What the Vista 'junk PC' lawsuit means for Windows 7

Microsoft is being sued for a marketing scheme in which people claim that Microsoft misled consumers into buying the Windows Vista Capable PCs, even though the PCs couldn't run the most important features of Vista

Microsoft has taken plenty of heat in the Vista "junk PC" lawsuit. If the company is smart, it will take those criticisms to heart, and make sure it doesn't make the same mistakes when it launches Windows 7. Here's what I think that suit means for Windows 7.

Microsoft is being sued in the US for a marketing scheme in which people claim that Microsoft misled consumers into buying the Windows Vista Capable PCs, even though the PCs couldn't run the most important features of Vista.

Plenty of embarrasing, behind-the-scenes emails surfaced in which Microsoft execs were unhappy not only about the Vista Capable PC scheme, but about how Vista was developed and rolled out as well. If Microsoft is smart, here's what they'll do about Windows 7, based on those emails:

Don't create Windows 7 Home Basic

Retailers and consumers were extremely unhappy with Vista Home Basic, which even Microsoft officials admitted wasn't really Vista. Wal-Mart and Office Depot, among others, didn't want to carry PCs with Windows Home Basic on it, but felt that they had to. Consumers and retailers were completely confused about how Home Basic differed from other Vista versions. In fact, the top Microsoft exec in charge of Windows, Steven Sinofsky, didn't even know. Here's what he says in one email:

Is it true that Vista Ready doesn't necessarily mean Aero capable? I got a Dell Latitude that is Vista Ready but doesn't have enough graphics h/w.

Nothing could be clearer --- there should be no Windows 7 Home Basic.

Keep the product lineup simple

There's Windows Vista Home Basic, Windows Vista Home Premium, Windows Vista Enterprise, Windows Vista Business, Windows Vista Ultimate...and several versions sold outside the US Retailers were extremely unhappy about this, and consumers remain confused.

Here's an excerpt from a February 1, 2006 email from Microsoft exec Troy Nelson about a meeting he had with Office Depot:

We created confusion with the Home vs Pro with XP launch. Channel was looking forward to the next major OS release to make it better. Concerned that we made it more confusing not less. They pointed out that Apple has 1 OS, not multiple.

Apple is slowly gaining ground on Windows, due at least in part to the simplicity of its products. Microsoft can't afford to launch a Windows 7 lineup in which you need a degree in physics from Cornell to be able to understand it. The lesson here is clear: keep it simple.

Don't launch a Windows 7 Home Capable scheme

Unless Microsoft wants to face more lawsuits, more embarassment, and more flak from its OEMs, retailers, and the press, it won't launch a Windows 7 Home Capable marketing scheme.

Offer better driver support

One of Vista's biggest shortcomings was its driver support --- more precisely, lack thereof. It simply didn't support enough hardware. Even Microsoft execs couldn't get their hardware to run with it. Board member Jon Shirley, who at one time was Microsoft President and Chief Operating Officer, was particularly scathing about in an email. He couldn't manage to get his Epson printer, scanner, or film scanner to work. Read this excerpt from his email to Steve Ballmer:

I cannot understand with a product this long in creation why there is such a shortage of drivers. I supposed the vendors did not trust us enough to use the beta for driver testing?

Vista SP1 has had the same issues, so clearly, Microsoft still hasn't solved the problem. It better, though, before it launches Windows 7.

I'm hoping that Microsoft will take the criticisms it received to heart. I'm looking forward to Windows 7, and hope it won't be bedeviled by the woes that attended the Vista launch.

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Preston Gralla

Computerworld
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