Vista branding is confusing, but is it criminal?

Vista branding is confusing, but is it criminal?

Summary: I feel Dianne Kelley's pain. But I think the idea of suing Microsoft for $5 million because the company's Windows Vista branding is confusing is over the top.

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TOPICS: Windows
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I feel Dianne Kelley's pain. But I think the idea of suing Microsoft for $5 million because the company's Windows Vista branding is confusing is over the top.

Kelley filed a class action suit against Microsoft, claiming deceptive Vista marketing practices.

"In sum, Microsoft engaged in bait and switch -- assuring consumers they were purchasing 'Vista Capable' machines when, in fact, they could obtain only a stripped-down operating system lacking the functionality and features that Microsoft advertised as 'Vista,'" according to the suit, filed March 29.

The Seattle Post-Intelligencer quotes Microsoft as saying it did all it could to educate customers, retailers and partners about the distinctions between Vista-Capable and Vista Premium-Ready.

Like many Microsoft watchers, I have found Microsoft's categorization murky. My ZDNet blogging colleague Adrian Kingsley-Hughes says the same.

Can all Vista-Capable machines run Aero Glass? Can some run it? None? I still am not entirely sure. And Microsoft's Web site does little to make that clear.

Microsoft's "Make the Move to Vista" Web site explains "Vista Capable" in the following way:

"A new PC running Windows XP that carries the Windows Vista Capable PC logo can run Windows Vista. All editions of Windows Vista will deliver core experiences such as innovations in organizing and finding information, security, and reliability. All Windows Vista Capable PCs will run these core experiences at a minimum. Some features available in the premium editions of Windows Vista—like the new Windows Aero user experience—may require advanced or additional hardware."

At the very bottom of the page, there's a link to "Footnotes." There, Microsoft introduces into the already muddy picture the concept of the different Windows Vista versions (Home Basic, Home Premium, Business, Enterprise, Ultimate). On a different Microsoft Web page, there is a table comparing the features of the various Vista editions. It's clearer from this page that Vista Home Basic cannot run Aero, won't work on Tablet PCs, doesn't include MeetingSpace, etc. Home Premium includes some of these missing features, but still lacks built-in backup, BitLocker encryption and other features.

Nowhere (that I've found) does Microsoft spell out clearly which versions of Vista will run on Vista Capable machines. Sure, you can argue (as Microsoft has) that it's up to the individual PC makers to make that clear. But why is figuring out which PC is best suited to running which version of Vista such a chore? Isn't there an easier way to help consumers make the right choice?

I think it's fair to ding Microsoft for confusing branding/marketing. But is that a criminal offense? I say it's up to the buyer to beware. If you don't like what you see, buy a Mac or a Linux system. (I figured I'd say it before one of my usual "Buy a Mac" posters beat me to it.)

What do you think? Should Kelley and other potential plaintiffs prevail?

Topic: Windows

About

Mary Jo has covered the tech industry for 30 years for a variety of publications and Web sites, and is a frequent guest on radio, TV and podcasts, speaking about all things Microsoft-related. She is the author of Microsoft 2.0: How Microsoft plans to stay relevant in the post-Gates era (John Wiley & Sons, 2008).

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