When you look at the latest ad campaign from Microsoft, the ones featuring an actor pretending to be a regular person, whose given a sum of money to buy a personal computer that suits their specific needs, what do they want you to believe?
Well, the common assumption is that there's a real Apple Tax, the extortion allegedly charged for buying a Mac instead of a Windows PC. But there's more involved, and the conclusions some viewers are apt to reach is quite different from the one Microsoft wants to convey.
You see, for example, their fake customers entering a consumer electronics store with the most modest of requirements. One wants a notebook with a 17-inch screen, another requires a minimum of 4GB of RAM, while a third seeks the ability to edit video. In each case, the Macs are disparaged as being too expensive, not having the features they want, or, worst, that the buyer just isn't cool enough to own an Apple product.
So what is Microsoft striving to tell us in what is surely an expensive campaign, since it appears frequently on highly-rated TV shows? That's a good question, and maybe Microsoft would rather not face the answers.
When it comes to that 17-inch notebook, well you just know it was a foolish scheme, since the budget was a mere $1,000. Yes, the would-be buyer went to an Apple Store, even though anyone who spent five minutes checking the Mac lineup would realize they offered no such model. Microsoft doesn't want to explain to us that screen size is just one of many important hardware specs to consider.
The ad in which the Apple product, a MacBook Pro, is dismissed because it doesn't have enough memory, results in the customer buying a computer for essentially the same price with a slower processor. Does Microsoft want us to weigh the amount of RAM against processor speed in making purchase decisions? Well, clearly the RAM of the MacBook Pro can be upgraded, and the selected notebook can get a faster processor. More than likely the upgrade costs would be quite similar, which would mean, naturally, that both computers cost about the same when comparably equipped.
Of course, that's not a message that Microsoft wants to convey within a mere 30 seconds. Worse, the issue left on the table is the one they are clearly afraid to touch, even though that's the product with which they actually compete with Apple. That, my friends, is the operating system.
They don't even bother to tell you that these new notebooks ship with Windows Vista, which is generally regarded as a failure in the business market. Consumers will just take what they get, while a few power users might do what businesses do, which is to downgrade to the devil they are comfortable with, which is Windows XP.
In a sense, these ads are not so different from the way Consumer Reports handles PC reviews. They do compare Macs and PCs, but coverage of the operating systems tends to be absurdly brief. CR seems afraid -- or unwilling -- to compare the usability and reliability of Windows and Mac OS X, side by side. Microsoft's ads won't even broach the subject of a Mac OS. Instead, it's all about the computer hardware, and these are products they don't even sell.
As many in the media realize -- even though most won't admit it -- Microsoft earns the lion's share of profits hawking software licenses to PC makers and the enterprise. The PC company, such as Dell, or HP, will pay a reduced price for millions of Windows licenses. Businesses will order up software license subscriptions with loads of seats or users for both client and server products.
In PC land, it's the hardware makers who deal, for the most part, with individual consumers, just as Apple does.
Now it may well be that the hardware companies mentioned in those Microsoft ads, such as HP and Sony, actually contribute a portion of the advertising expense. This might be similar to what the PC companies themselves have worked out with Intel, when they close out their ads by mentioning the kind of processor they use in their products. There, Intel is subsidizing the campaign for their customers. That is, of course, except for Apple which doesn't care to mention another company's names in their ads, and thus pays for everything.
In Microsoft's corner of the universe, the PC is a commodity product. The brand name is meaningless. You simply choose the model you want based on specs alone, take it home, or have it delivered to your home or office. They cannot grasp the reasons why former Windows users prefer to choose from the rather restricted model lineup provided by Apple. And, because there are no really cheap Macs, they may end up paying a somewhat higher price too.
But the worst part of it all is that Apple has grabbed a heavy share of the medium- and high-end of the PC market. The rest of the PC makers are busy fighting for market share and slim profits with ever-cheaper hardware. The netbook is but the latest example, but I just wonder if the industry hopes, over time, to add upgrades to those shrunken notebooks so they'll eventually cost the same as the full-sized versions.
Apple, as we all know, has other ideas, and it'll be fascinating to see how things continue to play out. But I wonder if Microsoft even understands what they're missing.
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