Microsoft Partners: Vista Campaign Was Deceptive

defending itself from a class action lawsuit

Microsoft launched the Vista Capable campaign in order to keep PC sales strong after its decision to delay the release of Vista to consumers until after the 2006 holiday season. Consumers who bought a PC with the 'Vista Capable' sticker would get an XP machine and then later be eligible for a free or discounted upgrade to Vista.

What the campaign didn't specify was which of the four versions of Vista -- Home Basic, Home Premium, Business, or Ultimate -- a PC was capable of running. And according to solution providers, therein lies the rub.

"I was a little bit leery of the campaign from the outset because it seemed a little vague. Vista Basic is a completely different animal than Vista Ultimate," said Tyler Dikman, CEO of Cooltronics, a Tampa, Fla. solution provider who resold a number of systems from Dell and Lenovo that had the Vista capable stickers.

One high level executive, who works for a computer maker that participated in the Vista Capable marketing campaign, said the initial campaign was focused on high-end systems that were designed to handle Vista.

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The executive, who didn't want to be identified, said Microsoft lowered the bar on the Vista capable designation because "they realized a lot of the boards in the marketplace couldn't work with the (Vista capable) spec."

The executive said the Vista capable spec was lowered so the Vista capable marketing stickers could be placed on systems using Intel's 945 chip set. "The initial specs were pretty clear," the executive said. "What happened is that as the campaign got closer to launch Microsoft lowered the bar."

Microsoft has long been known for putting out unrealistically low minimum hardware requirements for its operating systems, said Jeff Middleton, a Microsoft Small Business Server MVP in Metairie, La.

"The Vista Capable stickers always reminded me of the warning sticker on a hot cup of coffee," said Middleton. "If you're going to order a product before it's shipped, you really have to be in a 'buyer beware' mindset."

Brian Williams, a Portland, Ore.-based Small Business Specialist that sells Dell PCs, says the situation underscores the role of professional consultants as trusted advisors to their clients.

"We did receive systems that were marked as Vista Capable, but we did our own beta testing with Vista to figure out what our clients needed to run it. But I could see the dilemma of someone who bought a laptop with integrated video expecting to be able to run Vista," said Williams.

Last March, two consumers sued Microsoft on the grounds that the PCs they bought labeled as 'Vista Capable' were only able to run the most basic version of the OS, and therefore prevented them from using resource-intensive user interface features like Aeroglass and Flip 3D.

Dikman agrees that in order to run Aeroglass, a PC would require "significantly more processing power, more memory and a higher-end graphics card to support it," said. "It seems to me like Microsoft shot themselves in the foot by saying 'Vista Capable'. They should have said 'Vista Basic Capable'."

Adds Dikman: "There are still a lot of systems you can buy today that aren't ideal for Vista Ultimate. If you get a bottom of the line computer with 1 gigabyte of RAM, integrated graphics, and a low-end processor, it may run Vista but it sure as heck won't run it fast."

According to a report last week in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, which quoted several internal Microsoft emails that plantiffs presented in court last week, executives were aware of the problems with the Vista Capable campaign.

"I PERSONALLY got burnt ... Are we seeing this from a lot of customers? ... I now have a $2,100 e-mail machine," wrote Mike Nash, corporate vice president of Windows Product Management, in an email connected to the pending class action case.

For its part, Microsoft says it went to great lengths to provide consumers with the necessary information to make educated Vista purchasing decisions.

"What the e-mails don't show is the comprehensive education campaign Microsoft led through retailers, manufacturers, the press, and our own Website. The campaign armed consumers with the information they needed to choose a PC that would run the version of Windows Vista that fit their budget and their computing needs," a Microsoft spokesperson said in an email to ChannelWeb.