10.15.08

Windows Update has Detected the Following Lawsuits are Available for Your PC

Posted in Courtroom, Deception, Law, Marketing, Microsoft, Vista, Windows at 11:34 pm by Shane Coyle

Cancel, or Cancel?

Well, the Windows Vista-Capable class action lawsuit has taken another pretty interesting turn, with the plaintiffs lawyers having requested that Microsoft use it’s own Windows Update service to notify potential class members of the suit.

The Vista Capable lawsuit accuses Microsoft of duping buyers in 2006 and 2007 by letting PC makers slap a “Vista Capable” sticker on PCs when it allegedly knew that many of those systems would only be able to run Vista Home Basic, the entry-level version. The case, which began in 2007 and was granted class-action status in February 2008, claims that Home Basic is not representative of the Vista that Microsoft marketed to consumers.

Earlier this month, the plaintiffs in the Vista Capable case asked U.S. District Court Judge Marsha Pechman to make Microsoft use the update service to send all Windows users a notice of the class-action lawsuit. The notice, which would pop-up on users’ screens, would include a link to a site where consumers could obtain more information.

Not surprisingly, Microsoft is not too keen on this idea, and says that it would not be possible for them to properly identify which Vista machines are qualified to be considered class members, and force them to essentially spam millions of uninvolved PC owners. Microsoft also decries the potential confusion and outrage that such a repurposing of the Windows Update features could cause – with the possibilities of users disabling automatic updates in revolt, or flooding the Microsoft help desk with questions or complaints.

Now, I find it hard to believe that Windows Update is incapable of identifying, with a fairly good level of granularity, potential class member PCs by identifying the operating system version and chipset – otherwise how does the system identify which patches are apropos to your system? Even if, using these criteria, some unrelated Vista PCs are incorrectly identified, I don’t think it would be the 120 million that they have claimed. Can anyone imagine, if the system were so obtuse, the havoc that would be wrought by a mis-applied update intended for Vista Premium with a particular Nvidia video card but was instead applied to all systems running Vista, regardless of version and hardware?

But, perhaps surprisingly, I agree with Microsoft that the Windows Update service should not be compelled to be used outside of its scope – if it is true that Microsoft has not in the past used this service for any informational or promotional purpose (I don’t use Windows so I don’t know). If the sole purpose of Windows Update is to provide patches and security updates, it should not be within the purview of the plaintiffs to change this arrangement between Microsoft and their customers – even the ones who could be potential litigants, in my opinion.

Security updates, and customer relationships in general, require a certain amount of trust – any actions by Microsoft outside of their espoused purpose for the Windows Update service will indeed negatively impact their perception amongst customers and might even cause the feared backlash of users disabling the service out of concerns that Microsoft could once again make changes to their terms of service at a later date and begin targeting PC owners with self-serving "informational" and advertising notifications.

Anyway, this is just my two cents and all I usually am offered is a penny for my thoughts – perhaps that’s why I am so quiet usually, every time I open my mouth I lose money…

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5 Comments

  1. Shane Coyle said,

    October 15, 2008 at 11:46 pm

    Gravatar

    Shit, I probably should have done this before I hit publish, but to answer my own question:

    A quick look on Wikipedia’s Windows Update entry sheds some light on some of the information that Microsoft obtains and uses in order to determine the appropriate updates for a particular system:

    (emphasis mine, as always)

    Windows Update v4, released in conjunction with Windows XP in 2001, changed this by having the ActiveX control submit a list of the hardware components to Microsoft’s servers, which then returns a shortened list of device drivers that are available for that machine. It also narrowed down the list of available updates for the operating system and related components by sending details of what operating system version, service pack, and locale are installed. German technology web site tecchannel.de published an analysis of the Windows Update communication protocol in February 2003, which received wide attention on technology web sites. The report, which was the first to contain extensive details of how the Windows Update communication protocol worked, also discovered that the make and model of the computer, the amount of free disk space, and the Windows product key.

    So, it’s almost certainly technically possible for Microsoft to do this, should the court decide to compel them to.

  2. pcole said,

    October 16, 2008 at 12:45 am

    Gravatar

    If microsoft is really concerned about user satisfaction, why haven’t they looked to remediate the “vista capable” quagmire before current litigation. I’m pretty sure they have excellent talent on-board ready to resolve issues such as this.

    Then, again, maybe not; I forgot bill gates didn’t get the allotment of h1-b visa employees he was seeking.

  3. Roy Schestowitz said,

    October 16, 2008 at 3:53 am

    Gravatar

    Then, again, maybe not; I forgot bill gates didn’t get the allotment of h1-b visa employees he was seeking.

    It now turns out to be riddled with fraud, according to an article from BusinessWeek, IIRC (published last week).

  4. Jose_X said,

    October 16, 2008 at 8:02 am

    Gravatar

    Might Microsoft be pressured to fess up over the number of Vista machines in use, a number they may not want to share?

    Does the EULA already allow them to use the update mechanism for almost any purpose?

  5. Roy Schestowitz said,

    October 16, 2008 at 8:14 am

    Gravatar

    The EULA allows them to modify software ‘in place’. I don’t know if it limits or forbids anything when it comes to Windows Update. It’s more of a waiver; not the granting of rights to the user.

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