By Harry McCracken | Friday, January 23, 2009 at 1:00 pm
I’ve used this metaphor before, but I can’t shake it out of my head: In the case of the class-action lawsuits over the “Windows Vista Capable” stickers that were slapped on PCs before Vista’s release, Microsoft resembles nobody so much as Wile E. “Super Genius” Coyote. I’m not a fan of most class-action lawsuits and don’t instinctively root against big corporations. But by leading consumers to think that PCs would run Vista decently when they could in fact only run the most basic version–the one without the “Aero” interface that was Vista’s signature feature–Microsoft catapulted a giant boulder into the air over its own head. It may not deserve to get crushed by it, but it finds itself in an exceptionally sticky situation as a direct result of its own actions.
Over at Computerworld, Gregg Keizer has an update on the case. The judge has unsealed documents including expert testimony for the plaintiffs that says that if Microsoft were to forced to spring for upgrades for every single PC sold as being “Windows Vista Capable” that wasn’t Aero-read–which was nearly 20 million laptops and desktops–it could cost the company between $3.92 and $8.52 billion. Which, even if you’re Microsoft, doesn’t meet any standard definition of chump change.
I haven’t done the math on whether those calculations are realistic, and last time I checked, I wasn’t a judge or a lawyer. But I do think that Microsoft gave millions of people a false impression in order to spur PC sales when it would have been entirely possible to avoid doing so. Even if it wins this case, it’s presumably poured a heck of a lot of time and money into defending itself that it would have preferred not to invest. I hope that the company, unlike Wile E., learns a lesson here–and doesn’t propel this particular type of boulder into the air again. (The company hasn’t released any news yet about certification programs for Windows 7, but I’m assuming it’ll be very, very careful this time around…)