Microsoft has been sued this week over claims that the necessity to pay for its Vista-to-XP downgrade program abuses the company's Windows monopoly. Filed in a Seattle federal district court, the lawsuit found by the Seattle Times accuses Microsoft of violating Washington state business and consumer protection laws by creating an unfair license that cost plaintiff Emma Alvarado $59.25 to revert from Windows Vista Business to XP Professional when she bought a Lenovo notebook in June 2008.
She believes Microsoft has knowingly exploited Vista's poor reputation and created a captive audience which has no choice but to pay a significant amount to use an operating system it believes is more compatible and reliable. About one third of all computer buyers have paid to use XP when Vista was the only choice, Alvarado claims. She further argues that Microsoft's repeated extensions of its downgrade program, which may now run until the end of July, are meant to exploit the "tremendous profits" that come from charging extra for XP.
"Consumers have encountered numerous problems using the Vista operating system, and these problems have been widely publicized in various media outlets," Alavardo says in the complaint. "As a result, many consumers would prefer to purchase a new computer pre-installed with the Windows XP operating system or at least not pre-installed with the Vista operating system."
The downgrade mentioned in the lawsuit is the virtue of conditions in Microsoft's Vista licensing that lets PC builders load the older Windows version in place of Vista while still providing a copy of the newer software for an upgrade later. The process originally had a pure cost of $104 but has varied wildly in price depending on the manufacturer and Vista version, with downgrades at Dell costing as much as $150 per system for conversions from Vista Home editions to XP Professional.
Dell and others have long argued that they have kept XP as an option, both before and since the downgrade program began, in response to public demand for the software and not at Microsoft's request. These companies are still subject to Microsoft's licensing and would have had to remove the XP option entirely at the end of January.
Alvarado is hoping to get class action status for her lawsuit, which would let all US residents join the complaint if they have paid for XP downgrades in the past four years. Beyond asking for Microsoft to halt its practices, the plaintiff is also looking for triple damages and court costs.
Microsoft spokesman David Bowermaster says the company hasn't yet been formally served with the lawsuit and can't comment on it as a result. Previously, the company has acknowedged Vista's buggy launch but has maintained that last year's Service Pack 1 and the previous fixes it includes have eliminated many of the problems named by Alvarado.