“I’m just wondering why your marketing group can’t do something to try to rein in this next generation, because you’ve got a real bad image out there.” So said a Microsoft shareholder to CEO Steve Ballmer at the company’s shareholder meeting yesterday. TechFlash reporter Todd Bishop […]


“I’m just wondering why your marketing group can’t do something to try to rein in this next generation, because you’ve got a real bad image out there.”

So said a Microsoft shareholder to CEO Steve Ballmer at the company’s shareholder meeting yesterday. TechFlash reporter Todd Bishop notes that the same shareholder added that Apple’s TV commercials make Microsoft look “like a buffoon.”

I’m relieved to hear this. I often look at Microsoft and wonder if its shareholders are as out-of-touch as the company itself seems to be. In just the last few weeks here’s what’s getting the most enthusiastic coverage in the tech press at a time when it ought to be 100 percent about the newly launched Windows 7.

  • A Microsoft manager claiming Windows 7 — Microsoft’s flagship product — is inspired by Mac OS X
  • Chief Software Architect Ray Ozzie’s bewildering assertion that “apps don’t matter” — despite everyone else on Earth knowing otherwise
  • Further redundancies that include long-time evangelist Don Dodge, and his subsequent post that, now that he’s free from Microsoft, he can admit, yeah, he has iPhone envy
  • And let’s not forget the bizarre PR misfire that saw the staff of Microsoft’s flagship retail store ignoring their customers for a full five minutes in favor of stomping their way, awkwardly and embarrassingly, through a dance routine

The take-home message? It ain’t just the Apple commercials making Microsoft look like buffoons.

How did CEO Steve Ballmer respond? Fear not, anxious shareholders, Ballmer has this to say to assuage your fears and calm your nerves:

You take any country, including this one, and you say, how are we doing? The truth of the matter is, we do quite well. Even among college students, we do quite well. Do we have an opportunity for improvement? We do. Some of that is marketing some of that is phase of life. It is important to remember that 96 times out of 100 worldwide, people choose a PC with Windows, that’s a good thing. Even in the toughest market, which would be the high end of the consumer market here in the U.S., 83 times out of 100 people choose a Windows PC over a Mac.

Hang on, back-up. “Some of that is phase of life.” Phase of life? Well, Ballmer sure knows his execu-speak. What galls me about this is how it illustrates perfectly that while Microsoft may be doomed to continue making embarrassing mistakes, it probably won’t suffer any actual harm as a result; it survives simply because of its mammoth install base. Nothing more than that. And that simple fact directly influences the attitude and reasoning of its CEO. Ballmer is tacitly admitting that, all things considered, yeah, Microsoft looks like a bunch of idiots but that doesn’t matter because they’ve got more customers than anyone else.

Turn this around, and imagine that Apple does monumentally silly things that make it the target of much derision and ridicule among the tech community and consumers. Imagine you’re a shareholder, and you see a drop in quarterly earnings. You see the company laying off staff (including highly visible and respected staff they should keep). You see its executives sending conflicting messages to the public. And when you take them to task for it, Steve Jobs replies “Yeah, we’ve been a bit crap. But most people own an iPod, right, so, no worries.” Would you be satisfied with that?

Ballmer added:

Frankly, the economy is good for us, because people do understand that Macintoshes are quite a bit more expensive for essentially the same computer … we have opportunities to improve among exactly the constituency that you identify.

Yep. Be happy there’s a recession, people, or else customers would be buying Macs!

This isn’t actually a Microsoft bashing exercise (clearly, it does that to itself and needs no help from me). Instead, I look at this and wonder (fear) that Apple might be headed in much the same direction. Recent unpredictable behavior around the application approval process has seen Apple severely criticised by some of its most staunch supporters. Developers aren’t just frustrated, they’re now quitting the platform altogether. And not because the platform is flawed, but because Apple is horribly (and very visibly) mismanaging it.

Apple needs to take a good long look at the Microsoft of today and ask if it isn’t starting to make the same mistake; stubbornly pushing ahead with flawed policies/strategies that are justified on the strength of product market share alone, despite the obvious (and loud!) protestations of the public, the press, and sooner or later, even its own shareholders.

Sure, Apple isn’t as bad as Microsoft yet. But this is how it starts, people. Google Voicegate. Joe Hewitt. Rogue Amoeba. It’s not exactly dancing in an Apple Store, but it’s still embarrassing and potentially damaging, and it’s definitely a trend that won’t go away unless Apple does something to fix it.

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  1. can you please stop bashing MS. Shareholders. It is one thing to ridicule a corporation and its agents but it is another thing to ridicule average Americans in your rant about MS. 2 months ago I was trying to decide whether to invest in Apple or MS. I chose MS. And so far I have seen a larger return on my investment than if I would have gone with Apple. Yet in making this decision you call me personally out of touch?

    1. @investor: You clearly out of touch with reality if you think that measuring a return on your investment over a 2 month period is meaningful in any way, shape or form. If we go by what the market has done in the past 2, 3, or even 6 months we would conclude this we are in the midst of the most amazing economic boom of all times… but we all know we are in the middle of a quasi-depression that won’t be over for months to come!

    2. dan, everyday is important and meaningful when its your money on the line. Obviously everything must be taken in context. Short term gains and loses have their meanings. But I guess you are right, when the stock market plunged earlier this year it had no meaning in any way shape or form as to how our economy was doing at the time. Dang I should really take more investment advice from you! =P

    3. I love those commentators sent by the Redmond comedy agency. So hilarious ^^ XD

    4. If you invested in Microsoft instead of Apple, then you are definitely an idiot!!!

  2. “In just the last few weeks here’s what’s getting the most enthusiastic coverage in the tech press at a time when it ought to be 100 percent about the newly launched Windows 7.”

    By what measure? Windows 7 news has been enormous. Definitely more stories on that than every one of the other items you listed. These uninformed and immature MS bashing pieces really detract from and otherwise worthwhile blog.

    1. Hello McFly…

      This is a blog for Apple user, not MS shareholders!

      Go to one of the many boring MS blog sites and shake your Window 7 pom poms there.

  3. Yes, anybody investing in Microsoft is woefully out of touch and doesn’t realize that that Titanic is sinking. And why would you put your money into a company that strives for mediocrity at best, and criminal activity at par?

    1. Andy Ihnatko said it best on this week’s MacBreak Weekly; “This is not the behaviour of a company that feels it has its future in its own hands…” ;-)

  4. The geek press finds this a big story. Still, the iphone public at large doesn’t care about the problems of a few developers. That is an issue between Apple, the developers and a 100,000 apps.

    What the iphone public at large does care about is finding the apps that they want in a sea of some 100,000 other apps. Apple needs to solve that issue as much as the issues with developers.

    I don’t really care how MS makes its income, but if I was an investor, I would off Ballmer. He isn’t up to the job.

    1. “public at large does care about is finding the apps that they want in a sea of some 100,000 other apps”

      It’s called the IStore search menu. Try it some time.

      Oh, and I’m sure you have no problem finding your app(s) for your Zune. How many are there???

  5. Great points! You’re right. Apple does need to stop and seriously take a look at their app approval process. They need to remember that the developer community surrounding the Mac and iPod/iPhone platforms are loyal, promoters of Apple. It doesn’t bode well for Apple to piss on their developers, and ignore their complaints.

    On another note… Ballmer is a moron. It’s fun to listen to his idiotic, arrogant statements about his company. He knows that Apple is beating Microsoft in the hearts and minds of the computer buying public, and I’m sure it eats him up inside every time he sees someone with a shiny new MacBook Pro. We buy Macs for their awesome design, and for the operating system installed on them. They’re not run of the mill PCs. In my opinion, Windows LOWERS the value of PC.

    1. “It doesn’t bode well for Apple to piss on their developers”

      And how much do MS and Google developers make hawking their apps on the MS Store or Google site???

      Enough said!

  6. The key thing when saying people choose Windows over OS X is that most of the times people don’t even know they have a choice. Once people try OS X and the whole Mac experience they will never look back.

    Microsoft is dreaming if they think they can sustain market share with crap products and crappy marketing.

    If one thing came out of the Mac increased market share is that people want more out of their money, meaning people are becoming increasingly aware that quality and looks matter, but only when they’re combined as it’s the case with Mac products.

    I couldn’t agree more with @Howie Isaacks, Windows does lower the value of PCs.

  7. @Dan: “quasi-depression that won’t be over for months to come”?

    Try years, maybe decades. If Obamacare, Cap and Tax and the Copenhagen treaty passes we are toast :-(

    And yeah, Investor can’t see the forest for the trees. MSFT has NOTHING going for it. Apple will leap frog them in the next two years in terms of market cap. MSFT has banked their whole game plan on Win7 but they are living in 1995. OSes just don’t make the money they once did. How can they when a PC costs $399? How do you get blood from a turnip?

    1. Obamacare – funny name. Germany has a social security system since the second world war and it’s good to have that.

      Hundreds of thousands of Americans without social security, getting their teeth done by doctors, working for nothing. I don’t know, looks like middle ages to me.

    2. “we are toast”

      The terminal rich who control this country???


  8. Microsoft’s marketing has always been pretty bad. Apple’s has always been some of the best there is. Nothing new here.

  9. All things considered, the MAC is more user friendly and dependable which ultimately makes it more cost effective than the PC.
    That’s reality, not image.

  10. Oh, and. W7 is competitive with OS X on every level. I use both extensively daily and they’re very similar in terms of reliability, performance and usability.

    Microsoft’s challenge is monetizing their innovation. This is exactly where Sun went off the rails with Java: great technology, turned out to be a bad business plan. Everybody went out and ran it on cheaper Linux servers. Microsoft’s consumer and enterprise OS and technology offerings keep getting better. As far as I can tell, many many many enterprises are standardizing on Windows/AD/Outlook/Office. There is some movement to Google Docs, I’m sure, but Office 2010 looks great and SharePoint and hosted SharePoint, along with Office Communicator, are hard to ignore from a collaboration point of view.

    Apple’s ability to design iPod/iPhone that bring in revenue stream from the device and from iTunes, leading to more Mac purchases, is genius. That’s what MSFT needs to do.

    But for now, they’re treading water. If their product quality declined, that would be one thing. But it’s not.

    1. Very similar in usability? You are kidding me. I have Win 7 running with Parallels and it’s still a mess. Two, let me repeat that, two different folders for programms!?

      Such a annoying deep folder hierarchy. I tried to install MatLab… ah, forget it.

      What else. Quick Look and Exposé give me a better handling of my activities, than the new Win Taskbar. The window managing with Strg+Right etc is useful but Linux had that before, too. (Size Up is bringing it to the Mac and it’s handy sometimes).

      The Mac Look and Feel is way more consistent. And when I tried to open a PDF with Win 7, you still have to download Adobe Reader.

      The OS should assist you in completing your tasks, not standing in the middle of the way. That’s my opinion on Windows 7. Feel free to think differently :o)

    2. How could it be competitive on every level when it still contains all the problems of the previous attempts: registry, dll, terrible multitasking, etc. etc.? Either you know absolutely nothing about computers or Microsoft is paying you to say these ridiculous things.

    3. I’m not quite sure how Windows is going to maintain its competitive level with OS X. For one though Windows 7 is a stable OS that doesn’t mean it’s on par with Mac OS X. For one thing despite the improvements to Window management in Windows 7 including the new task bar and the Areo effect based ones, there are still some big problems; the control panel management has actually become more fractured since XP and is getting more complex, application/programme management which again has become more fractured and more confusing since the XP days which was already overly complex to begin with, the handling of multiple cores and processors is still poorer than any version of OS X, 64-bit support is still a bit of a mess and can be confusing to users, a reliance on a 16-bit BIOS despite Intel coming up with EFI in 1995, and dlls still exists and is only getting worse with every release and every new addition.

      Now you compare that mounting trouble to the solid foundation Apple has set fourth especially with the underpinnings of Snow Leopard and you can see that there will be a time when these problems that Microsoft chose not to deal with now will come back to haunt them. With more processing cores and more reliance on 64-bit software Microsoft’s Windows operating system is likely to need a complete overhaul. Windows 7 is a good operating system now but the over confidence from finally releasing a stable OS is only going to make them further stagnate on the more critical issues stated above and will lead to later OS still using Windows 7 as a foundation but unable to cope with the changes and developments in the hardware. OS X and in particular Snow Leopard may not seem as massively different as I have stated but under the bonnet they’re a world apart.

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