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This is not a Mac vs. PC column
By: Scott Bradner
It is now more than a year and a half since Microsoft introduced Vista to the general public. It is also long after Microsoft started making it hard to buy a computer with any Microsoft operating system other than Vista, at least for non-business purchasers. Microsoft has sold a lot of copies of Vista -- Microsoft reported back in May that it had sold 140 million, a big number in just about anyone's playbook. This statistic, along with the data point that 2007 was a record year for Microsoft and that the Windows revenue was about $17 B for the year should be seen as rather good news. Yet the press hardly ever has a good word to say about Vista and its adoption. Some observers might attribute the press response to some sort of Apple bias, a bias that is most obvious whenever Steve Jobs is about to put on some public show. But any such bias, if it exists, does not seem to be the primary reason for the negative comments.
At this point I need to say that I have a carefully cultivated ignorance of Windows Vista. As regular readers know well, I have been using Macs since 1983. I used Macs along with Unix machines for some of that time, but its been Macs exclusively since Tenon released Mach Ten for OS 9 (BSD Unix as a Mac application). Now, as far as I'm concerned, I have the best of both worlds - the Mac interface and one of the better Unix systems around. But my pro Mac bias is not why I'm writing this column.
What got me to write this column are Microsoft's recent advertising efforts. So far, there has been huge publicity, first about Microsoft hiring Seinfield, apparently to humanize the company, then dumping him after just two ads and starting up a new campaign which shows people identifying themselves as computers they use. The latter seems to me to be the result of an ad person on hallucinogens watching Apple's PC vs Mac ads.
This is not the first time that Microsoft has thought that throwing money at advertising agencies and TV networks would somehow make their software better. Microsoft announced an advertising blitz of "hundreds of millions of dollars" when Vista was first introduced. Maybe those ads helped push Vista, I remember thinking at the time that the ads were quite forgettable, but they were not aimed at me. The Seinfield ads were also not aimed at me -- I'm not quite sure just who they were aimed at. The first of the Seinfield ads was unforgettable -- unfortunately -- it is hard to put the image of Bill Gates wagging his toosh out of my mind. The only result of the ads that I could see was the blitz of negative comment about them from about every corner - for example, Newsweek said "hiring a TV star from the 1990s to fix Vista's reputation only ads to the impression that Microsoft is in a time warp." Interesting factoid - one of the Apple "think different" ads, which seem to be lurking in the subconscious minds of the Microsoft ad people, also featured Seinfield.
The main thing that I've seen resulting from the new ads is a rekindling of press comments that paint Vista as a failure, at least in the business world. Naturally, any discussion of this type does devolve into a Mac vs. PC rant fest. (See, for example, the Washington Post comments at http://voices.washingtonpost.com/fasterforward/2008/09/microsofts_new_message_im_a_pc.html)
Maybe Vista is great, but it seems to me that an ad campaign whose tagline is "life without walls" (see http://www.microsoft.com/presspass/windows/featureStories.aspx?story=c99a6668-e52d-4977-bd3e-041691e1ac32 ) is not an ideal way to sell something called Windows when one does not need windows if one does not have walls.
disclaimer: I am not privy to any Harvard decisions on Windows versions or advertising for them so the above observations are mine not the university's.