Microsoft Wants You to Believe All PCs Are the Same!

May 21st, 2009

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 note-book 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 note-book, 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 note-book 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 note-books 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 note-books 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.

| Print This Article Print This Article

18 Responses to “Microsoft Wants You to Believe All PCs Are the Same!”

  1. Will says:

    Everything about those Microsoft advertisements appear to be fake, including dodgy backgrounds to match the dodgy customers, as seen here –

  2. Joe S says:

    The M$ ads are so phony. The dude includes power and and good battery life, he gets neither with the junk he chose. The redhead chooses a screen with as much resolution as a much smaller Mac laptop. Edit video on a PC as compared to iMovie/Final Cut Express? I really get visions of that add from the 80s with Ballmer in a plaid sports jacket selling he next great release of DOS, claiming a $130 value for $29. Echos of the Ginsu knife commercials.

  3. @ Will: You’d think they could invest in a proper ad, rather than jumbled junk.


  4. Joe S says:

    May I paraphrase obs. Microsoft (Ballmer + Gates) has no taste. And the M$ adds show that.

  5. John Dingler says:

    Hi Gene,
    An unintended consequence that this line of commercials has, and what I get primarily on a visceral level, is that MS feels compelled to pay someone to purchase a product, period. This is the main message, the overriding story being told on prime time.

    Only secondarily, and as you say, is it about a product that the company that is financing the ad. campaign does not even produce.

    It seems to me that MS feels that hardware manufacturers are making products that citizens judge to be mediocre or lacking in pizzaz so MS feels it has to pick up the slack for them on the PR level.

    An in-depth article on the subject of why MS feels it has to go to bat for its hardware manufacturers — perhaps with help from a marketing professor –, and what the implications are for the future of the two might be a revealing and interesting read.

  6. slappy says:

    Whatever MS is trying to spin hasn’t helped much. Just recently, HP announced that they are laying off 6400 people.

    “Computer shipments were flat in a “challenging environment” and the division saw revenue fall 19 percent to 8.2 billion dollars. Revenue from laptop computers was down 13 percent while desktop computer revenue fell 24 percent.”

  7. Perry Lund says:

    Good article. Your netbook thoughts in particular is in line with what I have been thinking and saying for some time.

  8. David says:

    While everyone here is pointing out the flaws, half-truths and outright falsehoods in the MS commercials, a recent poll showed a massive shift in opinion away from Mac and toward Windows based PC. So as bad as the commercials are, for the 18-34 demographic they appear to be working. If the poll is right the back to school season is going to be something to cheer about at HP, Dell, Acer, Toshiba, etc.

    Although Apple doesn’t like to introduce new notebooks until after school starts (they normally use back to school to clear out old inventory), they could recapture some of the lost excitement with an earlier refresh of the notebook lineup and they could capture a huge new chunk of the market if they introduced a 15″ MacBook. Believe it or not, some people really do consider screen size the most important feature of a notebook.

    Speaking of screen size, Apple’s obsession with high resolution is a bit of a problem for me. I’m currently typing on a 17″ MBP with the old 1680×1050 display. In order to read the Mac Night Owl I have to increase the font size. I’d need two increases to use the new 1920×1200 display. So all that extra resolution seems mostly wasted to me until we get true resolution independence in the OS.

  9. Costanza says:

    “I’d like a laptop without any stickers on it”

  10. David says:

    What people are failing to grasp is that ideas like { 17″ laptops cost less than $1000 } are becoming accepted because every company except Apple sells one. Once such a price point has been accepted as fact by most of the population, suggesting someone pay twice as much for “the same thing” is an insult to their intelligence. You won’t be able to argue your point, to explain why it’s not the same thing, because you’ll have been tuned out by the person you offended.

    Of course MS wants people to believe PCs are all equal, provided they’re running Windows. They want to ensure a sale regardless of which brand (other than Apple) the customer looks at.

    The technically inclined who choose to buy PCs know that they aren’t created equal. Smart buyers know that shopping around, reading Ars, AnandTech, and Tom’s, trying out the keyboard in a store, etc. are all necessary. On the desktop side nobody who cares about quality buys a name brand. Smart buyers know the important parts are the power supply and motherboard and that everything else is secondary. With a name brand you never know what crap they’re using until its too late.

  11. In your first paragraph, with a little window dressing (and that’s no pun), you did agree that the Apple 17-inch MacBook Pro is not equivalent to the one that costs less than half the price, beyond simple screen size. And even then, the screen itself on the low-cost model is likely made of cheaper materials, with inferior performance.

    No, I don’t think you turn off a person if you gently explain to them why screen size is only one factor in judging the specs of a computer. If they can’t understand, that’s their problem.


  12. Andrew says:

    I don’t think its that simple as comparing 17″ to 17″ or resolution to resolution. Size and resolution are definitely related, but not for every user.

    I prefer high resolution over low resolution because I like to view my calendar quickly in month view. On a standard MacBook (WXGA) I can barely see half of the appointments on some days (less information on the screen) while on my WXGA+ 15″ MacBook Pro I can see a lot more, and on a 17″ WUXGA MacBook Pro I would see absolutely everything.

    This of course is balanced with size, I just don’t want to lug a 17″ laptop around, and tolerate the still too-big 15″ because the 13″ just doesn’t show enough to be useful.

    My usage is very different than others. My daughter has a 13″ MacBook and loves it, but she would definitely prefer a 15″ model with the same WXGA resolution if it only cost a little more than the 13″. She watches TV shows online, fairly low resolution videos at full screen will not look any better on a high res screen than on a low res screen. The difference is how close she has to be to the laptop to enjoy the video.

    It is that type of application, low or medium quality video and graphics, where a larger screen is nice, even without an increase in resolution. Don’t forget those with less-than-stellar eyesight, who also benefit from larger pixels more than from more of them.

    I’d love to see Apple stick to the three case sizes they have now, but offer all three in both standard MacBook and high-res MacBook Pro models. I’d like a $2000 WXGA+ 13″ MacBook Pro as much as my daughter would like a $1400 WXGA 15″ MacBook. More realistic is keeping the extremes out, meaning 13″ is MacBook only, 17″ is Pro only, but 15″ available in both low and high resolution with and without discreet graphics.

  13. Andrew says:

    Another point that I think Microsoft actually makes rather well (and incidentally happens to be true) is that there are simply more choices in PCs than in Macs. Of course it should be this way as only one vender sells Macs and dozens sell PCs, but saying that Apple doesn’t make the machine you want is a valid argument in favor of a PC. Like Gene’s midrange tower, it doesn’t exist from Apple, but there are many PCs that fall into that category, some even quite nice (I like Shuttle’s designs).

    Now as Mac users, OS X is a very high priority for most of us, but if we take out the emotional attachment and look at these as tools, many people would find that there is very little difference between Windows and OS X for common tasks like email, word processing and the like. Many tasks are better on a Mac, but others are better on a PC, gaming as one example.

    Just as the PCs in the Microsoft adds were mostly cheaper junk (the Dell ultralight is a nice machine), there are other PCs that compete very well with Apple’s in both quality and price. My MacBook Pro was more expensive than my ThinkPad, but the ThinkPad is actually smaller, lighter, faster and better equipped. Sure, I prefer working on the MacBook Pro, but for its specific use (lectures and trans-Pacific flights) nothing can beat the ThinkPad’s 13-hour battery life (9 cell + bay battery). Sure I wish it ran OS X, but I can write legal briefs and everything else I do in Windows just as easily (if less elegantly) as I can in OS X.

  14. DaveD says:

    If Apple made a “WinMac” which is the Mac hardware running Windows Vista, then the “Apple Tax” commercials would be more on a sound footing. All PC brands can be compared to each other and to WinMacs. The next question is what does this has to do with Microsoft. Not a thing.

    This is why Microsoft “laptop hunter” commercials are a “sack of dog mess (borrowed from Whoopi).” It tell us nothing about Microsoft or their products.

    I beginning to believe that Microsoft is scare. Trying to steer potential buyers from Macs. That when you become a Mac user then you will always be a Mac user. Seeing the light from the dark side.

  15. DaveD is right. If a PC user buys an HP this time, they might buy a Dell next time … they’re still in the PC camp. But when PC users buy a Mac, Apple has them for life and PC manufacturers have lost them forever.

    “Microsoft “laptop hunter” commercials are a “sack of dog mess” … smells like MS is running scared.

  16. Nick says:

    First of all I just want to say all the commercials both MS and Apple are cheesy. I will agree that no one shops like the actors in the MS ads, but PC users don’t sit around frustrated and getting viruses all day like the actors in the Apple ads(Yes they’re actors to; the difference being that they are actors who frequently play loser roles.) portray. With some easy steps you can prevent most PC headaches. I use both Macs and PCs at work, and while yes I will agree Vista is not what it should be, Mac OS is not as hassel free as Apple would want you to believe. As for home use goes I use XP mainly on a slightly upgraded budget HP laptop, and it works pretty well. There is NOTHING I can do on my Mac at work that I can’t do at home on my PC. I’ll admit Macs are kind of cool, but until the price comes down I’ll keep applying my extra money to stuff like rent. Oh and as far as Consumers Reports comparing Mac OS to Windows, why bother? Even after you weigh the pros and cons, personal preferance for the UI will still be a bigger determining factor for buyers. Software is easily changeable. Why would anyone who is into what they’re doing make a hardware purchasing decision based on the software someone else slapped on it?

  17. Tired of MS says:


    So, you do agree that the actors in the MS ads represent PC customers, and that the actors in the Apple ads represent PCs — Mac and Windows PCs. Anthropomorphized PCs. Humans pretending to be PCs, not humans pretending to be Windows customers.

    Get it?

    Do you also agree that the actors in the Apple ads have been on or starred on many TV shows and Movies, while the MS ad actors have been on — well, they’ve been on four MS ads. Losers indeed.

    Any ‘hassels’ [most people, usually spell it: h-a-s-s-l-e] that you’ve allegedly had on a Mac are likely due to YOU using your Mac as it were a WinPC. Tantamount to having difficulty using a wrench as a hammer.

    BTW, there is something that you can’t do a lot of on your alleged ‘work’ Mac. You know — the toy computer, that can’t play games. That would be PLAY GAMES on your ‘real business computer’ PC.

    As an aside, who has extra money for stuff like rent? All the people I know have LESS money for rent. LOL

    I agree, why bother with the comparisons from Consumer Reports over Mac OS X vs Windows? They HATE Macs. Their bias is blatant.

    Personal ‘GUI preferences’? Why use a backwards and upside-down fake Mac OS with hundreds of wizards, when you can easily get things done with the real Mac OS? Except play games! LOL

    [Why would anyone who is into what they’re doing make a hardware purchasing decision based on the software someone else slapped on it?]

    Who is the someone else? MS? Or, the dozens of cripple-ware shlock peddlers on your WinPC?

    Enjoy your meat-flavored beef-burger!

Leave Your Comment