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For as long as Microsoft has made operating systems, it has had a complicated relationship with its customers.You might think of yourself as a Microsoft customers, but roughly 90% of all copies of Windows are sold by PC manufacturers, who in turn resell those machines to end users like you and me.
That creates the potential for a conflict if the interests of the PC makers aren't in alignment with the needs of the customers who will eventually buy those PCs. And there is no better example than the mess Microsoft made when it was getting ready to launch Windows Vista.
The new, whizzy Aero graphics in Vista demanded up-to-date hardware. But Intel was still selling the older 915 graphics chipset, which wasn't up to the challenge, and PC makers like Sony and Dell were continuing to design notebooks built around those chipsets. Microsoft initially wrote specs that would have disqualified those PCs from earning a Vista logo. Intel demanded that Microsoft bend the rules, and Microsoft eventually caved.
Microsoft created a new logo that defined these graphically challenged PCs as "Designed for Windows XP / Vista Capable." In its public pronouncements, executives danced around the limitations: "PCs with the Windows Vista Capable logo can run the core experiences of Windows Vista," said Microsoft's Will Poole at the Windows Hardware Engineering Conference in 2006.
And that's when the lawsuits began.
The exhibits that came out during discovery were particularly embarrassing. The worst was an e-mail from Jim Allchin, who said, "I believe we are going to be misleading customers with the Capable program." According to CNET's Ina Fried, he was described as "apoplectic" over the decision.
Several years later, I was offered an opportunity to give Microsoft some free advice on how to fight Vista criticism. "We're sorry" is a good start, I said.
"Microsoft could admit that they screwed up when they put Intel’s interests over those of their customers in the 'Vista Ready' and 'Vista Capable' logo snafu. It would be nice to think that some heads rolled for that one."
It’s worth noting that Steven Sinofsky, who’s now in charge of the Windows development effort, was harshly critical of the decision at the time. All of the executives who were named in the most damning bits of evidence have left Microsoft. I don't think that's a coincidence.