Microsoft dissed Intel's 915 chip set before making 'Vista Capable' changes

Intel 'years behind the curve,' Microsoft exec said in '05, insider e-mails show

Months before it bowed to pressure from Intel Corp. and relaxed the requirements for its "Vista Capable" marketing program, Microsoft Corp. published an article on its TechNet Web site recommending that users avoid Intel's 915 graphics chip set if they planned on upgrading to Windows Vista, internal e-mails at Microsoft show.

The article, posted in late July 2005, raised hackles at Intel and led to exchanges between Microsoft executives, with one accusing Intel of deliberately misleading users about the 915 chip set and its ability to handle Vista advanced graphics.

Composed by an outside writer, the TechNet article -- which was quickly yanked from the site -- sparked a story on the X-bit Labs site headlined "Microsoft Advices [sic] to Avoid Integrated Graphics Cores for Windows Vista," and it included several quotations from the original article.

One quote quickly got Intel's attention. "Boy you guys really made some friends over here," Intel's Marty Johnson wrote on Aug. 5, 2005, to a pair of Microsoft managers in the Windows group, Ty Carlson and Rajesh Srinivasan. Johnson then cited a bit from the TechNet article. "Excerpt from Windows Vista web site: 'Exactly which chipsets will end up fully supported is still open at this point, but specifying the higher end of the chipset choices from NVIDIA or ATI is probably indicative of the range -- and more concrete information should be available at a later date.'"

Later that same day, Carlson e-mailed Will Poole and Chris Jones, senior-level executives who at the time were responsible for development of the client version of Vista. Nearly six months later, Poole would be the one who called the shots during the dustup over Vista Capable that resulted in Microsoft loosening the rules for which graphics sets qualified for the program.

"I just want to give you a heads-up of a potential escalation in bound from Intel," Carlson said. In Microsoft's terminology, "escalation" meant that the matter would be bumped up the corporate ladder for discussion. Carlson cited the offending TechNet article and the Xbit Labs' follow-up, then continued: "Intel is obviously not happy as they have teams slaving to get their mobile integrated WDDM completed for Beta 2. I have called Intel and explained the situation and that we are working to pull the article."

WDDM referred to Windows Device Driver Model, the name for the new driver architecture set to debut with Vista and, until January 2007, a critical requirement for inclusion in the Vista Capable program.

Replies from Poole or Jones, if any were sent, were not included in the messages unsealed Monday by U.S. District Court Judge Marsha Pechman, who is overseeing the 17-month-old Vista Capable class-action lawsuit.

But Carlson and Michael Wallent, a general manager in the Windows client group, had a terse exchange on Aug. 8, 2005, as they reviewed a postmortem they would deliver to Poole on how the article made it through an approval process with recommendations that ticked off Intel. The back-and-forth makes it clear that both Microsoft and Intel knew the latter was having trouble crafting Vista-grade drivers for its integrated graphics chip sets.

Even as he acknowledged that the sentences in question in the TechNet piece "accurately represent the situation," Carlson was willing to cut Intel some slack. "The softer language, however, should have been used," he said.

Wallent, on the other hand, disagreed: "I'm not sure we did anything wrong. What could we have done that would have been accurate that would have not made Intel unhappy? Whats [sic] the right thing to do for the customer here?"

A half-hour later, Carlson responded. "I know Michael that you are technically 'right,' but respectfully, this is about more than being just 'right.'" Carlson said. "I know your team is frustrated with Intel, and your frustration is justified. Intel is years behind the curve and this is being blatantly demonstrated to them. But they already know this. Their management knows it. Their spouses know it.

"[But] if roles were reversed, I would be very unhappy with Microsoft," he continued. "I know that my product line is not up to snuff, but I have a team of 20 developers working night and day and ... articles like this are salt in the wound and very demoralizing to the [Intel] development team at a critical time."

Wallent countered just minutes later. "I appreciate the thoughtfulness of this mail, but I think you are off base," he said. "Intel is trying to play hide the ball on their current status w/alviso [the code name for the 915 integrated graphics chip set ]. Customers can figure this out themselves with the beta 1 build, and even more when beta 2 becomes widely available.

"Because they are not being forthcoming, they make the situation worse than it could be," Wallent continued. "If they would say, alviso no, lakeport yes, calistoga yes, 2006+ yes, then we'd be back in a better spot than we are today. This is the accurate info that we should be providing to customers. Its [sic] not an attack on their developers, but its [sic] reality."

Wallent also accused Intel of playing fast and loose with the facts about the 915 chip set's ability to handle Vista. "Intel's own web site, as we've noted, is misleading," he said.

Elsewhere in the hundreds of unsealed e-mails was one in which Srinivasan spelled out numerous problems with a page on Intel's site. On the page, said Srinivasan, Intel claimed that the 915 chip set "provides ... for an optimal Windows Vista experience." That was far from correct in his view.

"The 915 chipset for mobile does not provide an 'optimal Windows Vista experience' and this is clearly misleading," said Srinivasan. "It should not even be in the list of recommended hardware for Windows Vista."

Later in the long message, which was sent to Carlson, Wallent and others inside Microsoft, Srinivasan concluded: "At least, I would've appreciated Intel's cooperation in providing our enterprise customers with the right information re: their platforms' capabilities in Windows Vista. Instead, by not providing correct information, they would confuse our customers. We are likely to get huge CPE [customer and partner experience] issues from larger enterprises deploying hundreds of thousands PCs based on such misleading information."

In the Vista Capable case, which began in April 2007 and is now slated to go to trial in April 2009, the plaintiffs charge that Microsoft deceived customers by certifying PCs as able to run Vista when it allegedly knew the machines could handle only the stripped-down Vista Basic. That version lacked the new, heavily promoted Aero interface.

Microsoft has denied the allegations.

Earlier disclosures of the company's communications have showed that Microsoft's move to relax the graphics hardware requirements for Vista Capable PCs infuriated Hewlett-Packard Co., and that managers inside the company feared comparisons between Vista and Apple Inc.'s Mac OS X more than a year before Vista went public.

Copyright © 2008 IDG Communications, Inc.

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