For years, Microsoft’s marketing efforts for Windows ignored the fact that Macs existed. That changed last year. In the wake of rising sales for Apple’s computers, Microsoft went on the offensive. But the case it made for Windows PCs and against the Mac was touchy and evasive. It ran PC ads that knocked Macs as overpriced but couldn’t find anything nice to say about Windows. It got pointlessly insulting about Mac users. And it commissioned a white paper on the “Apple tax” that was rife with fuzzy math and bizarre errors.
All that stuff happened in the late, not-at-all-lamented Windows Vista era. Back then, you could understand why Microsoft would be crabby about the whole subject of Windows vs. Mac–especially since Apple was repeatedly sucker-punching Vista in the face, via the meanest ads ever in its long-running “Get a Mac” campaign.
Today, however, is a new day. Vista has been replaced by the vastly superior Windows 7. Apple seems to have ditched the “Get a Mac” campaign in favor of a much lower-key, lower-profile Mac/PC comparison section on its site. And now Microsoft has responded in kind with a “Deciding Between a PC and a Mac” section on the Windows 7 site.
As with much of Microsoft’s consumer marketing for Windows, this new comparison is aimed at teeming masses of folks who don’t know a whole lot about computers, not geeks and enthusiasts. It clearly strives to come off as calm and reasoned, not snarky and emotional. There’s as much boosting of Windows as there is knocking of the Mac, and the whole thing is free of name-calling.
Let’s look at Microsoft’s claims, section by section. I understand that Microsoft isn’t going to make a balanced comparison of pros and cons here; you won’t hear about the hassle of dealing with Windows security, or the fact that few PCs come standard with creativity software to rival the iLife suite that’s bundled with every Mac. But checking out Microsoft’s case for Windows in the age of Windows 7 is a worthwhile exercise. And it’s reasonable to expect that even marketing copy should contain no gross mischaracterizations or factual errors, right?
The section: “Having Fun”
The bottom line:
- These are all factual, reasonable points in Windows PCs’ favor. Clear evidence that this comparison is aimed at non-techies: Microsoft goes out of its way to avoid technical terms such as “HDMI.” And it chooses its words precisely–the reference to “Most Macs” lacking a TV hookup acknowledges that one Mac (the Mini) has one.
The section: “Simplicity”
The bottom line:
- I dunno–the gist here is “Windows works more like Windows than OS X does,” which seems more like a tautology than an argument for using Microsoft’s OS. If it’s a compelling argument, shouldn’t everyone stick with whatever products they’ve got right now–including Windows XP users and people who don’t use Microsoft products at all? Wouldn’t nobody ever give up anything they already have for something better?
- Anyone who’s used both Windows and a Mac knows that the similarities are more striking than the differences; the mouse may not behave exactly the same, but the learning curve isn’t exactly terrifying
- The new snap feature in Windows 7 is, indeed, something that OS X doesn’t have. (Side note: After a few months with Windows 7, I’m less enamored with it than I was at first, though–I sometimes snap windows to the side of the screen by accident.) Of course, OS X also offers multiple conveniences that Windows doesn’t–at least in such well-designed form–including Exposé, Stacks, Spaces, built-in PDF creation, and better file previewing.
- Yes, there are Windows PCs with touchscreens and fingerprint scanners.
The section: “Working Hard”
The bottom line:
- The bit about “Apple’s productivity suite”–better known as iWork ’09–is technically accurate, but it seems willfully misleading to me. If you use a Mac and care about file compatibility above all else, there’s a simple solution: Use use Office for the Mac. Which, last time I checked, is made by…Microsoft! (Weirdly, Apple’s similar comparison is the one that touts Microsoft’s suite.)
- The bit about VGA connections is a legitimate point: I wish Macs came with the VGA dongle in the box. And the encryption item is correct, although I wonder what percentage of the people reading this material will buy a PC with Windows 7 Ultimate. (Microsoft itself says that version is aimed at “a small set of customers who want everything Windows 7 has to offer.”)
The section: “Sharing”
The bottom line:
- Microsoft’s specific claims are accurate, but they’re not the whole story. Windows 7′s HomeGroup networking does put more sharing features in one place than OS X does. But it requires that all the computers run Windows 7–to use Microsoft’s terminology, “Windows 7 PCs only like to share with other Windows 7 PCs.” Apple’s Home Sharing is actually part of iTunes, not OS X, and it only does music and video. But it works with multiple versions of OS X…and with Windows.
The second: “Compatibility”
The bottom line:
- It’s true enough that if you dump Windows for a Mac, you may find that certain favorite apps aren’t available or must be repurchased and relearned. But once again, Microsoft is suggesting that iWork ’09 file-format issues are a crippling problem. If you need to share files with Microsoft Office users, there’s an easy solution: Buy Microsoft Office.
- Microsoft twice says that PC “stuff” might not work with Macs. These days, almost the only “stuff” that could present problems is software–nearly all PC peripherals will work with a Mac. (Major exceptions: Microsoft products such as the Zune HD.)
The section: “Choice”
The bottom line:
- The variety of available Windows machine in different sizes, features, and colors is indeed a major reason to choose Microsoft-powered PC over a Mac.
- It’s true that Windows 7 can stream video and music across the Web natively, and OS X can’t. There are plenty of third-party ways to do it, though, such as this one. I’m also not sure why Microsoft brings up MobileMe–the $99-a-year online service–since it doesn’t let you stream movies and music from a Mac. (It does provide iDisk, which would let you copy your media to the cloud.)
All in all, Microsoft’s arguments are strongest in areas where Windows does have a clear advantage, such as all the features that are available as standard equipment with Windows PCs but not with Macs. They’re weakest in the areas where Windows is weakest: “Windows is easier because you’re already familiar with earlier versions” is a far less compelling argument than “Windows is easier because it’s better designed.”
And I think Microsoft should amend the sections that discuss Office file formats–it’s simply misleading not to explain that Microsoft Office and its native file formats are available for the Mac.
Looking over all of the points Microsoft makes, I’m struck by the fact that the content barely touches on pricetags–there’s that mention of PCs providing “a lot more choice and capabilities for your money” than Macs and a passing reference to “a range of price points,” but that’s it. It’s a radical departure from last year’s “Laptop Hunters” TV commercials, which mostly focused on the fact that you can buy a Windows PC with more RAM and hard-drive space and a bigger screen for less money than a Mac, and suggested that anyone who opts for a pricier Mac over a cheaper PC is doing so mostly in hopes of looking hip.
I keep contending that the more similar a Windows PC is to a Mac, the more likely it is that the price is similar. I’m not sure if the lack of Apple-Tax math in this new comparison means Microsoft is conceding this point. Actually, I suspect it hasn’t, but I’m glad “we’re cheap!” isn’t the overriding message for now.
This comparison isn’t perfect, but it’s easily the most reasonable one to emerge from Microsoft to date. Read it and Apple’s “Why You’ll Love a Mac,” and you’ll get a surprisingly well-rounded overview of the two platforms’ relative strengths. It’s no substitute for objective comparisons by third parties–here’s my most recent one–but it’s a heck of a lot preferable to the cartoony nastiness that both companies have indulged in until recently…