Microsoft’s Real Challenge

“Oh, I don’t use ‘Internet Exploder’.  I actually know how to use a computer,” she said.

“Wait, what did you just call it?” I responded.

“‘Internet Exploder’. I thought that’s what everyone calls it.  You know, because it doesn’t work and all.”

“Um, I don’t think anyone calls it that,” I said.  “At least not since 2005.”

“Well,” she retorted, “my brother works with computers all the time, and that’s what he calls it.  So that’s what I call it, too.”


This was a real conversation, with someone who truly believed everything she said.  For comparison, this was me.



It’s a common conversation I have, actually.  And typically with co-workers.  The themes are all very common, and the data is always just as misinformed.

“Everyone knows that Apple uses better hardware than PC’s do, and that’s why they cost more!”


“Ubuntu is the future! It’s going to take over the home market and that will be the end of Windows forever!”


“Internet Explorer is the worst browser ever! My _________ browser can run circles around it!”


“The Zune failed because it just wasn’t very good and didn’t have the same features as the iPod!”


“Windows Phone?! Why would I use that?  I want a phone I can actually use to do things.”


It bares mentioning that the people saying this are typically sales people, receptionists, hipsters, and generally other people who don’t actually have a single clue about the tech field.

It’d be easy to write them off as wrong and go on with things, but as Microsoft was forced to admit a couple of weeks ago, the scene has changed in the world and the once mighty Windows now only holds a 14% market share.  People can look to their miniature rants above as the reasons why Microsoft has slipped so far, but they’d only be half right; the reasons are blatantly false, but the fact people have them at all has allowed Microsoft’s competitors to surge ahead of them.

Before we go any further, we should get my bias out of the way:  Yes, I am a Microsoft fan.  There’s a couple reasons for this, not the least of which is that I simply don’t have the money to buy super expensive equipment that offers no added value to me, and I need it to work without any fuss.  I don’t have time to recompile my kernel every time my touchpad has issues, or a newer version of my video card driver comes out.  I actually need to use applications that are considered “industry standard” on an enterprise network, without half my time being taken up just trying to get things talking to each other.  But that’s me.

If you have an Apple computer because it does what you specifically need it to do or a Linux machine because you’re a bit of a sadist, then that’s great for you!  Different strokes, as it were.  So why the rant against it all?

Well, because the real reason Microsoft has slipped so dramatically in the last decade has been directly due to some very specific marketing by Apple, Google, and pretty much everyone else.  And, to be fair, some less then stellar marketing on Microsoft’s part in trying to fight back.  You remember those funny (if not technically correct) “I’m a Mac, and I’m a PC” guys?  Yeah, who didn’t love those guys?  Thing is, it didn’t matter that they were often laughably inaccurate, or portrayed by actors, that didn’t matter!  People believed them!

There’s a perfect example in an ad from an Apple commercial from years ago.  During their “Think Different” campaign, they had an ad with a man just talking into a camera, lamenting how he received a webcam for Christmas and that he couldn’t figure out how to plug it into his PC.  You see, there were just too many plugs and wires and PC’s are confusing man! So he went out and bought a Mac.  So much better!  You just turn it on, and plug the webcam in.  It’s just works!

If you are familiar with computers, at all, you might have noticed everything wrong with what I just described to you.  Like the fact that webcams don’t have more than one cable, or that Mac’s need cables too, or even the idea that someone would go out and buy a $1500 machine to get their $20 webcam to work.  But none of that matters because people identified with the poor, hapless bastard.  They looked at this guy and saw themselves in him . . . when really they should have pitied him.

Let’s put it another way; if this guy were recounting the way he couldn’t figure out how to use his spice rack in the same way as he was unable to use a cable that can only be plugged in one way, you would have called him an idiot.

This is from a real commercial. Except for the meme part.
This is from a real commercial. Except for the meme part.

But this isn’t about Apple.  It’s not even about Microsoft, really.  It’s about perception.

See, the guy who told me how Apple uses better CPU’s in their machines and that’s why they are so much more expensive? He didn’t think that because he knew what types of CPU’s are in Apple, or even what a CPU is.  He thought that because at some point, someone told him that and he went with it.  He didn’t research it and learn that the same CPU’s are used in both Apple and PC’s, and often Apple products come to market long after their PC counterparts have already been out.  He didn’t do any of this because he wasn’t speaking from his logical side, this was a testimonial of faith in Apple.

Sounds crazy, right?  Well, turns out that when people laugh and call other “Apple Zealots” they aren’t too far off.  Researchers have found that the areas of the brain responsible for “brand loyalty” are the same areas that are involved with religious faith.  The idea that your brand is the best brand can be as strong as your thoughts on who created the Earth.  In most cases, it doesn’t matter what sort of evidence is presented if it doesn’t “feel right”.

Or, as my friend (and our awesome photographer) recently admitted about his Apple:

Apple and Windows do things a little differently, but really they do the same thing in the end.  I just like the Apple way a bit more.  I feel better using it.


Which means that “Microsoft the Tech Company” or “Microsoft the Corporation” doesn’t really have an issue.  It’s “The Church of Microsoft” that needs an image revamp.



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