Class Action Lawsuit Claims 'Vista Capable' is Misleading

A lady in Washington state who apparently purchased a computer in late 2006 bearing the "Vista Capable" sticker, and who only later discovered it was only capable of running Vista Home Basic, has filed a class action lawsuit against Microsoft in her home state, seeking in excess of $5 million.

The lawsuit alleges Microsoft misrepresented the capacity of computers to run all of Vista's purported features, directly citing Acer senior vice president Jim Wong's comments last October that "Premium is the real Vista" as indication that at least one PC maker believed Basic was not the real Vista.

"Pursuant to Microsoft's 'Express Upgrade' program, consumers purchasing 'Windows Vista Capable' computers would receive upgrades to 'Vista' for little or no cost," the suit reminds the court.

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"In fact, the upgrade for many of these customers is to Home Basic, which offers few (if any) advantages over the existing XP operating system, and few of the features that Microsoft marketed as and calls 'Vista,' such as Vista's signature Aero desktop and 'Flip 3D navigation.' Consumers were falsely led to believe they would be upgraded to a version of a dramatically new operating system that Microsoft knew was 'Vista' in name only, and was not functionally superior to the XP operating system."

The fact that the Aero environment would only apply to premium tiers of Vista has been generally known since the wraps first came off the Vista name in 2005. But the lawsuit alleges Microsoft came up with the term "core Vista experience" that would appear to pertain to Aero's graphical features, while obscuring the fact that it pertained to an essentially glorified version of XP. It cites Chairman Bill Gates as having personally used the term during a Vista unveiling that appeared on NBC's Today program last January, which the lawsuit called furthering "Microsoft's unfair and deceptive conduct."

This is despite explanations of the differences between Vista tiers made by retailers such as Silicon Mountain, which we located on its Web site today: "Microsoft has created two designations for Vista-ready systems. A Windows Vista Capable system has the minimum hardware required to deliver the core Vista experience. A Windows Vista Premium Ready system is capable of delivering the premium Vista experiences, including the Windows Aero desktop interface. You'll want to analyze how each system is used in your office to determine which set of requirements is appropriate."

Not only were reports of the breakdown of Vista's various editions made public in February of last year, but Microsoft itself inadvertently revealed the breakdown on its Web site earlier than it had planned. For well over a year, the fact of Vista Home Basic's Aero-deficiency has been well circulated - in fact, they're what directly led to Acer's Wong's comments complaining that Home Basic was inefficient.

But most importantly, the Home Basic information was public knowledge prior to Microsoft's announcement the following month that consumer editions of Vista would be delayed until 2007. The lawsuit alleges that Microsoft concocted a scheme to compel customers to purchase lower-class computers using Home Basic and the "Vista Capable" sticker after the delay was announced in March.

The lawsuit seeks a jury trial. Thus far, Microsoft has issued no public comment in response to the suit.

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