Spelling out which features of Windows Vista would work on a given PC might be useful to early adopters, but would only "confuse the masses," a high-level Microsoft manager argued more than a year before the operating system shipped, according to internal company e-mails.
In a short exchange in November 2005, Brad Goldberg, then the general manager of the Windows product management group, dismissed a colleague's suggestion that Microsoft work up documents listing what components and features of Vista would work on specific PCs slated to go on sale the following year.
"The average consumer would not know whether [s]he needs Aero-Glass or Windows Defender or not," Goldberg said in a November 9, 2005 message. "Retail sales person[s] cannot explain what Aero Glass is or what it will do for them four [to] six months prior to Vista."
The message was just one of hundreds made public last week in a class-action lawsuit over the Windows "Vista Capable" marketing plan.
Goldberg was replying to mail from Jim Hebert, another manager, who had expressed concerns about the marketing program, which targeted PC buyers shopping for machines starting in the second half of 2006. Vista Capable was an attempt by Microsoft to encourage PC purchases by promising that the machines could later be upgraded to Vista.
According to an e-mail written earlier on November 9 by Hebert, he and Goldberg had talked on the telephone about Vista's marketing -- at the time the program was called "Vista Ready" internally -- and reached agreement on several issues and ideas. Among the latter: documents that would specify what parts of Vista would, and would not, run on any given PC. Hebert described them as "What Vista Features-are-Supported-by-this-Machine" and "What Vista Features-are-Not-Supported-by-this-Machine."
Not practical, countered Goldberg in comments appended to Hebert's list. "We don't have specs for all model numbers and there is no way someone like Dell would do this," Goldberg said.
In his follow-up message to Hebert, Goldberg expanded on the reasons why a works/doesn't work Vista checklist was a bad idea. He cited consumer indifference and sales rep ignorance, then acknowledged that it wasn't Windows that brought people into the store in the first place.
"I do not see any benefit of providing such a list to customers, when they are in stores buying a PC, not an OS," he said. "Trying to 'educate' customers about features of an OS that is not available may very well confuse them and may cause them to delay their purchase -- the exact opposite of what we want to see."
Confusion of a different sort is at the heart of the lawsuit Microsoft faces over Vista Capable. That suit, which was granted class-action status just over a week ago, claims Microsoft deceived consumers. According to the plaintiffs, Microsoft knew that a large number of computers tagged with the "Vista Capable" sticker would be able to run only Vista Home Basic, the entry-level version that omits some of the operating system's most-heavily touted features, including Aero, the flashy user interface.
And even if such works/doesn't-work documents were helpful to some buyers, Goldberg was leery of providing them. In a twist on the usual attention that software, hardware and consumer electronics makers pay to the so-called "early adopters," the people who line up for the next new thing, and often have influence out of proportion to their numbers, Goldberg said that in this case they should be ignored.
"Less than 5 per cent of customers typically upgrade OS," he said. "Let's not confuse the masses for the sake of providing clarity to 'enthusiasts.'"