Microsoft can’t afford to support OEM Vista?

Conventional wisdom holds that if you feel the urge to upgrade to Windows Vista buying it pre-installed on a new machine is the best way to go. The advantages are allegedly twofold: there should be fresh and functional drivers for all the built-in hardware and you get OEM pricing (much lower than the retail $400-$700 price range) for your new OS.

That discount pricing comes with a nasty twist however. Because you’ve purchased an OEM copy Microsoft won’t extend to you the courtesy of a 90-day support period for Vista which it does offer to customers who struggle through the upgrade process on their existing machines. Instead it will direct you straight back to your hardware manufacturer.

If however the manufacturer decides that you have a software problem rather than defective hardware it will send you straight back to Microsoft which will demand a consulting fee (currently $80 for Australian users) to even think about the problem and without offering anything approaching a guaranteed fix.

In a characteristic fit of no comment Microsoft declined to make a spokesperson available to discuss the issue of its support policy with APC. However in a prepared statement it offered the following minimal justification for its help-no-customers approach: “Microsoft makes versions of its software products available to manufacturers and system builders at prices which reflect the expectation that the OEM will provide the after-sales service not Microsoft.” Translation: we’re not making enough money from you to make it worth our while to fix your OS problems.

This is a breathtaking enough statement in its own right but Microsoft also offered an interesting twist. “In most cases the support provided by the OEM is as good if not better than that provided by Microsoft because the OEM is familiar with the system hardware as well as the software.” Translation: we don’t know what our OEMs are installing but we’re certainly not going to take responsibility for it. And by the way the quality of our own support is apparently open to question.

What does this mean in practical terms? If you anticipate needing support for your Vista upgrade (and that certainly doesn’t seem to be an uncommon scenario) you might be better off purchasing a full retail copy and claiming the free support. At $80 a pop it won’t be too long before you make your money back.