Microsoft Eased 'Vista Capable' Specs So Intel Could Meet Quarterly Numbers

A Microsoft exec says in an e-mail that the company lowered the standards for what qualified as "Vista Capable" to help Intel sell graphics chips.
Microsoft eased the minimum requirements for PCs to be considered capable of running its Windows Vista operating system so that a graphics chip manufactured by Intel could be used in systems sold as "Vista Capable."

Microsoft made the change so that Intel, a long time Microsoft partner, could meet its quarterly earnings goals in 2006, according to an explosive e-mail released this week as part of a court proceeding.

"In the end, we lowered the requirement to help Intel make their quarterly earnings so they could continue to sell motherboards with 915 graphics embedded," wrote John Kalkman, a Microsoft general manager, in the e-mail.

The e-mail was dated February 26, 2007 -- about one month after Vista debuted on the market.

The Intel 915 graphics chipset is a PC component that boosts a system's ability to display multimedia effects. However, it lacks the necessary features to support Vista's 3-D 'Aero' interface.

The e-mail has been entered into evidence in a class action lawsuit that accuses Microsoft of deceptive marketing practices. The plaintiffs contend that Microsoft intentionally duped customers by advertising as Vista Capable computers that lacked the horsepower to run all of the operating system's features.

The Vista Capable campaign was meant to assure PC buyers who bought systems prior to Vista's launch that they would be able to upgrade their machines to the new OS when it became available.

In another e-mail, Microsoft Windows product manager Mike Nash said even he was fooled by the campaign: "I personally got burned by the Intel 915 chipset issue on a laptop that I personally" bought "with my own $$$." Nash said he purchased the Sony laptop "because it had the Vista logo and was pretty disappointed," Nash wrote.

"I now have a $2,100 e-mail machine," he complained.

An e-mail from Microsoft senior VP Steven Sinofsky to company CEO Steve Ballmer reveals that Sinofsky had deep concerns about the Intel 915 chipset's ability to run any version of Vista. "The 915 chipset, which is not Aero capable, is in a huge number of laptops and was tagged as 'Vista Capable' but not Vista Premium. I don't know if this was a good call," wrote Sinofsky.

In a letter to Jim Allchin, then a Microsoft co-president, one manager blasted the company's decision to alter the definition of Vista Capable to suit Intel. "We are caving to Intel," said Mike Ybarra. "We worked hard for the last 18 months to drive the UI experience and we are giving this up," Ybarra wrote.

In reply, Allchin wrote that, "We really botched this."

In their initial complaint, consumers Dianne Kelley and Kenneth Hansen claimed they were the victims of "bait and switch" sales tactics by Microsoft and filed a lawsuit against the software maker last March in federal court in Washington state.

A judge last week granted the case class action status.

For its part, Microsoft has argued that it did not deceive consumers because the Vista Capable campaign distinguished between PCs that could run the basic version of the OS and those that were able to run the premium version.

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