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Lawsuit alleges Microsoft misled on Vista

Benjamin J. Romano
The Seattle Times (MCT)

SEATTLE -- A Washington woman who bought a computer in November 2006 marked as "Vista Capable" and later discovered it's capable of running only the most basic version of Microsoft's new operating system, has sued the company for unfair and deceptive marketing.

Dianne Kelley, represented by Seattle law firm Gordon Murray Tilden, filed a lawsuit Thursday, alleging "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.'"

The suit seeks class-action status.

A Microsoft attorney defended the marketing practices in an interview Tuesday, noting that the "Vista Capable" logo was one part of an "unprecedented effort" by the company to distribute information about the operating system's features and hardware requirements.

"Our goal is to give (customers) as much information as possible down to the precise technical specifications that they need" to operate the various versions of Vista, said Linda Norman, associate general counsel in Microsoft's litigation group.

In March 2006, Microsoft began a program that allowed computer makers whose machines met certain specifications to label them as "Vista Capable." The required specs included at least 512 megabytes of memory and a DirectX 9 graphics processor.

But PCs bearing the "Capable" logo "cannot run, or run poorly, with Vista Home Premium, the least expensive version of Vista that includes Vista's heavily marketed and most popular features," Kelley's complaint said.

Microsoft later introduced a "Premium Ready" designation for PCs with enough memory and graphics processing power to handle the additional features, including the translucent Aero user interface and many of the digital media applications for photos and DVDs.

Jeffrey Thomas, an attorney at Gordon Murray Tilden, said the average consumer shopping for a new PC and seeing a "Vista Capable" sticker has "a reasonable expectation" of getting "the core experience that Microsoft has spent quite a lot of money advertising as the Vista experience."

Microsoft said consumers running the Basic version are in fact getting the "core Vista experience" of increased performance, better security and easier file searching.

Thomas said the marketing campaign around Vista, which emphasizes many of the visual and digital media features of the operating system only available in the Premium and higher editions, is "misleading, unfair and/or deceptive to the average consumer."

Microsoft attorney Norman said advertising is a visual medium so it's not surprising the snazzy translucent user interface called Aero and other visual aspects of Vista are highlighted.

"(But) what customers are going to appreciate on a day-to-day basis is the underlying architectural changes that have increased the security and reliability of that experience -- not something that's easy to put up on an advertising board and catch a consumer's attention," she said.

The suit was filed in U.S. District Court in Seattle.

It seeks certification of the class action and damages, such as the additional memory, video cards or other hardware and software needed to run the version of Vista that consumers thought they'd be able to do when they purchased their computers, Thomas said.

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READY TO WARE

While Microsoft disputes the suit's claims and defends its marketing practices, a company attorney acknowledged that selecting the right combination of hardware and operating-system software requires more effort than it used to.

Here's a rundown of features in the two versions of Vista most consumers will consider and Microsoft's minimum hardware recommendations:

+ Vista Home Basic: Designed for "basic home computing needs" and equipped with improved security features, better search capabilities and new controls for connecting to networks. Cost: $200 or $100 to upgrade from earlier versions of Windows.

+ Hardware recommendations: 1 gigahertz processor; 512 megabytes system memory; 20 gigabyte hard drive; support for DirectX 9 graphics card and 32 megs of graphics memory.

+ Vista Home Premium: Microsoft describes it as "the preferred edition of Windows for home desktop and mobile PCs." Has all Basic features and translucent user interface, small-group networking tool, Media Center for digital entertainment, automatic file backup, DVD editing software in standard- or high-definition and new games. Cost: $240 or $160 to upgrade.

+ Hardware recommendations: 1 gigahertz processor; 1 gigabyte of system memory; 40 gigabyte hard drive; support for DirectX 9 graphics card with features such as Pixel Shader 2.0 and 128 megabytes of graphics memory.

Source: Microsoft

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