Apple Has Fans & Microsoft Has Shills

January 17th, 2007

Over the years, one of the reasons why Apple has persevered despite lots and lots of failures in products and the “vision thing” is because so many people love their Macs and were willing become unpaid cheerleaders.

Indeed, there is something about the Mac experience that — even though the computers remain highly imperfect devices — empowers your creativity, and gives you the thrill of accomplishment rather than a sigh of relief. So even in the dark days, when Apple seemed to have lost its mojo, millions of loyal Mac users kept buying and using the products, hoping against hope that things would soon get better.

Although some Apple executives played the Mac press over the years with their pet projects, that behavior came to a shattering halt under Steve Jobs. Suddenly Apple became secretive, with information about new products emerging in a carefully controlled environment. To be sure, this only made the tech press all the more curious about what the company was up to, and Mac rumor sites flourished.

So far, I’m not saying anything you don’t already know. But you have to wonder how many Windows users are equally fervent about their platform preference. Do they choose Microsoft products because they love them, do they regard Bill Gates as a rock star, or is it all a matter of necessity? Businesses use Windows, and if you want to keep your job, you use the computer put in front of you, although some do, admittedly, protest.

Well, I do not doubt that there are folks who prefer Windows for logical and/or emotional reasons. But you also have to wonder if Microsoft has to work just a little harder to stoke the fires of avid fandom.

Take the Zune digital music player, which is now regarded as essentially a failure, even though Microsoft swears it’ll keep on trying to expand its reach beyond that reported two percent sales figure.

In the weeks before Zune came out, several Web sites appeared extolling its virtues, its wonderfulness, and the fact that it far surpassed the iPod in nearly every important respect. These sites were allegedly run by young people who were somehow lured to Microsoft’s headquarters for an advanced hands-on with the new product, and you can bet they sounded real impressed with what they saw.

In all fairness to Microsoft, this would appear to be what they wanted all along, to expand the concept of viral marketing and build a growing Zune community. That’s what the “Welcome to the social” ad campaign is all about.

Alas, these expressions of avid enthusiasm apparently didn’t result from a real grassroots campaign behind the Zune, but the result of Microsoft surreptitiously stoking the fires by providing free product and even sponsoring the Web sites to spread the word. Now there’s nothing illegal about the practice, and it’s surely understandable that Microsoft wants to build a fan base as quickly as possible, although the ultimate success of such maneuvers is highly questionable.

You see, when the iPod came out, Apple didn’t seed Mac users with free players, or build sites to create anticipation for the product. In fact, perhaps aside from some rumors here and there, Apple said nothing about the iPod until it was actually released. That and a traditional campaign of broadcast and print ads was all that was needed to build demand. In retrospect, I wonder if Steve Jobs and his crew truly realized the iPod’s potential, or that it would become the first Apple product that would become a smashing success on both the Mac and PC platforms.

In every way, however, Apple was proud to put its name and logo on the iPod. Microsoft? Well, it almost seems as if Microsoft was embarrassed to let anyone in on the fact that they were truly responsible for Zune. For the longest time, the product was absent from their home page and, in fact, they built a separate site for the music player.

Microsoft’s name? Well, you’ll find it, of course, in tiny type in the copyright notices, but not much elsewhere on the Zune site. It’s almost as if they felt that the Zune could only succeed if it didn’t carry the baggage of the Microsoft name behind it.

Indeed that, and the fact that they apparently had to pay or otherwise subsidize the early adopters is what distinguishes them from Apple.

So I ask you: Why isn’t Bill Gates proud of what the company he co-founded is doing?

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14 Responses to “Apple Has Fans & Microsoft Has Shills”

  1. Dave says:

    I seem to remember that when Apple introduced the iPod at MW that all attendees got one. In retrospect a terrific way to quickly get them in the hands of reporters and enthusiasts.

  2. Terry says:

    Viral marketing only seems to work when it’s truly viral. i can’t think of any product that tried to use this technique that succeeded.

    MS isn’t the only company that doesn’t get this.

    where to I sign up to extoll the priaises of “The next bib thing?”

    My vote’s for sale. make me an offer

  3. BTW I seem to remember that when Apple introduced the iPod at MW that all attendees got one. In retrospect a terrific way to quickly get them in the hands of reporters and enthusiasts.

    The iPod was introduced at a press briefing, and offering review units to the press is standard operating procedure. Of course, there’s no assurance that the review will be favorable, of course.

    Aside from the iPod and software, Apple maintains a rigorous watch on review product, and they expect you to return the unit, such as a new Mac, as agreed, usually within 30 days.


  4. Malcolm says:

    Well, I do not doubt that there are folks who prefer Windows for logical and/or emotional reasons.

    There is at least one ‘big fan’ (i.e. shill) that is extent on the internet message boards. His name is Paul Thurrott. Years ago he used to incessantly, and obnoxiously, troll the Mac message boards. He seems, for the most part, to have become tired of responding to the sea of true Mac aficionados who would ruthlessly debunk and expose him. Now he seems mostly content to muck about with his shabby anti-Mac/ pro Windows website.

  5. Tom B says:

    Most people DON’T “choose Windows”. Paid IT guys choose it. The question is: paid by whom?

  6. cfenger says:


    Thurrott has been, of late, exceedingly gracious about the Mac. Not sure why, but if it keeps up, you’ll have to take him off the list of guys like Dvorak, Scoble, etc.

    Read his latest post on Apple customer care:

  7. Malcolm says:

    To cfenger – – Thanks, I was unaware of that. Sometimes people can in fact evolve. My apologies to the current incarnation of Paul Thurrott. In his former incarnation it wasn’t his criticism of Apple and the Mac community that ticked me. It was his uninformed ad hominem attacks that was so irksome. I wonder what promped him to change his tune somewhat?

  8. Andrew says:

    While Macs do tend to make fans out of many, there are some technical and/or feature-related reasons other than “its in front of you” to use Windows. I run my own business, and while I have a Mac as my home computer, my office network is Windows, by choice, because the functions I wanted were easier and less expensive to implement on the Windows platform. There is no paid IT guy, no free product and now desire to impress anyone, just picking the best tool for the job. For many jobs the right rool is a Mac, for others its Windows. For most jobs, I’d say that it makes very little difference.

  9. Tom B says:

    “there are some technical and/or feature-related reasons other than “its in front of you” to use Windows”

    Perhaps in your business. I use XP at work and I do not see one feature or piece of software that makes up for the inherent problems associated with Windows. For goodness sake: simple stuff like PDF display is horribly implented on Windows.

  10. MichaelT says:

    Didn’t Microsoft get busted doing something like that fake-enthusiat promotion before? I can’t remember the details, but I thought they used bogus letters, or something like that, from supposedly unpaid folk, then it turned out the photos they used of the people were stock photos.

    Anyone remember more about this?

  11. Andrew says:

    I’ve actually had more PDF troubles on my Macs than on Windows, with fillable forms often not working well in the Mac version of Adobe Reader, not working at all in Preview, while working perfectly fine on the Windows version of Reader. Now that I’m using Adobe Professional, I’ve had no PDF issues whatsoever on either platform (Adobe Professional 7 for Windows and 8 for Macintosh).

  12. Kaleberg says:

    Political types call seeding and subsidizing fake grass roots organizations “astroturfing”. It’s a great term, though it’s probably someone’s trademark.

  13. Gilles says:

    For Michael T. Microsoft’s fake “Switch to Windows” ad backfires.

  14. MichaelT says:

    Thanks, Gilles.

    It’s still funny all these years later. 😀

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