Woman sues Microsoft over XP downgrade charge

A woman has filed suit against Microsoft over a $59.25 charge for downgrading her Windows Vista PC to XP.

A woman has filed a class-action lawsuit against Microsoft over a US$59.25 charge for downgrading her Windows Vista PC to XP.

In a suit filed in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington in Seattle, Los Angeles resident Emma Alvarado is asking that Microsoft return the fee she paid for downgrading a Lenovo PC with the Windows Vista Business OS preinstalled to Windows XP Professional. Alvarado purchased the PC on June 20, 2008, according to the suit.

Alvarado also is inviting others who have paid fees to downgrade to XP to join the suit (PDF) and is requesting refunds for them as well.

Many customers who purchased PCs with Vista installed opted to downgrade to XP because they weren't happy with Vista's "numerous problems," according to Alvarado's suit.

"As a result, many consumers would prefer to purchase a new computer preinstalled with the Windows XP operating system or at least not preinstalled with the Vista operating system," according to the filing.

The suit goes on to accuse Microsoft of using its "market power to take advantage of consumer demand for the Windows XP operating system" by requiring people to buy Vista PCs and then charging them to downgrade to the OS they really want.

This action violates Washington state's Unfair Business Practices Act and the Consumer Protection Act, according to the suit.

Microsoft spokesman David Bowermaster said the company has not been served with the lawsuit, so it would be premature to comment about it.

When Microsoft released Vista to consumers on Jan. 30, 2007, it gave people the option to downgrade to XP if they weren't satisfied with the new OS.

As a result of overall dissatisfaction with Vista, Microsoft had to extend the amount of time it allowed original equipment manufacturers and custom system builders to sell PCs with XP preinstalled. The company also is facing a class-action suit in the same court over the "Windows Vista Capable" sticker program that let customers know a PC could run Windows Vista. Customers said they found the program misleading.

While the damages that could be awarded in the suit would likely not be a large sum for a multibillion-dollar company, the suit brings up a larger question of whether Microsoft will allow Windows 7 users to downgrade to XP.

Microsoft so far has not said publicly whether it will, and no one from the company was available for immediate comment Friday. Vista, being the OS released before Windows 7, would be the logical choice for a downgrade from Windows 7. However, given customers' dissatisfaction with Vista, Microsoft could offer an XP downgrade as well.

Al Gillen, an analyst with research firm IDC, said it would be a "very risky thing" for Microsoft to do to eliminate downgrade rights with Windows 7. He said it would alienate Microsoft's customer base to not continue giving customers an option if they're not happy with a new version of the Windows client.

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Elizabeth Montalbano

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