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Microsoft nobbled ‘Vista-Capable’ for Intel

Unlocked court papers show email trail

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High-ranking Microsoft and Intel executives were involved in a plan to re-write the Windows Vista Capable program to save both companies - and OEMs - millions of dollars, according to unsealed court documents.

Microsoft removed a key requirement from the Vista Capable program so PCs running old Intel chips suited to Windows XP but unable to run the Windows Vista Aero interface could still qualify as Visa-Capable machines, according to the documents here (warning: PDF).

The documents were published in a class-action consumer case that alleges Microsoft unjustly promoted PCs as "Windows Vista Capable" when they could only run a cut-down version of the operating system, called "Windows Vista Basic."

Microsoft's update to the program followed a flurry of emails and phone calls that reached to the top of both companies, chief executive Steve Ballmer from Microsoft and Paul Otellini of Intel.

Otellini, and executives, were alarmed the Vista-Capable program would expose Intel to "liability", in the form of returned machines, and lost business.

Such was Otellini's concern and subsequent relief at Microsoft's change, he called Ballmer. The CEO-level contact is vital to the case as both Ballmer and Microsoft have denied he had any "unique or personal" knowledge of the Vista-Capable program so that he can avoid having to testify in the case.

Otellini first called to register that fact "they agreed to disagree" according a Microsoft document (here, warning: PDF), and then called Ballmer to exchange pleasantries after Microsoft revised the Vista-Capable requirements.

Microsoft has instead highlighted the part played by Windows client business senior vice president Will Poole, as the exec with detailed knowledge of the problem and the fix. His primary Intel contact was executive Renee James.

Microsoft said Ballmer didn't have the chance to speak to Poole after the first phone exchange with Otellini before Poole had "resolved the concern."

"Intel was aware that the decision on the technical requirements had been Mr. Pooles, as Ms. James of Intel sent Mr. Poole a note stating, Paul did send a note to Steve thanking him for listening and making these changes," Microsoft said.

At the crux of the debate was the fact Intel's 915 chipset could not run the critical Longhorn Display Driver Model (LDDM), also known as the Windows Device Driver Model (WDDM).

According to documents Microsoft dropped the need for 915 to support WDDM to qualify as Vista Capable. That's a crucial plank in a case that argues Microsoft deceived customers by advertising the full Windows Vista while knowing there were machines out there that were unable to run its key capabilities - chiefly the Aero interface - as advertised.

Intel's James was told of the crucial change in an email from Poole on January 30, 2006. Intel had previously joined OEMs Dell, Sony and Fujitsu in complaining that the 915 chipset crashed with WDDM - less than 30 per cent of PCs qualified for the Vista Capable sticker in January 2006.

Such was the breath taking and fundamental nature of removing the WDDM requirement James did a "verbal double take" in her email to Poole after he told her. Intel had wanted a 30-day delay before Microsoft announced the Vista-Capable program to get more Vista-Capable machines in to the market.

"We are seriously confused," James wrote. "We believed that 915 is NOT vista ready as it will never have WDDM drivers. We believe your Vista ready requirements doc said it had to be WDM drivers to qualify for the program sticker... are you saying that these parts qualify for Vista Ready logo?" .

Poole replied: "We need to separate what the "Vista Capable" logo requirements are from the concept of being able to run Vista... the POR is that although 915 is upgradeable to Vista, it would not qualify for a Vista Capable logo, nor a basic "designed for Windows Vista" [sic] log once we launched."

The case continues.®

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