Lawyers: Vista branding confused even Microsoft

Lawyers: Vista branding confused even Microsoft

Summary: Even the company's marketing manager has suffered confusion over what 'Vista capable' means, say lawyers pursuing a class action over the phrase

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Lawyers for plaintiffs in a case brought against Microsoft over Vista's marketing have claimed that even the software giant's marketing director was confused by the pre-launch campaign in the US.

The case involves the way Microsoft marketed PCs as "Windows Vista capable" prior to the consumer launch of the operating system in January.

Plaintiffs Dianne Kelley and Kenneth Hansen claim Microsoft was not telling the truth when it put the "Vista capable" logo on PCs that would only be capable of running Vista Home Basic. They contend that "Vista capable" implies that the machine is able to run all versions of Vista, rather than just the pared-down Home Basic version.

In a filing for a class action at the US district court in Seattle earlier this month, lawyers acting for the plaintiffs claimed that even Microsoft's director of marketing, Mark Croft, had become confused about the meaning of "Vista capable" when giving evidence.

Croft's explanation was that "'capable'… has an interpretation for many that, in the context of this programme, a PC would be able to run any version of the Windows operating system".

"Ready", Croft continued, "may [cause] concerns that the PC would run in some improved or better way… than 'capable'".

After a 10-minute break to talk to Microsoft's lawyers, Croft admitted he had made "an error", and retracted his previous statement, saying that, by "capable", Microsoft meant "able to run a version of Vista".

In the filing, the plaintiffs' lawyers said that it was "ironic" Croft had made the mistake. "Mr Croft understood Microsoft's logo to be telling customers that PCs would run not only the stripped down Vista Home Basic, but also what plaintiffs contend are the 'real' versions of Vista: the ones that include Microsoft's heavily marketed 'Vista features'. Ironically, Mr Croft's understanding of what 'Windows Vista capable' means is the same understanding that Microsoft asserts no consumer would be justified in having."

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The Seattle-based law firm acting for the plaintiffs — Gordon, Tilden, Thomas & Cordell — is seeking to prove that Microsoft developed its "Windows Vista capable" marketing programme, including the logo and the "express upgrade to Windows Vista" promotion, to maintain Windows XP sales prior to the launch of Vista.

Microsoft is fighting the claim. The software company claims that itself, OEMs, retailers and the press had informed consumers about what "Vista capable" meant.

In a separate email sent to ZDNet.co.uk, David Bowermaster, a spokesperson for Microsoft, defended the company's actions. The spokesperson wrote: "Rather than conducting 'deceptive and unfair marketing', Microsoft provided a large amount of information to consumers through a variety of channels — PC manufacturers, retailers, the media and from Microsoft itself — about 'Windows Vista capable', the differing versions of Vista and their varying hardware requirements."

"Diane Kelley testified in her deposition that she did not see the 'Windows Vista capable' sticker on her daughter's laptop until several months after she bought it, and neither the sticker nor Vista (which she had never heard of) influenced her buying decision," Bowermaster added.

Topic: Operating Systems

Tom Espiner

About Tom Espiner

Tom is a technology reporter for ZDNet.com. He covers the security beat, writing about everything from hacking and cybercrime to threats and mitigation. He also focuses on open source and emerging technologies, all the while trying to cut through greenwash.

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