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Ballmer ordered to testify in 'Vista Capable' lawsuit

December 1, 2008 12:00 PM ET

Computerworld - Microsoft Corp. asked a federal judge on Nov. 20 to end a class-action lawsuit that has been the source of a treasure trove of embarrassing insider e-mails about changes made to the company's "Vista Capable" marketing program in 2006.

U.S. District Judge Marsha Pechman has yet to rule on motions calling for her to decertify the plaintiff class and issue a summary judgment dismissing the charges. But the day after the motions were filed, she ordered Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer to testify in the lawsuit via a deposition to be held within 30 days.

Pechman rejected Microsoft's contention that Ballmer knew nothing about the vendor's decision to loosen the hardware requirements PCs had to meet to qualify for the Vista Capable designation. "Plaintiffs have met their burden in demonstrating Mr. Ballmer may have relevant, unique personal knowledge of relevant facts," the judge wrote in her deposition order.

In a declaration by Ballmer submitted earlier this fall as part of Microsoft filings aimed at blocking the order for him to testify, the CEO said he "was not involved in any of the operational decisions" about Vista Capable. But after Pechman issued her ruling, a Microsoft spokesman said that the company would comply.

The marketing program was meant to assure users that PCs bought before Windows Vista shipped would be able to run the operating system. The lawsuit claims that the reclassification of some hardware as Vista Capable inflated the prices of PCs that later were deemed able to run only Vista Home Basic, which doesn't include features such as the Aero user interface.

In its motion to dismiss, Microsoft said the plaintiffs haven't shown that they paid more for PCs because of Vista Capable. They have also failed to prove that Vista Home Basic isn't a "real" version of the operating system, it said.

This version of the story originally appeared in Computerworld's print edition.

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