] requirement to help Intel make their quarterly earnings….” Another E-mail, from a senior director at Microsoft to the head of its Windows division reads, “We are caving to Intel. We worked hard for the last 18 months to drive the UI [user interface] experience and we are giving this up.”
By lowering the standards for what constituted Vista-capable, Microsoft also upset HP: “We are really burning HP—who committed to work with us to drive the UI experience across platforms and have already made significant investments.”
Even Wal-Mart voiced its concern over the Vista-capable label. A February 23 E-mail from a Microsoft consumer sales manager relates, “They are extremely disappointed in the fact that the standards were lowered and feel like customer confusion will ensue.” Interestingly, many industry experts believe that Microsoft lowered their Vista standards to capture a greater portion of the “budget PC” market, an arena in which Wal-Mart flourishes.
Finally, there is an E-mail from October 2005 from Padmanand Warrier—currently director of services for Windows Mobile—that provides an excellent summary: “This does not make sense to me…if I read this correctly, a customer could buy a ‘Ready PC’ and think that is what he/she is getting. However, it will not even meet the requirements for running standard Vista…that’s just bad.”
Even Microsoft executives were not immune, as Windows Product Management VP Mike Nash wrote, “I personally got burned by the Intel 915 chipset issue on a laptop. I chose my laptop because it had the Vista logo and was pretty disappointed. I now have a $2,100 E-mail machine.”
No matter where the blames lies, many consumers can tell you that systems labeled Vista-capable or Premium-ready did not deliver the experience they were expecting.