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Welcome to Microsoft Pri0: That's Microspeak for top priority, and that's the news and observations you'll find here from Seattle Times reporter Sharon Chan.

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October 15, 2008 3:00 PM

Microsoft, plaintiffs debate Vista graphics hardware requirements in class-action lawsuit

Posted by Benjamin J. Romano

Microsoft filed a flurry of motions and declarations late Tuesday in the Windows Vista Capable class action lawsuit countering the plaintiffs' request for a summary judgment on the issue of whether PCs sold in late 2006 and early 2007 with less powerful graphics drivers were actually "Windows Vista Capable," as they were labeled through a Microsoft marketing program.

The plaintiffs' initial motion for summary judgment on the Windows Device Driver Model (WDDM) issue, filed Sept. 25, remains under seal because it contains confidential disclosure from Microsoft, Sony and Intel. But details about the plaintiffs' WDDM arguments emerge in Microsoft's responses, which also include excerpts from depositions of former Microsoft Platforms and Services Division Co-President Jim Allchin and Will Poole, who previously ran the Windows Client business.

Also, much of the sealed information is likely to be unsealed by U.S. District Court Judge Marsh Pechman. Microsoft told the court that most of the information need not remain sealed. It asked that eight specific documents stay secret.

In other filings, reported by Computer World, Microsoft counters the plaintiffs' request to use Windows Update to distribute class notifications to Windows users.

Now, on to a summary of the WDDM issue. Litigation around this issue will likely yield more internal Microsoft communications and correspondence with the Windows PC industry. This could provide further insight into how Microsoft sets strategy for Windows releases with its industry partners, just as the company prepares to give an early glimpse of the next version, Windows 7, later this month.

The plaintiffs are asking Pechman to make a summary judgment on whether the company was unfair or deceptive in changing the hardware requirements for graphics drivers in PCs labeled "Vista Capable." We don't know the exact arguments in the plaintiffs' motion because it remains under seal. But, from Microsoft's motion in response, there's this summary passage:

"In substance, Plaintiffs Motion revolves around an internal decision that Microsoft made in January 2006, months before it began communicating the Windows Vista Capable program to consumers. At that time, Microsoft executive Will Poole decided that Microsoft would recommend (but not require, as it had initially planned) that a PC be able to support WDDM to qualify for the 'Designed for Windows XP -- Windows Vista Capable' label. Some of Microsoft's business partners, including some OEMs and Intel, advocated for this result; others, including some within Microsoft, argued against it. Pointing chiefly to internal e-mails from Microsoft employees, Plaintiffs assert that Microsoft viewed WDDM as an important part of Windows Vista. They claim that the law therefore forbade Microsoft from allowing OEMs to put the Windows Vista Capable label on PCs that lacked the graphics capacity to support the Windows Vista features that WDDM enabled, even if the PCs were capable of running Windows Vista Home Basic."

Microsoft outlines its reasons for opposing the summary judgment in detail in this 28-page PDF. The company also requested the matter be argued in court.

For more background on WDDM, read the declaration of Megan Wallent (8-page PDF), who was general manager of the Windows Client Platform Team during the period when the Vista Capable requirements were being debated inside Microsoft. Also, here's a declaration by an expert witness for the plaintiffs, Ronald Alepin, for another view of WDDM (12-page PDF).

Finally, see pages 39-53 of this declaration (53-page PDF) for excerpts from the depositions of Allchin and Poole.

Please share in comments anything you find interesting.

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