Internal e-mails show concern over 'Vista capable' program

As the looming court battle over the "Windows Vista capable" program draws nearer, a federal judge unsealed internal e-mails which show that Microsoft may have been aware of potential problems long before the suit was filed.

These e-mails are likely to provide the plaintiffs a good deal of evidence that the Redmond company was indeed aware that some of their certified products could not run the more advanced features of the new OS.

It also shows that within Microsoft, there was a good deal of frustration over Vista's initial hardware and software problems. One board member even had problems with using Microsoft's own applications.

In e-mails first reported on by the Seattle Post-Intelligencer's Todd Bishop, one from new Windows head Steven Sinofsky stands out. In it, he points out that manufacturers didn't start working on drivers until late 2006, because "no one really believed we would ever ship."

He also pointed to the significant changes in audio and video support within Vista as a problem; this, along with other changes in security, made many XP drivers inoperable.

While in many cases a generic driver would work, functionality was greatly reduced, he conceded. He also questioned Microsoft's move of deeming the Intel 915 chipset (used in a signficant amount of laptops), which is not Aero compatible, as possibly being a mistake. Even the 945 chipset was "barely" working, he continued.

"We need to be clearer with industry and we need to decide what we will do and do that well and 100% and not just do a little of everything which leaves the IHV [Independent Hardware Vendors] in a confused state," he said in the February 2007 e-mail.

But why was the 915 chipset allowed to be called Vista capable if it really wasn't? There's a simple answer to that, and its Intel's bottom line.

Microsoft executive John Kalkman said that the company lowered its requirements to help the company make its quarterly earnings. This allowed Intel to continue to ship motherboards with the chipset embedded, and took the focus off of getting out graphics drivers that actually work.

"[This] 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," he lamented.

The moves angered retailers and manufacturers alike. HP felt burned because it had made significant commitments to push the new UI and Intel was now "driving our customer experience," as one executive put it; and Wal-Mart had actually taken steps to remove Vista-capable logos from computers that didn't fully support all of the OS' features.

In a statement responding to the release of the e-mails, Microsoft conceded that there was considerable debate on the program, but felt that it was a success in the end.

The entire release of internal e-mails can be found here in PDF format.

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