Microsoft execs struggled with Vista too, say internal e-mails

Company messages show top officials unhappy with Vista graphics demands, drivers

Some of Microsoft Corp.'s own top executives had trouble getting Windows Vista to work in the weeks after its release, according to company e-mails unsealed yesterday.

The officials, including a member of the Microsoft board of directors, voiced some of the same complaints about missing drivers and crippled graphics that users have raised since Vista debuted in January 2007.

Steven Sinofsky, the Microsoft senior vice president who took charge of Windows development the day after Vista's retail release, was among the top officials who said some of their hardware wouldn't work with the new operating system. "My home multi-function printer did not have drivers until 2/2 and even then [they] pulled their 1/30 drivers and released them (Brother)," said Sinofsky in an e-mail dated Feb. 18, 2007.

"People who rely on using all the features of their hardware will not see availability for some time, if ever, depending on the [manufacturer]," Sinofsky continued in the message. "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."

Sinofsky's e-mail was one of hundreds made public Wednesday by U.S. District Court Judge Marsha Pechman as part of a lawsuit that claims Microsoft deceived buyers when it promoted PCs as "Windows Vista Capable" in the run-up to the 2006 holiday season. The lawsuit, which was granted class-action status last Friday, charges that the Vista Capable logo was slapped on systems that could run only the lowest-priced and lowest-powered version, Windows Vista Home Basic. That edition omits several of the most heavily promoted features of Vista, including Aero, the revamped graphical interface that in some ways resembles the look and feel of Apple Inc.'s Mac OS X.

The internal e-mails showed that Microsoft changed its mind on the hardware requirements for Vista Capable, and began communicating that to OEM partners in early 2006, about a year before Vista's launch and around four months before the company unveiled the marketing program.

Until then, Microsoft had said internally — and to OEMs — that PCs tagged as Vista Capable had to support the operating system's WDDM (Windows Display Driver Model) video drivers, a requirement for running Aero. But in late January 2006, Microsoft got ready to tell some of its most important partners, including Hewlett-Packard Co., that it had dropped the WDDM demand.

"WDDM support for graphics is now a recommended, but not required, technical criteria for Windows Vista Capable PCs," Scott Di Valerio, the former head of the company's OEM division, said in a message on Jan. 31, 2006. Di Valerio left Microsoft last October to join PC maker Lenovo.

Mike Nash, vice president for Windows product management, was nailed by the Vista Capable change more than a year later when he bought a new laptop.

"I know that I chose my laptop (a Sony TX770P) because it had the Vista logo and was pretty disappointed that it not only wouldn't run [Aero], but more important wouldn't run [Windows] Movie Maker," Nash said in an e-mail on Feb. 25, 2007. "Now I have a $2,100 e-mail machine."

Jon Shirley, a former president and chief operating officer at Microsoft and now one of the company's board directors, expressed Vista frustration, too.

In a message dated Feb. 16, 2007, to CEO Steve Ballmer, Shirley spelled out his Vista driver problem. "The other machine I will not upgrade as there are no drivers yet for my Epson printer (top of the line and in production today but no driver yet), Epson scanner (older but also top of the line and they say they will not do a driver for) and a Nikon film scanner that will get a driver one day but no date set yet.

"I cannot understand with a product this long in creation why there is a shortage of drives," Shirley concluded.

In his reply two days later, Ballmer told Shirley, "Thanks much ... will get after Nikon."

The messages written by Nash, Sinofsky, Shirley and Ballmer can be read in their entirety here (PDF download).

Copyright © 2008 IDG Communications, Inc.

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