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  • Microsoft Resorts to Desperate Measures to Boost Vista

    August 21st, 2008

    Imagine if you were the CEO of the world’s largest software company, and that some of your products had shares of upwards of 90% in certain market segments. You are sitting at the top of the mountain, reasonably secure in your knowledge that there were no credible competitors out there, and that your place in the sun was assured.

    Then along comes an aging but still scrappy upstart, one whom you thought you’d defeated long ago, poised for battle all over again. Can you just use your marketing muscle and huge wad of cash to stomp out that tiny offender before they gain too much traction?

    That, of course, becomes complicated when the companies in question are Microsoft and Apple. Because of ongoing antitrust issues, and the fact that they earn plenty of high-profit cash from Macs, Microsoft has been pulling its punches. Some believe they could easily vanquish Apple if they wanted, or at least so they say.

    In the real world, Microsoft may have grown too fat and too confident, because they clearly believed that Windows Vista would conquer the operating system market as thoroughly as its predecessors. While they remain dominant, there are huge chinks in their considerably thick, overweight armor. Vista, alas, has proven to be one huge, bloated and expensive albatross.

    Many companies that might have migrated to Vista in the normal course of events, which includes periodic PC replacements, have opted to stick with Windows XP, which is pretty fast, pretty reliable and has been tested and proven in businesses both large and small. They’d rather stick with the devil they know than take a chance on the uncertainties of testing, hardening and deploying a new operating system that would, alas, also require some degree of employee retraining.

    Of course, Microsoft is trying to put forward its best spin on this holy disaster. They tell us about the huge number of sales recorded for Vista, ignoring the fact that these numbers are based on PCs that were licensed to include that operating system. They don’t really want to talk about the millions that were promptly downgraded to XP.

    Oh, sure, in the consumer space, the average Windows user will stick with the operating system that came on the new PC, except for a small number of power users. Chalk up another sale for Microsoft, even if its a forced purchase, more or less.

    After all this time, Microsoft is finally trying to reinvigorate Vista with a new advertising campaign. One particularly unfortunate scheme involves giving selected users a chance to work with the system, while giving them the false impression that it’s a brand new, unreleased version of Windows. It’s as if these people are so ignorant they can’t tell the difference, or maybe they are selected from a general consumer-oriented group that has only used XP.

    Of course, a canned demonstration of that sort wouldn’t reveal Vista’s severe system requirements, or the rampant application and driver compatibilities. The hardware would be powerful enough to allow Vista to perform at a pretty good clip, and you can bet any added peripherals would be tested, so there were no unexpected surprises.

    The latest Microsoft scheme involves a new set of ads featuring comedian Jerry Seinfeld and Bill Gates. Now I don’t begrudge Seinfeld’s choice to appear in those ads, since published reports indicate he’s getting a $10 million dpayday. For that amount of money, I’d probably prostitute myself and do a similar set of commercials if there was any demand for my services.

    I suppose Microsoft is hoping name recognition and some cute patter would be sufficient to gain traction and perhaps humanize the ever-geeky Gates. Or could it be that Seinfeld will be the Mac, and Gates the PC?

    In all, Microsoft plans to invest some $300 million into the various facets of this new campaign, and I wonder what good it might do. Certainly with Apple’s Mac versus PC ads, you don’t watch them because you recognize the participants. Although both John Hodgman (the PC) and Justin Long (the Mac) had generous show business backgrounds, they were not exactly household names. So it was possible to suspend your disbelief and accept them in their amusing takes on the infamous computer platform wars.

    The fact that both Hodgman and Long have the acting chops to make these performances work is a tribute to the careful selection process for the right actors, and the excellent scripts.

    However, the presence of Seinfeld, still quite famous despite the fact that his top-rated TV series went off the air some years back, and the most famous former CEO on the planet, may actually detract from the value of those new ads. Besides, since when has Gates been a credible on-air performer? He is not a reincarnation of Lee Iacocca, the former head of Chrysler, or any of the other famous CEO pitch men and women who have done believable ads for their own companies.

    Now maybe I’m wrong about all this. Maybe the onscreen collaboration between Seinfeld and Gates will prove magic. Maybe they will have the perfect chemistry to pull off this stunt.

    Or maybe, as I expect, we’ll forget about those new Microsoft ads seconds after they air, assuming most viewers don’t just fast forward their TiVOs and ignore them altogether.



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