Suing Microsoft for Fun and Profit (but Mostly Fun)

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Just when things were winding down on the whole Vista saga, a Los Angeles area woman has filed suit against Microsoft over its XP downgrade program.

It seems Emma Alvarado got rather ticked off when she was asked to pay an additional US$59.25 for "downgrade rights" to XP when she purchased a new Lenovo laptop. So she rounded up a lawyer (or vice versa) and headed to court.

Now I'm all for suing Microsoft just on general principles. The "Vista Capable" labeling lawsuit has been an absolute gift to those of us in the snark trade. It's offered an eye-opening view inside the machinations of both Microsoft (whose own employees complained long and loud about Vista's shortcomings) and longtime partners like HP, which got royally rogered when Microsoft (allegedly) changed its labeling rules to favor Intel.

That trial officially begins in April. I'll be eagerly watching from the sidelines with my popcorn and Jujubees.

Alvarado's lawsuit, on the other hand, I'm not so sure about. She's seeking "compensatory damages." I'm no Greta Van Susteren, but wouldn't compensatory damages for having to spend $59.25 on "downgrading" be, oh, I don't know ... $59.25? Couldn't they just cut her a check and be done with it?

(I suspect that this suit is actually the brainchild of Alvarado's lawyer, who hunted around until he found an aggrieved party willing to pursue it. Just a hunch.)

The real culprit is the whole concept of "downgrading," for which the appropriate Microsoft employees should be thoroughly flogged. Microsoft concocted a process where you must buy a copy of Vista that you never intend to use, then pay extra for XP Pro, the operating system you do intend to use.

This seems like little more than a way for Microsoft to artificially inflate its Vista sale numbers while "selling" more expensive versions of Vista that nobody actually wants.

Dell caught serious heat last December for boosting the price of an XP-downgradable machine by $150. Dell's response? It pocketed only $20 for doing the downgrade; the rest went to Microsoft because it only allowed downgrades for people purchasing the much pricier Vista Business or Vista Ultimate versions. To wit:

"Microsoft mandates that customers who want to downgrade to XP must purchase the license to Vista Business or Vista Ultimate," [Dell spokesperson David] Frink said. "[That's] typically about a $130 premium, though some retail outlets charge more."

Microsoft denies this, of course. It even denies having a downgrade "program." Instead, it merely provides downgrade "rights."

Right. And if that makes sense to you, you're probably a lawyer.

Why give the people what they want when you can sell them what they don't want, then make them jump through hoops to get what they asked for in the first place? That seems to be the Microsoft philosophy at work here.

I keep waiting for them to wake up, smell the manure, realize where that smell is coming from, and do something about how they treat their customers. Maybe they'll do better with Windows 7. Or maybe we'll have to wait for the Loud Bald One to finally hang up his sweaty blue Oxford shirts and call it a career.

One thing is for sure: Suing Microsoft really hasn't done much more than make a bunch of rich attorneys richer. But it does have a certain entertainment value.

Do you feel degraded by Microsoft's downgrade program? E-mail me here: Bonus points awarded for making fun of the inevitable MSFT fanboy comments.

This story, "Suing Microsoft for Fun and Profit (but Mostly Fun)" was originally published by InfoWorld.

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