Calif. woman sues Microsoft over XP downgrades -- again

Rerun of lawsuit tossed by federal judge last February

A California woman whose lawsuit against Microsoft was dismissed earlier this year has again sued the company over "downgrade" rights to the nine-year-old Windows XP, according to federal court documents.

The complaint filed by Los Angeles resident Emma Alvarado last week accused Microsoft of breaking California's unfair business practice and restraint of trade laws by requiring customers to purchase a copy of Windows Vista or Windows 7 if they want to downgrade to the older Windows XP.

Alvarado's lawsuit asked a California federal judge to grant the case class-action status, which would let others join her in suing Microsoft.

In 2009, Alvarado sued Microsoft over the same downgrade rights, claiming that the company used its position as the dominant operating system maker to "require consumers to purchase computers pre-installed with the Vista operating system and to pay additional sums to 'downgrade' to the Windows XP operating system."

That case was dismissed in February 2010 by a Washington federal judge who said Alvarado had not proved Microsoft benefited from the downgrade practices.

"Downgrade" describes the Windows licensing rights that Microsoft gives users, who are allowed under some circumstances to replace newer versions of Windows with an older edition without having to pay for another license. In effect, the license for the newer Windows is transferred to the older edition.

Microsoft lets customers downgrade to Windows XP Professional from Windows Vista Business, Vista Ultimate, Windows 7 Professional and Windows 7 Ultimate.

"Prior to permitting the consumer to 'downgrade' to Windows XP Professional, Microsoft first mandates that the consumer 'upgrade' from the Home versions of its operating systems to either Vista Business, Vista Ultimate, Windows 7 Professional or Windows 7 Ultimate -- thereby forcing the consumer to incur an unnecessary expense and creating revenue for Microsoft by virtue of the End User consumer purchasing two operating systems for one PC," Alvarado's complaint alleged.

Microsoft's list prices for Windows 7 Professional and Ultimate are $80 and $100 higher than for Windows 7 Home Premium.

Last July, Microsoft extended downgrade rights of Windows 7 through the entire life cycle of the OS. Windows 7 Ultimate's life cycle ends in January 2015, while Professional's terminates in January 2020.

In late October, however, Microsoft required computer makers to stop offering XP on new PCs. On the same date, OEMs were also forced to terminate most in-factory Windows 7-to-XP downgrade offers.

Consumers can continue to exercise their downgrade rights, but generally must do it themselves using a copy of XP Professional that they already own.

Alvarado's lawsuit demanded Microsoft refund all revenues incurred through its downgrade practice, and that members of the class be awarded triple any actual damages.

Attorneys for Alvarado, several of whom also represented her in the 2009 lawsuit, did not respond Thursday to questions about the similarities between the two cases. Microsoft did not reply to a request for comment.

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Gregg Keizer

Computerworld
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