The day Microsoft killed the "Vista" name - January 31, 2006

Tech pundits the world over have their own ideas as to why Windows Vista got such a bad reputation. My personal belief is that the public's impression of Vista was tarnished by the experiences of early adopters, and many early adopters were burned by Microsoft's decision to lower the requirements for the Windows Vista Capable logo and leave millions of people stranded with a sub-standard Vista experience.

Tech pundits the world over have their own ideas as to why Windows Vista got such a bad reputation. My personal belief is that the public's impression of Vista was tarnished by the experiences of early adopters, and many early adopters were burned by Microsoft's decision to lower the requirements for the Windows Vista Capable logo and leave millions of people stranded with a sub-standard Vista experience.

In case you can't remember as far back as early 2006, let me remind you on what the deal was with the Vista Capable logo. Basically this was a program that was unveiled by Microsoft in March of 2006 which allowed OEMs to label systems that shipped with XP installed as being ready for Windows Vista. Sounds like a good idea, right? Well, not when those PCs end up not being able to give the end user the full Vista experience by not being able to run Aero graphics thanks to sub-standard integrated graphics.

But how could a system marked as Vista Capable not be able to deliver the full Vista experience? Because on January 31, 2006 Microsoft lowered the requirements to Intel to shift millions of 915 chipsets. These chipsets did not support WDDM (Windows Device Driver Model) and did not support Aero.

The timeline, as described in the latest batch of unsealed court documents relating to a class-action lawsuit against Microsoft makes for interesting reading (download the PDF for yourself here if you want):

  • April 25-27, 2005 Bill Gates announced at WinHEC 05 that WDDM would be a Vista requirement.
  • June 24, 2005 Dell asks Microsoft for a grace period on WDDM. This is later refused.
  • December 2005 Sony approaches Microsoft for a waiver, which is later denied.
  • December 21, 2005 Microsoft's OEM marketing Bulletin reinforces that WDDM will be a Vista requirement.
  • January 30, 2006 Intel complains to Microsoft that the company doesn't have enough time to shift lines of non-WDDM parts (915 chipsets).
  • January 26, 2006 Fujitsu requests WDDM waiver, which is again refused.
  • January 28, 2006 "Back of the envelope" calculations done by Microsoft suggest that Intel's losses could run into billions.
  • January 31, 2006 Microsoft drops WDDM Windows Vista Capable logo program.
  • April 1, 2006 Vista Capable logoed PCs hit shelves.
  • January 30, 2007 Vista launched, Microsoft reintroduces WDDM as a requirement.

The unsealed documents contain some interesting emails from various people involved.

Here's what HP consumer PC executive Richard Walker wrote in an e-mail to former Microsoft co-presidents Jim Allchin and Kevin Johnson on February 1, 2006 [emphasis added]:

"The decision you have made and communicated has taken away an investment we made consciously for competitive advantage knowing that some players would choose not to make the same level of investment as we did in supporting your program requirements.

"I can't be more clear than to say you not only let us down by reneging on your commitment to stand behind the WDDM requirement, you have demonstrated a complete lack of commitment to HP as a strategic partner and cost us a lot of money in the process."

Here's an excerpt from an email sent by Allchin to Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer [emphasis added]:

"Now we have an upset partner, Microsoft destroyed credibility, as well as my own credibility shot."

And this by John Kalkman, Microsoft general manager [emphasis added]:

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

I believe that this compromise did more to tarnish Vista in the eyes of early adopters than any other single event. Basically, by associating the Vista brand with PCs that couldn't actually deliver the full Vista experience, Microsoft had tarnished the Vista name before the OS was even released.

Thoughts?