What Microsoft was willing to do for "Wintel"

February was not Microsoft's best month. Between issues with the long-awaited Vista SP1 to the class-action suit that has prompted the release of multiple internal e-mails and memos, Microsoft is ready to get to the next thing. However, Vista customers may have some issues that Microsoft will have to address.

The last week of February was a tough one for Microsoft. The long-awaited Vista SP1 ran into issues. In some cases, the update necessary to facilitate the service pack caused some users to experience multiple reboots. In other cases, the service pack was delivered early to some. And finally, it was determined that SP1 could reduce functionality of some programs -- many of them security programs. To finish a difficult week, Judge Marsha Pechman enabled a class-action suit against Microsoft over “Vista Capable” OEM logoing.

The authorization of Judge Pechman resulted in the release of some 300 documents by Microsoft that detail how the determination was made to downgrade the requirements to logo a PC as Vista Capable and introduce the “Vista Ready” logo.

While the logos seem similar, they are not. In fact, they speak to an element of the hardware that the average consumer is not familiar with. Beginning with the language, Vista Capable means that the hardware is capable of running Vista. However, it is only capable of running Vista Home Basic. Vista Ready means that the hardware is ready to run Vista of any flavor. But the difference goes deeper.

It begins with the Intel chipset. In Feb 2006, the chipset in bargain notebooks was the 915. Unfortunately, the 915 chipset cannot provide the graphics power necessary to power Aero Glass. Intel voiced concern to Microsoft that it would not be able to supply the certified 945 chipset in sufficient numbers to qualify enough PCs for the Vista Ready logo. Microsoft’s response was to certify the 915 chipset, knowing that it would not be able to deliver the entire Vista experience.

While there were many problems with this solution, the main issue seemed to be that the average consumer did not understand the difference between Vista Capable and Vista Ready. This resulted in issues for the OEMs and for retailers.

From the Seattle Post Intelligencer:

In a Feb. 23 2006 e-mail, Robin Leonard, a Microsoft employee, wrote that Wal-Mart is "extremely disappointed in the fact that the standards were lowered and feel like customer confusion will ensue. They would like to see Microsoft reconsider the program and allow for the use of 2 different logos; one that is strictly a Windows Vista Home Basic Capable, and the other Windows Vista Capable."

She continued, "Please give this some consideration; it would be a lot less costly to do the right thing for the customer than to spend dollars on the back end trying to fix the problem."

A day later, Leonard wrote that Wal-Mart had gone directly to Hewlett Packard and asked the company to "try and affect their production lines for the Spring assortment as much as possible and pull the logo from the base unit."

In response, on Feb. 27, Steve Schiro, a Microsoft corporate vice president, home and retail division, wrote that "this feedback has been consistent from all retailers around the world."

From the New York Times:

Last-minute changes to Windows Vista broke drivers, forcing key hardware vendors to "limp out with issues" when the OS launched last year, according to a presentation by Dell Corp. that was made public this week.

"Late OS code changes broke drivers and applications, forcing key commodities to miss launch or limp out with issues," said one slide in a Dell presentation dated March 25, 2007, about two months after Vista's launch at retail and availability on new PCs.

The criticism was just one of many under the heading "What did not go well?" Others ranged from knocks against Vista's Windows Anytime Upgrade scheme, an in-place upgrade option, to several slams on "Windows Vista Capable," the marketing program that targeted PC buyers shopping for machines in the months leading up to Vista's debut.

The resulting problems from the decision to use a dual logoing scheme impacted more than the average consumer.

From the Mercury News:

But one dissatisfied customer was Microsoft's own Windows Product Management Vice President Mike Nash, who wrote this e-mail message to colleagues: "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."

I questioned both IT professionals and average users. Some have no idea what is important in a computer, many aren’t certain what the importance of the OS is, and some are so tired of the upgrade process that they refuse to play-- only upgrading when a new computer purchase requires it.

We have heard from a number of people who have had no problems with the upgrade to Vista. To all of those people, I can only say, “I am so glad that it’s working well for you!” We also hear from many who have had issues.

It doesn't matter if you love or hate Microsoft. I don’t know that one’s personal allegiance is the issue here. The real issue, as I see it, is whether or not Microsoft has done something actionable under the law. Its choices may have been ill-advised, but should it be sued? Has it done something so far out of reason that there is a wrong to redress? Judge Pechman thinks that there are questions that should be fairly addressed -- enough to believe that the class has merit.

I also have to wonder if there is culpability on Intel’s part. Do we have enough information to know that it has some culpability in this? Should the plaintiffs expand the defendant table?

More information:

Microsoft combined with Intel for a Vista logo disaster (InformationWeek)

Wintel Vista conspiracy screws customers: Another win for Apple? (ZDNet)