Microsoft vs. Apple: Running stupid, not scared

I am not sure why Microsoft feels the need to respond to Apple's taunting. When it does, all that happens is Apple comes off looking good.

Microsoft will never win a war of words with Apple. And it should give up trying. The result is never good: Better to ignore the annoying fly than to look stupid trying to swat it and repeatedly missing.

I am not sure why Microsoft feels the need to respond to Apple's taunting. When it does, all that happens is Apple comes off looking good and Microsoft looks like a lumbering, one-eyed ogre. But, I disagree with Macworld's Dan Moren who says Microsoft is "running scared." More like running stupid.

Of course, Macworld says Microsoft is running scared of Apple. What else would they say? That in the global scheme of things Apple is more annoyance than a real threat to Microsoft?

Back to flyswatters, it's not that Microsoft is afraid of flies, it's just so annoyed that it looks stupid chasing after them. Imagine Steve Ballmer, jumping around screaming, armed with a giant flyswatter, and on television, no less.

Apple is more than a fly compared to Microsoft, but it's certainly not a critical threat. More like a hugely visible annoyance. A giant zit that never goes away. Even Google remains, so far, more annoyance than threat and its much higher on the Redmond's targeting list than Apple.

I think there is a decent chance Microsoft will be less a consumer player five years from now than it is today, but Apple won't be much of a challenge in the enterprise, almost regardless.

Google needs to show it can build things--besides an advertising model--that customers are actually willing to pay for.

As for the TV ads, Microsoft has been running, as Moren points out, one bad ad campaign (Seinfeld), followed by another ("I'm a PC"), and another (Laptop Hunters), all targeted at making Windows and Microsoft to be something they aren't: Cool.

Just like a comb-over doesn't give you hair, not-very-funny commercials don't make Microsoft warm and friendly. And certainly not cool.

Redmond would be better off running TV spots aimed at convincing people that Microsoft is Microsoft and that's not such a bad thing. This is the "first, do no harm" school of advertising.

Maybe Bill Gates could even kick in some heartwarming commercials showing how his share of Microsoft's bounty is making the world a better place. Let's see Apple do something like that. Oh, it can't.

Meanwhile, Microsoft says it is going to open retail stores right next to Apple stores? What bozo dreamed up that one? It's like a Piggly Wiggly opening up next to Whole Foods, then demanding of customers, "Which one of us is more cool?" and being dismayed by the result.

Even if Microsoft's store were to out-Gap the Apple store, nobody would believe it. Talk about reality distortion fields!

I told Microsoft, long before there were Apple stores, that the world needed a place to show people the great things computers could do for them and offer basic tools and training.

That idea, of course, became the Apple stores. The problem for Microsoft is that since it lacks Apple's ability to totally dominate a platform it's unclear what Microsoft can sell besides its own software that won't upset more Microsoft partners than the stores would be worth.

Also, imagine the mayhem at a Microsoft "Genius Bar," which would have to be stocked with actual geniuses to solve the myriad troubles Windows users encounter merely because their platform is so much broader than Mac.

Microsoft has more potential today--for better and worse--than perhaps at any time in the past decade or more. The world is changing, about half in Microsoft's favor and half against it. The decision has already been made: Microsoft is running. That in itself is an amazing thing, Whether Microsoft will run smart or stupid is up for grabs.

My sense is that in the background, Microsoft is mostly running smart while in the foreground, especially in the consumer space, Microsoft looks pretty clueless. The problem, for Microsoft, is that how it appears to consumers can dramatically impact its image among enterprise customers, too.

After all, those people are consumers when they leave the office. Apple only has consumers to impress.

Maybe running is too fast when you're in danger of tripping over yourself. As Microsoft is so prone to do. Perhaps a fast, thoughtful walk would serve it better.

Industry veteran David Coursey tweets as @techinciter and can be contacted via his Web site.

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David Coursey

PC World (US online)
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