Suing Microsoft for fun and profit (but mostly fun)

Yet another aggrieved consumer is suing Microsoft, this time over its "XP downgrade" program. The Vista debacle continues to haunt Redmond, but at least Cringe is amused

Just when things were winding down on the whole Vista saga, a Los Angeles woman has suit against Microsoft over its XP downgrade program.

It seems Emma Alvarado got rather ticked off when she was asked to pay an additional US$59.25 for "downgrade rights" to XP when she purchased a new Lenovo laptop. So she rounded up a lawyer (or vice versa) and headed to court.

Now I'm all for suing Microsoft just on general principles. The "Vista Capable" labeling lawsuit has been an absolute gift to those of us in the snark trade. It's offered an eye-opening view inside the machinations of both Microsoft (whose own employees complained long and loud about Vista's shortcomings) and longtime partners like HP, which got royally rogered when Microsoft (allegedly) changed its labeling rules to favor Intel.

That trial officially begins in April. I'll be eagerly watching from the sidelines with my popcorn and Jujubees.

Alvarado's lawsuit, on the other hand, I'm not so sure about. She's seeking "compensatory damages." I'm no Greta Van Susteren, but wouldn't compensatory damages for having to spend $59.25 on "downgrading" be, oh, I don't know ... $59.25? Couldn't they just cut her a check and be done with it?

(I suspect that this suit is actually the brainchild of Alvarado's lawyer, who hunted around until he found an aggrieved party willing to pursue it. Just a hunch.)

The real culprit is the whole concept of "downgrading," for which the appropriate Microsoft employees should be thoroughly flogged. Microsoft concocted a process where you must buy a copy of Vista that you never intend to use, then pay extra for XP Pro, the operating system you do intend to use.

This seems like little more than a way for Microsoft to artificially inflate its Vista sale numbers while "selling" more expensive versions of Vista that nobody actually wants.

Dell caught serious heat last December for boosting the price of an XP-downgradable machine by US$150. Dell's response? It pocketed only US$20 for doing the downgrade; the rest went to Microsoft because it only allowed downgrades for people purchasing the much pricier Vista Business or Vista Ultimate versions. To wit:

"Microsoft mandates that customers who want to downgrade to XP must purchase the license to Vista Business or Vista Ultimate," [Dell spokesperson David] Frink said. "[That's] typically about a $130 premium, though some retail outlets charge more."

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Robert X. Cringely

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