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Microsoft's 'Vista Capable' changes outraged HP, insider e-mails show

By helping Intel, Microsoft 'severely damaged' its credibility with HP, exec said

November 16, 2008 12:00 PM ET

Computerworld - A Hewlett-Packard Co. executive was furious at Microsoft Corp. over the company's decision to loosen the requirements for its "Vista Capable" marketing campaign, internal e-mails unsealed by a federal judge on Friday show.

"I hope this incident isn't a foretaste of the relationship I will have with Microsoft going forward, but I can tell you that it's left a very bad taste with me and my team," Richard Walker, senior vice president at HP's consumer PC unit, said in a Feb. 1, 2006, message to senior Microsoft executives.

One of those executives, Jim Allchin, who was in overall charge of Vista's development and delivery, was almost as outraged. Allchin told his boss, CEO Steve Ballmer, that he was "beyond being upset" by the move. Ballmer denied being party to the decision.

The e-mails were unsealed by U.S. District Court Judge Marsha Pechman in the class-action lawsuit that accuses Microsoft of deceiving customers in 2006 by certifying PCs as able to run Vista when it allegedly knew the machines were able only to handle the stripped-down Vista Basic, a version that lacked the new, heavily-promoted Aero interface, and other touted features. Vista was released early in 2007.

In early 2006, Microsoft relaxed the Vista Capable rules by allowing computers equipped with Intel's older 915 graphics chip set to qualify for the program. Will Poole, then responsible for the client version of Windows, tossed out the requirement that a PC's graphics use the Windows Device Driver Model (WDDM), Vista's revamped driver architecture that debuted in Vista.

The decision pleased Intel Corp., which had complained that it didn't have a sufficient supply of the more advanced graphics chip sets that would have met the original requirements. In fact, Intel CEO Paul Otellini sent a note to Microsoft's Ballmer thanking him for the change.

HP, however, was anything but happy.

"The decision you have made has taken away an investment we made consciously for competitive advantage knowing that some players would choose not to make the same level of investment as we did in supporting your program requirements," said Walker in the Feb. 1, 2006 e-mail, which he sent to Kevin Johnson, Microsoft's chief operating officer, and Allchin.

HP, unlike other computer makers preparing for Vista, had decided to ditch the low-end Intel 915 and 910 graphics chip sets to make sure that its low-priced PCs would be able to run Vista. In another e-mail cited in the same group of messages unsealed Friday, Walked said HP had designed and built two new motherboards for its upcoming Vista Capable lines.

According to the separate plaintiffs' motion filed last Thursday -- which included numerous citations of internal e-mails but did not always quote them in their entirety or attribute them to an individual -- HP spent nearly $7 million on the technology to make its machines meet the original Vista Capable requirements.

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