Microsoft e-mails detail internal fight on 'Vista Capable'

Before, during and after move to relax hardware requirements, some execs pushed back

Numerous Microsoft employees, including some top executives, urged their company to hold the line on the graphics requirements for the "Vista Capable" marketing campaign, both before and after the decision was made to loosen the rules, according to insider e-mails recently unsealed by a federal judge.

Relaxing the requirements for the program, which was designed to promote currently-available PCs as capable of running Windows Vista when it shipped months later, allowed the entry-level Intel 915 integrated graphics chipset to qualify, a move that pleased Intel but made another major partner, Hewlett-Packard (HP), furious.

In the months leading up to the late-January 2006 decision to drop support for Windows Device Driver Model (WDDM) as a requirement for a Vista Capable PC, Microsoft employees lobbied hard to hold fast even as some computer makers started to complain. WDDM was Vista's revamped driver architecture.

In June 2005, for instance, Dell essentially asked for a waiver that would let it build and sell systems with graphics that did not support LDDM, but still sport the Vista Capable sticker. (LDDM, or Longhorn Device Driver Model, was the name for WDDM when the operating system was still code-named "Longhorn.")

Microsoft refused Dell's request. "We have discussed this with the graphics team. We will be holding the line on LDDM for Standard Logo," an unidentified Microsoft employee wrote in an e-mail explaining the waiver rejection. "LDDM is fundamental to stability and graphics is one of the primary contributors to OCA [online crash analysis]."

Another internal message around the same time expanded on why LDDM was important to Vista Capable. "Our data shows that customers are significantly impacted by the stability of the display drivers, and the LDDM architecture in LH [Longhorn] is explicitly designed to address that customer issue."

A third message spelled it out even plainer that the LDDM/WDDM requirement was where Microsoft would draw a line in the sand. "We NEED to hold the line here. LDDM = LOGO. no LDDM, no LOGO," the message read.

These e-mails, and others, were included in a motion unsealed last week in which the plaintiffs asked US District Court Judge Marsha Pechman to rule that Microsoft's decision to change the Vista Capable requirements meets the definition of an "unfair or deceptive act or practice" under Washington state law. The motion quoted extensively from the documents and messages that the plaintiffs' attorneys have received from Microsoft during the discovery process, but it did not always attribute them to an individual. The plaintiffs have until next week to file the supporting documents, which will conceivably include the cited messages.

The plaintiffs' motion also noted that someone at Microsoft felt that Intel's 915 chipset -- the focus of much of the discussion, even in 2005 -- "should not even be on the list of recommended hardware for Windows Vista" and lumped it with technology suitable for the older Windows XP, not the still-in-development Vista.

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Gregg Keizer

Gregg Keizer

Computerworld
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