Monday, December 1, 2008

MS claims in Vista lawsuit

Microsoft is currently embroiled in a lawsuit over Windows Vista. The plaintiffs there are claiming that Microsoft falsely advertised machines as Vista Capable when they weren't capable of running the Vista shown in advertisements. One of Microsoft's responses to this is that Vista Basic, which the machines are capable of running, is a real version of Vista and therefore there wasn't any false advertising. This isn't going to fly. The question isn't whether Vista Basic is a real version of Vista, it's whether it's the Vista advertised to everyone. And it isn't. It's missing almost all the elements shown in the advertisements, and nowhere in the ads does it say that what's shown may not be present. In fact all the ads emphasize all those elements shown as the things that make Vista Vista. That's going to kill Microsoft.

This isn't a software trademark or copyright case. This is straight-up consumer law that's been around almost as long as car salesmen have been. If you advertise a car on TV and show the supercharged V8, 6-speed manual transmission, sports suspension, full leather interior, full power everything with sunroof version, and that's all you show, and you end the add with "Starting from $9000.", then courts have held that you need to deliver the car as advertised starting at $9000. If the only model you offer at $9000 is the 4-cylinder, 4-speed automatic, cheap cloth interior, manual everything stripped-down model, the courts will nail you for false advertising. You did the advertisement knowing you couldn't and wouldn't deliver what was shown for the price you quoted, and you don't get to do that. Which is why every car advertisement, when they show the price, always says in readable text underneath the "Starting at" stuff something like "Base price. As shown, $LARGER_NUMBER.". And Microsoft didn't do the equivalent. They showed Vista with the Aero interface, emphasized the Aero interface as a defining characteristic of Vista, and never gave a hint in the ads that Vista might not actually contain the Aero interface. A reasonable person, looking at the ads and the "Vista Capable" sticker, would conclude that that sticker meant the machine was capable of running what Microsoft was advertising as Vista. And it can't. And all those e-mails from Microsoft execs show that Microsoft knew it. Bam. Stick a fork in 'em, they're done. They can wriggle all they want, but when it comes down to it they're going to lose on that point for the same reason car dealers lost and had to start adding that explanatory text.

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