Vista-to-XP downgrade suit: Wrong, wrong, wrong

Microsoft has been hit with another Vista-related suit, charging that the company has abused its monopoly power to charge a woman $59.25 for downgrading to XP from Vista on her new Lenovo laptop. Unlike the Vista junk PC case, though, this time around the suit is flat-out wrong. It's one more instance of someone trying to make a quick buck out of the legal system.

For details about the suit, check out Computerworld's coverage.

Here's the gist of the suit, according to the Seattle Times:

Emma Alvarado bought a laptop from Lenovo on June 20, 2008, with Windows Vista Business preinstalled. She paid Lenovo "an additional $59.25 in order to 'downgrade' her operating system to Windows XP Professional." Alvarado is seeking class-action status.

Her lawyer's filing charges that

Since the introduction of Vista, Microsoft has effectively eliminated competition in the operating system PC market and created a monopoly position for itself in that market. Currently, there is no operating system software for Intel-compatible PC's that a significant percentage of consumers could substitute for Vista without incurring substantial costs.

It then adds:

Consumers have encountered numerous problems using the Vista operating system, and these problems have been widely publicized in various media outlets. As a result, many consumers would prefer to purchase a new computer pre-installed with the Windows XP operating system or at least not pre-installed with the Vista operating system. However, Microsoft has used its market power to take advantage of consumer demand for the Windows XP operating system by requiring consumers to purchase computers pre-installed with the Vista operating system and to pay additional sums to "downgrade" to the Windows XP operating system.

The suit charges that Microsoft violated the Washington Unfair Business Practices Act, the Washington Consumer Protection Act, and the Washington Business Practices Act.

Wrong, wrong, and wrong. This is clearly an attempt by a laywer and his client to make a killing. Let's start with the basics. Microsoft didn't charge Alvarado a penny for the downgrade, and didn't get that $59.25 from her. Lenovo did that. And Microsoft claims that it doesn't get a penny when someone downgrades to XP from Vista. Here's what Microsoft says about that on Mary-Jo Foley's All About Microsoft blog:

Microsoft does not have a downgrade program. It does offer downgrade rights as part of some Windows Vista licenses, including Windows Vista Business purchased through the OEM channel. Microsoft does not charge or receive any additional royalty if a customer exercises those rights. Some customers may choose or need to obtain media or installation services from third parties to install the downgrade version.

So how does the XP downgrade financially help Microsoft? Not at all.

For more details about Microsoft's response, check out this coverage from Computerworld.

In addition, if Ms. Alvarado disliked Vista so much, she could have simply bought a Mac. In her suit, she says she wanted to buy an "Intel-compatible PC," whatever that is supposed to mean. Macs are powered by Intel chips, after all, so she could have simply purchased a Mac if she had her heart set on a machine powered by Intel.

She could also have installed Linux over Windows on her PC, and wouldn't have had to pay a penny. Given that she probably couldn't do that herself, she could have paid someone to do it for her, and they most likely would have charged her more than Lenovo charged her for the XP downgrade. So where did she lose in the XP downgrade?

What she's really saying, it seems, is that she wanted to buy Windows, didn't like Vista, and instead wanted an older version of the operating system. And she's suing because Lenovo charged her for the downgrade.

No law that I know of requires that a company let you buy an earlier version of a product if you don't like the latest version.

In short, this lawsuit is wrong-headed, and a clear attempt to make a quick buck. It should be thrown out. My response to this one? As Shakespeare said in Henry VI, "let's kill all the lawyers" -- figuratively, in this case.

Copyright © 2009 IDG Communications, Inc.

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