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Did Microsoft Muddy Vista Requirements to Aid Intel?

Some remarkably blunt internal e-mails from Microsoft executives indicate that the company eased the minimum requirements for PCs to be considered "Vista Capable" so Intel could sell a sub-par chipset with the certification logo.

The e-mails, part of the evidence in a 2006 class action lawsuit against Microsoft over the Vista Capable marketing program, were obtained by the Seattle Post-Intelligencer newspaper. The e-mails seem likely to have been meant only for internal consumption because they contain a rather damning charge.

"In the end, we lowered the requirement to help Intel make their quarterly earnings so they could continue to sell motherboards with 915 graphics embedded," wrote John Kalkman, Microsoft's general manager of OEM and embedded worldwide engineering, in one letter.

This, he concluded, made vendors drag their feet on producing drivers for higher-quality video chipsets, since most systems have embedded video and OEMs apparently were content to use that technology. The 915 chipset shipped in 2004, making it fairly old by technology standards even during the period Vista was in the certification process, and especially by Vista's demanding requirements once it shipped.

[cob:Related_Articles]The e-mail was dated Feb. 26, 2007, less than a month after Vista debuted on the market. The OS had been completed in November 2006 and shipped to corporate partners shortly thereafter, but didn't hit the retail market until Jan. 30, 2007.

Intel, in response, was not amused at the accusation that it and Microsoft basically engaged in collusion to fudge quarterly numbers.

Kalkman "in no way is qualified to know anything about Intel's internal financials or forecasts related to chipsets, motherboards or any other products," Intel spokesman Chuck Mulloy told InternetNews.com.

"He would have zero visibility into our financial needs in any given quarter," Mulloy said. "That is tightly held internal information and outsiders don't have any access to it. He doesn't know anything."

Although Microsoft issued a statement on the heels of the e-mails' publication, it did not directly address Kalkman's accusations. Instead, it called the messages "part of an active discussion about how best to implement the Windows Vista Capable program.

Microsoft also said that it undertook extensive efforts to educate consumers, partners and others in the industry about Vista's requirements.

"What the e-mails don't show is the comprehensive education campaign Microsoft led through retailers, manufacturers, the press, and our own Web site," the Microsoft statement reads. "The campaign armed consumers with the information they needed to choose a PC that would run the version of Windows Vista that fit their budget and their computing needs."

"Ultimately, we provided choices to consumers, giving different options at various price-points to meet their needs. In tandem, we implemented a comprehensive education campaign ... [that] gave consumers the information they needed to choose an affordable computer that would run the version of Windows Vista that best fit their lifestyle."

It described the e-mails as part of an ongoing effort by Microsoft employees that "raised concerns and addressed issues with the intent to make this program better for our business partners and valuable for consumers."

"That's the sort of exchange we want to encourage. And in the end, we believe we succeeded in achieving both objectives," the statement read.

But even one Microsoft executive was bitten by the certification decision. Mike Nash, vice president of the security business unit, complained in another e-mail of being burned on an expensive laptop he bought.

"I know that I chose my laptop (a Sony TX770P) because it had the vista logo and was pretty disappointed that it not only wouldn't run Glass [a flashy, graphics-intensive user interface also called Aero] but more importantly wouldn't run MovieMaker (I guess that is being addressed)," he wrote. "I now have a $2100 e-mail machine."

Another message, from senior vice president Steven Sinofsky, shows he had his doubts about the 915's ability to run Aero.

"The 915 chipset, which is not Aero-capable, is in a huge number of laptops and was tagged as 'Vista Capable' but not Vista Premium," Sinofsky wrote. "I don't know if this was a good call. But these function[s] ... will never be great."

In a separate e-mail, Jim Allchin, the former co-president who headed up the Vista effort, also criticized the program.

"We really botched this," Allchin wrote.

Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer is copied on many of the e-mails, but doesn't give much more than one-sentence replies.