Microsoft shows weakness with its anti-Apple campaign

August 10, 2010 11:34 AM EDT

Microsoft has emerged all guns blazing for PC sales in its latest anti-Apple advertising salvo. Apple's rivals are fearful because Cupertino has beaten all-comers in the digital music business, seized the throne of smartphone innovation, and stolen the tablet and netbook market -- and now it is coming for the enterprise.

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Determined to regain some momentum, Microsoft and partners are fighting back with a campaign which looks backward, not forwards, while missing sight of the future of computing.

While Apple gave us the lovably sassy while also kind of annoying 'Get A Mac' ads, Microsoft gives us imitation as flattery, with the slogan, 'They Just Work'.

"Just works" is, of course a famed Steve Jobs quote. He says it a lot. An awful lot. There's even a video.



Now Microsoft is saying it.

What else has Microsoft dreamed up? Here's the slogans, apparently a PC is good for:

  • Having Fun
  • Simplicity
  • Working Hard
  • Sharing
  • Compatibility
  • Choice


Key to Microsoft's attempt is its relatively recent introduction of a free suite of software which -- at long, long last -- gives Windows 7 users an all-purpose personal digital media toolkit to match Apple's well-established iLife suite, Windows Live Essentials.

Mac users have been enjoying tools for movie, image, photo, music editing and management since Apple first introduced iLife in 2003.

Apple's move to offer the suite helped the firm establish the Mac as the consumer-friendly digital toolkit for the home.

The iPod, iPhone and iPad halo also helped the firm take a place at the heart of the consumer market.

It took Microsoft seven long years to match Apple's iLife offering, which suggests something. Windows is not primarily for consumers. How can it be? Surely Microsoft should have prioritised such a solution, given seven years in which to do so. That it didn't underlines that Microsoft isn't focused on consumers, but on enterprise sales. Including those of its PC partners.

Microsoft has sold 175 million Windows 7 licenses. Yes, Microsoft has a strong market, but it does not hold an excited market. Windows customers don't feel love.

Look to what's happening at college.

Students are a good reflector of what's exciting. Right now, 70 per cent of students are turning up at US colleges clutching a Mac, according to Global Equities Research.

A second survey from Student Monitor tells us 47 per cent of students intend buying a Mac. And it is all about mobile: 87 per cent of all students surveyed want a notebook, not a desktop.

Microsoft's campaign to interest consumers is no more than window dressing. It hides the fact that the industry has moved on, that PCs really aren't sexy any more.

PCs (by which I mean Mac, Linux or Windows computers) have become something we must have because we need them for modern life, just like a fridge or a cooker hob. We need them. We're not terribly excited by them.

So where's the excitement gone?

Apple has this covered. Even while Microsoft shows us how a multimedia-savvy Windows OS could have been relevant in 2003, the latest campaign misses out on what's going on today.

We're getting mobile.

Microsoft CEO, Steve Ballmer, recently said that producing tablet computers running Windows 7 has acquired 'job one urgency' at his company.

It later emerged that these won't appear until next year, by which time Apple will already be preparing to introduce new and faster iPads. Speculation will already be focused on the future iPhone 5.

Apple has grabbed the tablet market. That matters. Analysts at Rethink Technology Research believe three-quarters of tablet and smartbook sales will come at the expense of other devices such as netbooks and laptops through 2014.

Microsoft's campaign is timed to take on Apple's 'Back To School' offer. Some students may take Microsoft's lesson on price, but Redmond's campaign is nothing more than an attempt at Windows window dressing.

While missing mobile it also misses Microsoft's biggest market -- the enterprise.

As I see it, Apple's growing reputation is causing it to take a slice of the enterprise market. That Apple, Google and RIM all offer devices enterprises are happy to use is unsettling for Microsoft watchers.

Unfortunately, Microsoft has nothing -- yet -- to match Apple's mobile offer to the enterprise. Sure, it has the servers and the PC OS, but Microsoft lacks an iPad killer.

Indeed, recent history shows that it failed to leverage its huge corporate clout to deliver an iPod killer, with Zune grabbing just 1 percent US marketshare.

Microsoft's current campaign focuses on Apple's Macs because Redmond has nothing else to offer. It doesn't even compete.

It has no iPad. It has no iPhone. It has no iPod. It does have the Xbox, Windows 7 and -- to all intents and purposes in the mobile space - tablets as vaporware.

Analysts at Trefis think Apple may sell 45 percent of its iPads to enterprises from now through 2016. They also think Apple may sell around 22 million iPads by 2016.

Microsoft's lack of a tangible alternative is giving Apple a chance to take a slice of Microsoft's enterprise market.

Microsoft's latest campaign is the advertising equivalent of King Canute, who tried -- and failed -- to stop the waves.

The difference is even King Canute knew that he should sit down beside the right ocean. By targeting the Mac sales, Microsoft shows it doesn't know where the real ocean is.

You can rate Microsoft's campaign here.