The Monopoly Club

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If you’re dominant in your market, as Jackie Gleason used to say – “How sweet it is!” If you’re the consumer, you get the short end of the stick.

Nowhere is this most evident than in the current flap involving Vista and what Microsoft considered a “Vista Capable” PC.

As the Vista class action suit wends its way through the court, emails are surfacing that shed light on how the game is played in the monopoly club. Intel, in a move to protect its 915 chipset that is not capable of running Vista Aero, asked Microsoft to drop a key requirement as part of labeling a system “Vista Capable” to allow PCs with the 915 chipset to be labeled as “Vista Capable”. While these PCs could run Vista Basic, it could not run Vista’s enhanced features, including the much touted Aero GUI.

So Microsoft accommodated Intel and summarily changed this requirement, after refusing to change it previously for a host of other OEMs, including the likes of Dell and Sony. But what’s a little favor between market leaders.

When others found out this little deal, reactions ranged from confusion to outright rage. HP in particular spent $7 million to engineer truly Vista Capable PCs and was quite upset.

I have to give high marks to Microsoft’s Jim Allchin for taking what appears to be a principled stand on this issue. According to this article:

“Jim Allchin, then the co-president of the [Microsoft’s] platform products and services — effectively the head of Windows — was even blunter in his criticism. ‘I believe we are going to be misleading customers with the Capable program,’ Allchin said in an e-mail undated in the motion. ‘OEMs will say a machine is Capable, and customers will believe it will run all the core Vista features. The fact that aero won’t be there EVER for many of these machines is misleading to customers.’…Allchin resigned from Microsoft the day after Vista shipped in January 2007.”

Bravo! At least some people take personal responsibility seriously.

As powerful as a dominant company is, thankfully there are avenues the US consumer can take – most notable class action lawsuits. I found a website called Class Action World, which is “…an independent site dedicated to providing attorneys, investors, consumers, and other interested parties with free and timely class action related information and class action news, and it is continuously updated.”

While some may consider this extreme, the fact is that motivated individuals have tools available to redress grievances such as the Vista Capable debacle. Next time you think you’ve been had, think about “the power of one” – you’d be surprised what’s possible if you put your mind to it.

And if you think the market dominant company shrugs this off as an annoyance, don’t under estimate the power of adverse publicity, or even the possibility of it.

 

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