As happens every year or so, some juicy Microsoft e-mails have surfaced as part of litigation that the software maker is party to.
In this case, Microsoft is being sued over a program in 2006 that labeled some PCs as Windows Vista Capable ahead of the operating system's mainstream release in January 2007. As part of the discovery process, a number of e-mails have emerged with Microsoft executives discussing various problems with Vista as it came to market.
In one e-mail, Steven Sinofsky writes to Steve Ballmer that three factors were to blame for early Vista challenges.
First off, he said, "No one really believed we would ever ship so they didn't start the work until very late in 2006." He added that his Brother home printer didn't have drivers until after Vista's commercial launch.
Secondly, he said, major changes to the way Vista handles audio and video caused headaches, particularly for those upgrading from XP. Finally, he said, many Windows XP drivers didn't really work under Vista. "This is across the board for printers, scanners, wan, accessories (fingerprint readers, smartcards, tv tuners), and so on," Sinofsky wrote. "This category is due to the fact that many of the associated applets don't run within the constraints of the security model or the new video/audio driver models."
Sinofsky noted that Microsoft executive Orlando Ayala had stuck with XP because there was no Vista driver for his Verizon mobile wireless card. "The Vista Ready logo program required drivers available on (January 30). I think we had had reasonable coverage, but quality was uneven as I experienced," he wrote.
One of the key issues raised in the e-mail exchange was the fact that by loosening the rules for one of Intel's chip sets, Microsoft was creating a class of machines that were allowed to be marketed as Windows Vista Capable, even though those same machines would not be eligible to even get Vista Basic logo certification once the software was released. I raised this issue in an article back in the spring of 2006.
Sinofsky notes this issue in his e-mail, as do several other executives. "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 (ready)," he wrote. "I don't know if this was a good call."
The e-mail exchanges also include a note from Mike Ybarra to Jim Allchin saying that "We are caving to Intel." In the same e-mail, he notes that Microsoft was "really burning HP" which had agreed to build its machines with graphics chips that had a Vista-specific driver that could take advantage of the operating system's high-end interface features, unlike the aforementioned Intel 915 chipset.
These e-mails are particularly salient to this court case, in which Microsoft faces a class action suit over the fact that machines labeled as Windows Vista Capable were nonetheless not capable of running many of the operating system's features.
But the e-mails also show clearly that Microsoft executives saw early on that customers were likely to have negative experiences with the operating system, particularly when it came to compatibility with existing hardware. Sinofsky expressed surprise that Microsoft didn't get more complaints to its support lines, but said that he did not take that as a sign of satisfaction.
"I think we have a lot of new PCs, which helps and the hobbyist people who bought (packaged copies of Windows) just know what to do and aren't calling, but I know they are struggling," he said.