Microsoft group suggested dropping 'Vista' from Home Basic

Internal discussion over name showed concern over 'user expectations' in '05

A group within Microsoft recommended in 2005 that the lowest-priced version of Windows Vista be released without the Vista name because of concerns over "user product expectations," according to documents unsealed by a US federal court Wednesday.

The disclosure was made in a filing by the plaintiffs in a class-action lawsuit that claims Microsoft misled consumers with its "Vista Capable" marketing program in the months leading up to the January 2007 release of the operating system.

"Microsoft studied the precise question of whether Home Basic should be called 'Vista,'" said the plaintiffs in papers filed December 8, 2008, but released to the public only today by US District Court Judge Marsha Pechman. "The recommendation of the Windows Product Management Group was that Home Basic should 'carry the Windows brand alone without the Vista generation name,'" the plaintiffs said, citing an August 2005 internal Microsoft e-mail it obtained as part of the legal discovery process.

The group, which presented its recommendation in what the plaintiffs' lawyers have dubbed the "White Paper," said ditching "Vista" from the Home Basic edition would "better align user product expectations to the high visibility innovations uniquely present in the Windows Vista premium versions."

The plaintiffs also said the decision to drop Vista from the Home Basic nameplate was "affirmed by a strong endorsement from top OEM partners," and specifically mentioned that Dell Inc., the world's No. 2 seller of PCs, agreed with the idea.

Vista Home Basic is a key to the lawsuit, which alleges that Microsoft's Vista Capable program inflated the prices of PCs that could only run the lowest-end edition. Home Basic, the plaintiffs have contended, is not the "real" Vista, in large part because it lacks the Aero user interface.

In fact, Microsoft relaxed the hardware rules for Vista Capable in early 2006 so that PCs using older graphics chipsets made by Intel would qualify for the program. Those chipsets were not able to run the Aero interface.

Microsoft has denied that it duped consumers and has countered that Home Basic is a legitimate version of Vista. In a reply filed Wednesday, Microsoft reiterated those claims. "From the perspective of computer code and development, a jury could only conclude that Windows Vista Home Basic fairly belongs within the Windows Vista family," Microsoft said in the reply.

The company charged that the plaintiffs misrepresented the White Paper. "Plaintiffs make much of a 'White Paper' from August 2005 in which some Microsoft employees proposed that Microsoft not call Windows Vista Home Basic 'Windows Vista,'" Microsoft said in filing. "But the White Paper gives a more balanced assessment than Plaintiffs portray. It expressed concern that removing the Windows Vista name from Windows Vista Home Basic could create 'customer confusion' because customers might think 'a new PC with Home Basic did not come with the latest [operating system]' when in fact it did."

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Gregg Keizer

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