This is not a Mac vs. PC column

Seinfeld or not, press says Microsoft struggling to get people to use Vista voluntarily

It's been more than a year and a half since Microsoft introduced Vista to the general public. It's 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; in May it reported it had sold 140 million. This statistic, along with the data points that 2007 was a record year for Microsoft and that 2007 Windows revenue was about $17 billion, 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 it's been Macs exclusively since Tenon Intersystems released MachTen 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. Nevertheless, my pro-Mac bias is not why I'm writing this column.

What did get me to write this column are Microsoft's recent advertising efforts. So far, there has been huge publicity, first about Microsoft hiring Jerry Seinfeld, apparently to humanize the company, then dumping him after just two ads and starting a new campaign that shows people identifying themselves as the 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 Microsoft has thought that throwing money at advertising agencies and TV networks would somehow make its 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 Seinfeld ads were also not aimed at me -- I'm not quite sure just whom they were aimed at. The first of the Seinfeld ads was unforgettable (unfortunately -- it is hard to put the image out of my mind of Bill Gates wagging his tush). 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 adds 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 Seinfeld.

The main thing 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. (For example, see these Washington Post comments.)

Maybe Vista is great, but it seems to me that an ad campaign whose tagline is "life without walls" is not an ideal way to sell something called Windows: 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.

Copyright © 2008 IDG Communications, Inc.

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