Microsoft 'Vista Capable' debacle points to Intel

Internal Microsoft e-mails coming to light in a class action against the software company have shown a tangle of chaos -- involving Intel -- surrounding the controversial Vista Capable logo.

Pressure from Intel led Microsoft to lower the requirements for computers qualifying for a "Vista Capable" badge, even though internal e-mails show the company knew Vista would not work correctly.

Internal Microsoft e-mails (large PDF), which have been disclosed due to a class action lawsuit against the software company, reveal the tangle of chaos.

Originally, in order to qualify for a "Vista Capable" badge, Microsoft had stipulated that PCs required the Windows Display Driver Model (WDDM) -- a graphic driver able to display Vista's Aero interface. However, after pressure from Intel, the company decided to loosen the specifications.

In a February 2006 e-mail, Microsoft's Will Johnson explained what was to lie under the hood of Vista Capable machines: "We have removed the WDDM requirement for Vista Capable machines, the modern CPU and 512 RAM requirements remain intact but the specific component that enables the graphical elements of Windows Vista has been removed."

Johnson was aware of the problems the move could cause: "From my standpoint, the potential issue this creates is placing more machines that while Vista capable logo'd will ultimately not be able to deliver the full Vista experience if the customer chooses to upgrade at launch."

The change of heart was due to pressure from Intel, according to an e-mail sent by Microsoft general manager John Kalkman. He revealed that the decision was made because Intel wanted to continue selling its 915 chipset, which was unable to properly operate Aero.

"In the end we lowered the requirement to help Intel make their quarterly earning so they could continue to sell motherboards with 915 graphics embedded," Kalkman wrote.

In the same month, fellow employee Mike Ybarra e-mailed his violent disagreement: "I am passionate about this and believe this decision is a mistake," he said. "We are allowing Intel to drive our consumer experience," he said. "I don't understand why we would cave in on this when the potential to drive the full UI experience is right in front of us."

Kalkman admitted the change created confusion in the market: "It was a mistake on our part to change the original graphics requirements. This created confusion in the industry on how important the aspect of visual computing would play as a feature set to new Windows Vista upgraders. We will take this learning into Win7 planning."

One Microsoft VP, Mike Nash, expressed his displeasure, calling on personal experience. "I personally got burned by the Intel 915 chipset issue on a laptop," he said. "I know that I chose my laptop (A Sony TX770P) because it had the Vista logo and was pretty disappointed that it not only wouldn't' run Glass, but more importantly wouldn't run Movie Maker ... I now have a [US]$2,100 e-mail machine."

Microsoft VP Steven Sinofsky, writing to CEO Steve Ballmer, said the Intel 945 chipset caused problems: "[Intel's] 945 chipset, which is the baseline Vista set "barely" works right now and is very broadly used," he said. "Hopes are on the next chipset rather than this one."

To make matters worse, the marketing of what exactly "Vista Capable" machines could do was not clear. In an e-mail discussing strong Wal-Mart criticism on the lowering of Vista Capable standards, Microsoft VP Steve Shiro said: "This feedback has been consistent from all retailers around the world. We should not let consumers or retailers have to decipher what Windows Vista Capable means."

In response to request for comment, Microsoft issued this statement.

"We included the 915 chipset as part of the Windows Vista Capable program based on successful testing of beta versions of Windows Vista on the chipset and the broad availability of the chipset in the market.

Computers equipped with this chipset were and are capable of being upgraded to Windows Vista Home Basic. Microsoft authorised the use of the Premium Ready designation on PCs that could support premium features of Windows Vista."

Microsoft reduces cost of Vista
In a move designed to boost sales of Vista, Microsoft has announced it will reduce the cost of buying a standalone version of its operating system.

"Stand-alone retail sales, while not representing a large percentage of the business, represents an area of opportunity for additional growth the company sees based on the new editions introduced in 2007," the company said.

The changes will coincide with the global release of Windows Vista SP 1 later this year -- though some markets will score the reduced prices sooner as a result of promotions.

Most Australian Vista prices will take a fall according to an Australian spokesperson for Microsoft. Vista Business Full edition will drop AU$116 to AU$449, although the Upgrade edition will keep its price of AU$379. Vista Home Basic Upgrade will be reduced AU$50 to AU$149, while the Full edition will cost AU$299 instead of AU$385. Home Premium Upgrade will sell at AU$199, down from AU$299 and the Premium Full edition will fall AU$106 to AU$349. Vista Ultimate Upgrade only goes down AU$94 to AU$399, but the Full Edition will be slashed AU$302 to AU$449.