Microsoft CEO Ballmer forced to testify about Vista, for three hours

Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer is now under court order to testify in a case charging Microsoft with deceptive marketing, despite his protests that he knew nothing about the "Vista Capable" mess.

Ballmer has been compelled by a court to testify in a class action suit accusing Microsoft of providing misleading information about the ability of some Intel-based PCs to run Vista. But Friday's ruling in the case by US District Judge Marsha Pechman places a time limit of three hours on Ballmer's deposition.

Plaintiffs in the suit charge that, to increase the number of Windows XP machines designated as "Vista Capable," Microsoft in 2006 dropped the requirement for PCs labeled "Vista Capable" to support the Windows Device Driver Model (WDDM).

Although ultimately given the "Windows Capable" designation, PCs with Intel 915 and 915GM chips "will not support WDDM and will not offer any graphics stability or performance improvement over Windows XP, nor will they support any of the visual quality/productivity/style improvements over Windows XP," acknowledged Rajesh Srinivasan, a Microsoft exec, in a message that was part of a chain of e-mails recently unsealed by the court.

Steve Ballmer

"I had nothing to do with this," Ballmer contended, in another e-mail in the chain. "I am not even in the detail of the issues."

On October 3, Microsoft filed a request seeking to get Ballmer excused from testifying in the case through a protective order.

"Mr. Ballmer has no unique personal knowledge of any facts at issue. He was not involved in the decisions with respect to the Windows Vista Capable program that Plaintiffs challenge. Instead, he learned of those decisions only after the fact from subordinate employees," according to Microsoft's filing.

In her court decision last Friday, though, the judge denied Microsoft's attempt at a protective order. "Plaintiffs opposed the protective order claiming Mr. Ballmer had direct, pertinent involvement in the Windows Vista Capable program," according to the ruling.

"In particular, Plaintiffs point to a phone call between Intel's CEO, Paul Otellini, and Mr. Ballmer where the executives supposedly discussed a change in the Vista Capable requirements," Judge Pechman wrote.

"Plaintiffs have demonstrated Mr. Ballmer has unique personal knowledge" discoverable within the deposition process, according to the court ruling on Friday. "The Court appreciates that there are severe demands on Mr. Ballmer's time; however, a busy schedule cannot 'shield' an executive from [legal] discovery."

Beyond ruling that Ballmer's deposition will last no more than three hours, the court also stipulated that the deposition can take place any time over the next 30 days "at a time and place of Mr. Ballmer's convenience."

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