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Microsoft has been accused of deceiving US consumers by marketing PCs as "Windows Vista Capable" when they could only run the most basic version of its latest operating system.

A US lawsuit filed today claims Microsoft overstated the ability of PCs to run Windows Vista, and that an upgrade program added insult to injury by giving users access to Windows Vista Home Basic that lacked many of the advertised features.

The suit, filed in the Western District of Washington, is seeking class-action status for 10,000 people and damages in excess of $5m.

The suit, Microsoft's latest class action case but the first related to Windows Vista, comes amid claims that most business PCs also lack the hardware required to run most versions of Windows Vista.

Eighty per cent of PCs do not match Microsoft's hardware requirements to upgrade, according to Everdream, a desktop management specialist. The biggest hurdle is lack of RAM: 70 per cent of machines lack the requisite 1GB, according to Everdream, which surveyed 140,000 desktop and laptop machines.

It will be the court case, though, that probably occupies Microsoft most.

The case rests on Microsoft's decision to let PC manufacturers slap stickers on PCs that describe machines as either Windows Vista "Capable" or Windows Vista "Premium Ready".

A Windows Vista Capable machine is defined by Microsoft as using "at least" an 800MHz processor, 512MbB RAM and DirectX 9 compatible graphics card.

The suit claims many of the Windows Vista Capable machines are only capable of running Home Basic editions of Windows Vista and could not run the next edition, Home Premium, which featured most of the heavily advertised features.

Home Basic lacks the media center, and funky Aero interface with flip 3D and thumbnails, and was described in one underwhelming Dell product spec (pdf) as: "Great for booting the operating system without running applications or games."

Despite making the information on the differences widely available on its site and through partners, the suit accused Microsoft of operating a "bait and switch - assuring consumers they were purchasing 'Vista Capable' machines when, in fact, they could only obtain a stripped-down operating system lacking the functionality and features that Microsoft advertised as 'Vista.'"

The suit claims Bill Gates contributed to the deception by saying on NBC's Today Show, PC users could upgrade to Windows Vista for just $100. "In fact, one can only 'upgrade' to Home Basic for that price, which Mr. Gates and Microsoft know is a product that lacks the features marketed by Microsoft as being Vista."

In reply, Microsoft said it had conducted a "very broad and unprecedented effort" to help PC makers, retailers and consumers "understand the hardware requirements to run the various flavors of the Windows Vista operating system."®

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