Microsoft finds itself in court over Vista yet again

By by Donald Campbell

‘ ‘ ‘ It would appear that the new trend in computer technology is to question major software… ‘ ‘ ‘ It would appear that the new trend in computer technology is to question major software company policies in major system software licensing. ‘ ‘ ‘ Just last week, Apple Computer, Inc. faced some surprising threats from court rulings regarding its right to forbid Macintosh OS X from being loaded on non-proprietary, non-Apple hardware. ‘ ‘ ‘ This week, Microsoft is facing litigation for its licensing policies toward the Windows XP to Windows Vista transition. ‘ ‘ ‘ Emma Alvarado ‘mdash; a disgruntled buyer of new personal computers ‘mdash; brought on the main problem surrounding the new lawsuit.’ ‘ ‘ ‘ Alvarado, according to an article recently published by, became angry when she found out that her new PC would have a price increase if she requested XP to be pre-loaded. ‘ ‘ ‘ In essence, manufacturers like Dell and Hewlett-Packard began charging their customers to ‘downgrade’ factory-assembled PCs from Microsoft Windows Vista Home Premium to the previous Microsoft Windows XP. ‘ ‘ ‘ Why does Microsoft care, specifically? Put most simply, it’s because Microsoft continually viewed its Vista operating system as a failure and an embarrassment. ‘ ‘ ‘ Nonetheless, Microsoft spent millions upon millions of dollars developing the operating system, and it shivers at the idea of simply writing off the operating system without attempting to make a few sales. ‘ ‘ ‘ Microsoft therefore announced that XP’s support would end, forcing new PC buyers to purchase Vista-installed machines. It then pushed back the deadline, allowing computer manufacturers to continue to offer PCs to users with XP pre-installed. Microsoft wanted to offset its Vista losses, however, and, as reported, came up with a rather clever ‘mdash; some may refer to it as devious ‘mdash; method for forcing users to spend money. ‘ ‘ ‘ Microsoft mandated that a license transfer from Vista to XP could only be made from a more premium version of Vista. Users who switched to XP on a new machine could only opt for the significantly more expensive Windows XP Professional. ‘ ‘ ‘ Computer manufacturers were therefore required to charge customers for the downgrade, as the downgrade would initially require an upgrade. ‘ ‘ ‘ The complete path of a successful Dell downgrade would therefore be Vista Home Premium to Vista Ultimate and down to Windows XP Professional. The initial upgrade from Vista Home Premium to Vista Business would require an investment, as there is a significant price difference between new licenses of the two operating system versions. ‘ ‘ ‘ Customers like Alvarado became queasy. ‘ ‘ ‘ If you were to attempt a purchase of a Dell Inspiron on Dell’s Web site, a downgrade to Windows XP Professional would add $150 to the price tag. Since the machine starts at only $270, the downgrade could account for more than half of the purchase price. ‘ ‘ ‘ The court argument Alvarado created against Microsoft surrounds the age-old argument that has plagued Microsoft since its decision to ship Internet Explorer with Windows 95. ‘ ‘ ‘ Alvarado argues that Microsoft abused its power as the majority operating system manufacturer to make an undeserved profit. In other words, Microsoft is taking part in, as Alvarado’s case describes, ‘anticompetitive and monopolistic’ activities. ‘ ‘ ‘ Should Microsoft be able to license its software as it sees fit, attempting to force its customer base to a new operating system that it already seemed to abandon as a failure? ‘ ‘ ‘ Microsoft has the tendency to act in anticompetitive ways, and it can be argued that this previous behavior should be always held against it. ‘ ‘ ‘ If we wanted to give Microsoft the benefit of the doubt, we could believe its arguments that Vista is ‘not that bad,’ and that an upgrade to Vista Home Premium should be acceptable to most computer users. ‘ ‘ ‘ Giving the benefit of the doubt would also allow us to believe that Microsoft is surely attempting to show the reality that integral to change is, well, change. ‘ ‘ ‘ Perhaps even Microsoft sees itself as heroic ‘- gently prodding users to switch to an operating system that will only soon be made obsolete, instead of allowing them to downgrade to an operating system that is obsolete already. ‘ ‘ ‘ On the other hand, assuming Microsoft is an evil software giant bent on making a profit at all cost ‘- a view of corporate America that is quite popular as of late ‘- would lead a reasonable person to instantly view Microsoft’s actions as attempting to force a helpless computer-buying populous into using a failed operating system that will quickly be surpassed. ‘ ‘ ‘ At any rate, Microsoft probably hopes that the lawsuits will be silenced by the acceptance of Windows 7 in the near future. If people are finally willing to leave the legacy of Windows XP and move to a new operating system that is not Vista ‘mdash; namely Windows 7 ‘mdash; the question of Microsoft’s downgrade-oriented actions is moot. ‘ ‘ ‘ University of Pittsburgh students should be quite thankful, ultimately, that Windows XP Professional can be obtained for free. Downgrading to Windows XP Professional is as easy as stopping by some computer lab to pick up a CD and sitting for about an hour while a progress bar slowly moves forward.