Did Microsoft engage in deceptive marketing tricks to sell Vista?

Did Microsoft engage in deceptive marketing tricks to sell Vista?

Summary: According to the Seattle Post-Intelligencer Microsoft is being sued over deceptive marketing practices that allowed PC makers promote computers as "Windows Vista Capable" even if they couldn't run the new operating system's "signature" features.


According to the Seattle Post-Intelligencer Microsoft is being sued over deceptive marketing practices that allowed PC makers promote computers as "Windows Vista Capable" even if they couldn't run the new operating system's "signature" features.

The proposed class action has been filed on behalf of Dianne Kelley of Camano Island.  The issue surrounds PCs carrying the "Windows Vista Capable" stickers.  These PCs were designed to meet the very basic requirements for Windows Vista Home Basic and would not be capable of making use of Vista more advanced features such as Aero, Flip 3D and media center support.  In order to be able to fully leverage these features customers will need to have bought a "Premium Ready" PC in order to run Vista Home Premium or higher.

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Microsoft claims that the suit ignores the lengths that the company took to make clear the differences between the different versions of Windows Vista.

I've written about this issue several times before (the last time I touched on this was in the post entitled "Is Vista Home Basic a way for vendors to sell low-spec PCs?") and my take is that having a situation where you have so many different operating systems all falling under the "Vista" banner, and then having two sets of system requirements and two logo programs for PCs is just too complicated for the average user to navigate.  Not only that, but the scope for confusion and misrepresentation at the store level is also high.  Microsoft then went on to market Vista based on features such as Aero which aren't guaranteed all round.  Take this passage directly off the Microsoft Vista website:

In the Home Premium, Business, and Ultimate editions of Windows Vista, you'll see everything you're working on more clearly through the stunning new Windows Aero interface, which includes Windows Flip 3D to help you quickly switch between windows and tasks.

Makes it sound like a done deal to me no matter what your hardware.  The small print might make it clear that "some product features are only available in certain editions of Windows Vista and may require advanced or additional hardware" (the wording that you come across on the Microsoft site quite often), but the main text and images gloss over the differences.  OK, a few minutes researching Vista will tell most people what they need to know about the different versions, but if all consumers researched before they purchased PCs, we probably wouldn't have the "Vista Capable" logo in the first place.

Personally, I don't feel that this deserves a lawsuit (I'm no real fan of them because the only winners are lawyers, and in this case I'm almost certain it's going to get thrown out anyway), but I do think that Microsoft needs to make it clear to customers what they need in order to see the WOW.  Windows Vista is not just about Aero and Flip 3D but Microsoft does promise a lot of WOW!  After all, if you bought a new PC, bought it home and didn't see the WOW, wouldn't you feel just a little bit cheated?

By the way, do you feel that the wording on the "Vista Capable" stickers is a bit, well, misleading?  What does "Windows Vista Capable" mean to you?

Topics: Operating Systems, Hardware, Microsoft, Software, Windows

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  • How is this...

    ...'deceptive marketing tricks' to sell Vista? It sounds more like deceptive marketing tricks to sell hardware - claiming the hardware can run Vista when it can't (at least, not the version the customer wants). How does this help sell Vista?

    Carl Rapson
    • It doesn't help them sell Vista

      People bought the Vista Capable machines because they wanted to run Vista. So the Vista license would have been bought anyway.

      However misleading people in what the hardware capabilities are means people are buying underpower machines, some of which (like laptops and mini-type PCs) cannot be upgraded. And this marketing campaign has MS's stamp of approval on it. Now MS's page describing the differences between Capable and Ready are pretty clear, but the names themselves do not accurately and clearly describe the capabilities being promised. If Vista Capable had been called Vista Core Capable, that would have put all of this to rest. The name would have accurately and clearly described the minimum guarantees of the systems capabilities.

      I would hope that MS is kicking themselves in the butt over this goof. By making the labels vague in their description they have done nothing to improve Vista sales (as we seem to agree on, the license sales would have been made anyway, if not now then when Vista reached a level of maturity) but now people who wanted a richer experience are not getting it, which makes their own product look bad.
      Michael Kelly
      • MS's marketing department screwed up

        They thought if they had multple different versions of Vista, they would be selling
        a lot more licenses than if there were just 3. If you goofed and bought the wrong
        one, guess what you have to eat your hat and buy the right one. They knew
        exactly what they were doing. They have to ramp up revenue to ofset the losses
        from the Xbox and Zune lines. Those are running at a loss. Even though they
        have a ton of cash, their stockholders won't stand for those lines eating into the
        revenue. Add a so-so version of Office which is their cash cow, plus they have to
        make back the money they spent on R&D all those years on Longhorn or Vista.

        Plus half the stuff they showed off that was going to be in that OS is MIA.

        They gotta sell somethin.
        • That makes no sense

          How do they sell more licenses by creating more versions? I could see you arguing that they would earn more per license sold because of the higher tiered versions which cost more for extra bundled software, but I don't see how that would create a demand for more total licenses.

          They have every right to ramp up their revenue, which the tiered versions attempt to do, but misrepresenting a computer's capabilities would have the reverse effect. People who bought the Vista Capable would realize that their computers couldn't do more than what's in Vista Home Basic, so they would buy that (or stick with XP, a worse scenario) rather than buy the higher tiered versions of Vista which is what MS wants you to buy.
          Michael Kelly
          • MS has you covered on all objections

            Mr. Kelly,

            You have missed the obvious. If MS could only sell Vista to people who clearly understood that the machines they were buying had no future, and almost none of the highly advertisec features of Vista, they would not sell many or maybe any of those machines not capable of those things. Many of those machines would be quite adequate under XP and provide a better experience than Vista Basic. MS has also realized that this ploy will quickly fail, as they are no longer going to sell XP after January 1, 2008 except to corporate customers big enough to twist their arm. This is far quicker than they have made such a move on any previous change to Windows.

            As far as I can see, Vista provides no real advantages over XP, especially XP Pro. Almost everthing that is seen in Vista at any level can be had for free or at fairly small price as an add-on to XP. The things that provide true security at this point have their basis in hardware, for which drivers can be provided in almost any OS. All this is confused by the awful Aero interface. If I wanted Aero, I would have bought a Mac long ago. Internet Explorer 7 has some features that have been available in other browsers for years. That's great, but the interface changes outside those items are so idiotic that most people find them useless or just plain incapacitating. In addition, IE7 carries with it changes that cripple or drastically alter peer-to-peer networks on some machines, requiring that it be removed. Fully reverting the changes requires a special program available from several sources on the internet, and not from MS.

            I don't know what I am going to tell my small commercial customers who might want to add one or two machines after MS cuts off access to XP. They will have to buy more machine than they really need, and suffer with having two paradigms across their offices along with whatever other problems that occur. Only a monopoly could get away with that kind of action. This is disgusting.
    • Right on

      Others do a poor job, blame MS to get cash from them. This is ridiculous.
      Also the sales rep at BestBuy, CompUSA, Circuit city etc should be trained. Most of the time, these guys cant answer basic questions.
    • By making you BUY a new PC

      That's how!
      • Who made you buy a new PC?

        If your old one works just use it. If you want something better then don't blame someone else.
        Michael Kelly
      • But..

        ...nobody MADE this person buy a new PC. She bought it expecting to run Vista, and (apparently) wasn't able to run the version of Vista she wanted. If anything, she was 'tricked' into buying an underpowered PC.

        If she had spent more money, she would have been able to run the version of Vista she wanted. So who really lost in this?

        Carl Rapson
  • Not to worry, those thieving Windows users have been locked down

    Is there no US equivalant to the UK's Advertising Standards Agency?
    Seems to be the case that any vendor can lie through their teeth, distort the facts, misrepresent any aspect of their product... and get away with it. It was the ASA who made Microsoft pull their deliberately deceptive "Get The Facts" ads in the UK. The same ads, complete with deliberate distortions, survive intact on the US market. Oh lucky, lucky Windows users. Helping to make profitable by underwriting their DRM. Still, as long as Hollywood are happy, what do end users matter, really?
  • Windows Vista Capable

    To me means that it is just that. Capable. Meaning that it can do anything that you are supposed to be able to do on Vista.
    I think the sticker should read something along the lines of Vista capale when certain conditions are met. Or These Vista features available.
    And I think MS needs to pull its head out its a$s when it comes to all this cr@p.
    • What does Capable mean?

      Capable actually means exactly that. To put it a different way, I am capable of playing baseball (I played in college) but I am not able to play in the major league because I lack some of the tools necessary to allow me to play at that level. If I have those tools then I could play in the majors. BTW, I am not beholden to either group since I run some Linux and some Windows because there are features in both that I like.
  • Deceptive Marketing Tricks

    I was very suspicious of this issue in December, because
    it appeared that Microsoft and their partners were trying
    to deliberately confuse customers about the differences.

    For example, if I went to the Dell web site at that time, I
    would be sent to a "Windows Vista Capable" machine for
    $499. I was not informed about the fancier machines
    and it took a significant effort to find even one "Premium
    ready" machine that was available. If I had not already
    been aware of the differences, I would not have looked
    for one at all. The "Premium Ready" machines then
    available were all $850+. It seemed obvious that Dell
    felt most consumers could not afford these machines
    and would not be interested in them.

    So if I came to the web site without preconceptions, I
    would have thought that the "Capable" machine could
    run all of Vista. I remember taking at least half an hour
    to try and find a description of the differences on the
    Dell web site and finally giving up without success.

    In short, I believe this lawsuit has considerable merit.
    Deceptive practices were used to sell hardware that in
    the end would not run Vista well at all.

    Incidentally, today you can buy a $499 laptop from Acer
    that runs Vista Premium and nearly matches the
    Premium ready spec (It's 256mb short on RAM). Those
    who bought the $499 Dell, with a non-premium video
    card, 512mb RAM and other deficidencies, have good
    reason to be upset.

    David Dennis
    • Computer buying is confusing period

      For the average consumer computer buying is a very confusing process.

      "Vista Capable" has only added a tiny amount of confusion to the total.

      Should Microsoft be more clear? You bet.

      Should Microsoft be sued for this? No

      It wasn't that long ago that people thought those internal CD drives were drink holders.
      • Replied to message instead of reply to story

        Meant to reply to the story.
    • Agreed

      Exactly right. It doesn't turn into a semantic issue until you are aware of the second
      "Vista Ready" designation. In the absence of this knowledge, anyone could assume
      they got all the features.
      Harry Bardal
  • the "right vista?!!!

    Your question of the day was, "Has microsoft made choosing the right version of vista too complicated?" The answer is, There is NO right version - they all stink, none will run "old" software, and by "old" my 3 year old version of Acrobat 6 wouldn't run and I aint ABOUT to spend hundreds to buy a new version. Is MS deceptive? You bet, they don't even give you a fax in either home version, you have to pay for a double upgrade to a business version. I guess nobody ever sends a fax from home? I'm going back to XP! I have wasted too much time on Vista, it is just a DOG!
  • Deceptive Practices?

    You bet!! Even if deceptive is a harsh word, then to be sure, we weren't told ALL of the story. Your article said that "Microsoft claims that the suit ignores the lengths that the company took to make clear the differences between the different versions of Windows Vista." If they went to such lengths, then I sure couldn't find any specs. I've been using Microsoft since Windows first appeared and this was the first version where I saw no public advertising noting all of the differences. I had to search to find a comparison chart. Not quite honest?, yeah! P.S. I don't know if anyone cares but me, but I'd like the members to check their spelling and sentence structure before submitting their comments. I value your opinions and would like to be able to read them properly, without the confusion of misspelled words.
    • You didn't search very hard, then

      Did you bother to go to the MS website to get more information about Vista? Probably not, though that would have been the best place to begin looking. How about a Google search? Probably not, even though that would have turned up a link to the *specific* MS page that outlined the *minimum* system requirements for Home Basic and the "premium" versions of Vista.

      That web page is:


      That web page has been up and available for *anyone* to view for at least six months.

      No deception here, citizen. Move along.
      M.R. Kennedy
      • Re: You didn't search very hard, then

        Why should someone have to search, and how would they know to search. Every advertisement for Vista capable machines should state their limitations right in the ad. If I don't know there is a Vista Ready, I would have no reason to assume that it existed...that is, unless, I have been dealing with MS long enough to know that nothing that they advertise can be taken on face value. Something as simple as "Vista capable, not Vista ready" would clue people to look further. Better yet, the advertising for any machine should list the versions of Vista that it will run. If it will only run Vista Basic, then it should say so. If it can be upgraded to run other versions of Vista, that should be stated, and what versions can be reached with upgrades should be stated. That is simple truth in advertising, but I should refrain from oxymorons.