Judge postpones Vista Capable trial, cites 'novel' arguments

Delays April 13 trial to ponder class-action revival that would take away Microsoft's victory

U.S. District Court Judge Marsha Pechman yesterday postponed the upcoming trial of the Vista Capable lawsuit, which was set to start April 13, court documents show.

Pechman, however, cautioned lawyers not to read too much into the delay. Last week, Pechman told attorneys that she might rule this week on a request by the plaintiffs that she reinstate the lawsuit's class-action status.

"Plaintiffs' motion presents novel arguments that require thorough analysis," Pechman said in her ruling. "Without taking any position on the motion for narrowed class certification, the Court believes a continuance is appropriate."

Pechman had promised attorneys for both parties that she would rule on the plaintiffs' motion to restore class-action status to the case by March 31, but yesterday acknowledged that she could not meet that deadline. Pechman gave no indication when she would issue her ruling.

"The trial date and all remaining pretrial dates are stricken," Pechman said. "The Court will contact the parties to schedule a trial date after it rules on Plaintiffs' motion."

That motion, which the plaintiffs' lawyers filed in late February, asked Pechman to grant class-action status to a smaller group than before: Consumers who had purchased PCs during Microsoft's Express Upgrade program, and people who bought Vista Capable machines that wouldn't run the new operating system's Aero graphical user interface.

A week before, Pechman gave Microsoft a major victory win in the two-year-old case by narrowing the pool of potential plaintiffs from thousands to the six named on the complaint. That, in turn, dramatically slashed Microsoft's financial exposure, which had been estimated as high as $8.5 billion, if it lost the case.

The lawsuit is best known as the source for hundreds of insider e-mails that have been made public by the court, including messages that showed how Microsoft relaxed the requirements of Vista Capable to accommodate Intel Corp., the difficulties senior company executives had running Vista after its January 2007 launch, and arguments about ditching "Vista" from the name of the entry-level edition over worries that users would complain.

Lawyers for the plaintiffs have promised to appeal Pechman's upcoming ruling if it goes against their clients.

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