More dirt in the Vista 'junk PC' lawsuit

New behind-the-scenes emails just released in the Vista 'junk PC' lawsuit shows that top Microsoft execs were not just upset and derisive about the capabilities of "Vista Capable PCs," but about the state of Vista altogether. Steven Sinofsky, who had just been named the top Windows honcho, was particularly incensed about driver problems because he couldn't even get his home printer to work. I've got details, including excerpts from the actual emails.

A federal judge has just unsealed many Microsoft emails, as part of the lawsuit against Microsoft for a marketing scheme in which people claim that Microsoft misled consumers into buying the Windows Vista Capable PCs, even though the PCs couldn't run the most important features of Vista.

Portions of the emails were previously read in court, in which Microsoft employees derided the marketing scheme, saying, for example, "Even a piece of junk will qualify" to be called Windows Vista Capable.

The fully released email trail, however, is even more damning, because it shows that the then just-named top Microsoft exec in charge of Windows, Steven Sinofsky, knew that Vista had very serious hardware compatibility problems at launch. The full email trail is available from a link on the blog of the Seattle Post Intelligences's very good blog about the matter. You can also read Computerworld's reporting about the latest email revelations.

Sinofsky couldn't even get his home printer to work properly with Vista, and recognized that some hardware would never work with Vista. He sent an email to Steve Ballmer on February 18, 2007, outlining all the reasons that Vista, on launch, had so many incompatibilities with hardware. Here's an excerpt:

Basically I think three things worked against us:

  • No one really believed we would ever ship so they didn't start the work until very late in 2006. This led to the lack of availability. For example my home multi-function printer did not have drivers until 2/2 and even pulled their 1/30 drivers and re-released them (Brother).
  • Massive change in the underpinnings for video and audio really led to a poor experience at RTM, especially with respect to Windows Media Center. This change led to incompatibilities. For example, you don't get Aero with an XP driver, but your card might not (ever) have a Vista driver.
  • A lot of change led to many Windows XP drivers not really working at all -- this is across the board for printers, scanners, wan, accessories (fingerprint readers, smartcards, tv tuners), and so on. This category is due to the fact that many of the associated applets don't run within the constraints of the security model or the new video/audio driver models. For example, OrlandoA [Microsoft executive Orlando Ayala] is not on Vista because there are no drivers for his Verizon card yet. Microsoft's own hardware was missing a lot of support (fingerprint reader, MCE extender, etc.)
People who rely on using all the features of their hardware (like Jon's Nikon scanner) will not see availability for some time, if ever, depending on the mfg. The built-in drivers never have all the features but do work. For example, I could print with [my] Brother printer and use it as a stand-alone fax. But network setup, scanning, print to fax must come from Brother.

The Vista Ready logo program required drivers available on 1/30. I think we had had reasonable coverage, but quality was uneven as I experienced.

Board member Jon Shirley had problems as well with Vista hardware and drivers. And he had software problems as well. He couldn't even manage to get some Microsoft software to function under Vista, complaining that he was not able to get two MSN products to work. Shirley, who at one time was Microsoft President and Chief Operating Officer was particularly scathing about the hardware problems. He couldn't manage to get his Epson printer, scanner, or film scanner to work. Read this excerpt from his email to Steve Ballmer:

I cannot understand with a product this long in creation why there is such a shortage of drivers. I supposed the vendors did not trust us enough to use the beta for driver testing?

The emails also show that execs knew the entire Vista Capable scheme was a fiasco, and wanted to distance themselves from it. Jim Allchin, the previous Windows chief, at one point writes about the Vista Capable program:

I wasn't involved and it is hard for me to step in now and reverse everything.

Sinofsky also knew that the entire "Vista Capable" scheme thoroughly confused customers. In one email with the subject of "vista ready," he noted that customers had no idea what Vista Capable, or Vista Ready meant:

I was in bestbuy listening to people and can tell you this one did not come clear to customers. We set ourselves up.

Later, in another email, he shows that even he doesn't understand what Vista Ready means. He says,

Is it true that Vista Ready doesn't necessarily mean Aero capable? I got a Dell Latitude that is Vista Ready but doesn't have enough graphics h/w.

Steven, I've got news for you: Plenty of other people have no idea what Vista Ready or Vista Capable means. That's why Microsoft is being slapped with this suit.

If you're looking for more dirt from the emails, check out my blog that shows that Microsoft may have launched the entire Vista Capable scheme to help Intel meet its quarterly earnings by selling older chipsets that couldn't properly run Vista.

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