Windows: No doing, no thinking

hehasabeard.jpgMicrosoft’s ads with Bill Gates and Jerry Seinfeld generated a lot of “controversy” and media attention, for some reason; I thought they were over-long and unfocused, but ultimately harmless. They managed to make a subtle, self-deprecating acknowledgement that Microsoft is perceived as being out of touch, and spun that into a positive: hey look, Windows helps people stay connected and get back in touch!

So they were nothing spectacular (especially considering how much they must’ve cost), but they were a damn sight better than the campaign that ended up taking focus. If you haven’t seen it — and I have no idea how you could’ve avoided seeing it, since I don’t even watch that much TV anymore, and I’ve seen it over a dozen times — it’s the one that starts with a John Hodgman look-alike complaining that PCs have been reduced to a stereotype, and then cycles through dozens of people all around the world saying stupid things like “I have a beard!” Here it is on YouTube.

This campaign fails on every conceivable level, and it makes me angry thinking how much money was spent on it. Here’s just a small sample of the failure:

  • It puts Microsoft on the defensive. It’s purely a counter-ad, which would be fine if it didn’t so blatantly say, “You know those ads that everybody loves? We can do those too!”
  • As if it weren’t enough to steal the successful Apple campaign’s spokesperson and tag-line, it even rips off Apple’s music gimmick, with its little synthesized jingle screaming “God DAMN we’re quirky!” Does Microsoft really want to dredge up another look-and-feel complaint?
  • It’s indistinguishable from hundreds of other ads. They have to keep the Windows logo on-screen the whole time, so you can tell they’re not trying to sell you shoes or body spray or an American Express card.
  • It misses the whole point of the campaign it rips off. The people in that ad aren’t PCs, they’re people who (have to) use PCs. In the Apple ads, Hodgman and the Dodgeball guy are really supposed to be a PC and a Mac, not PC and Mac users. That is exactly why those ads are clever.
  • That line from Deepak Chopra where he says, “not a human doing, not a human thinking, a human being.” That fails on two sub-levels:
    • It’s bullshit that is supposed to sound like it’s saying something deep.
    • I don’t think it’s wise to emphasize “not doing or thinking” when you’re talking about a computer operating system. Those are pretty much exactly the things that an OS is supposed to help with. Nobody needs to boot up Windows before they can “be.”
  • It doesn’t say anything about Windows other than “a lot of people use Windows.” A lot of people get root canals, too; that doesn’t mean they enjoy it. When Coca-Cola runs ad campaigns that are just brand-retention “Hey, Coke still exists,” at least they usually mention that it tastes good, or at least that it can be chilled.

And as terrible as that ad campaign is, they’ve done worse. They’re also touting “The Mojave Experiment”, a “blind taste test” type gimmick whose message is “We have to trick people into liking Windows Vista.”

After you’ve installed Microsoft’s crappy doomed-to-failure Flash rip-off (or better yet, just skipped the whole thing and forgotten it ever happened), there’s a suite of crappy videos where you can watch two anti-charismatic Microsoft PR guys try their damnedest to emulate the creepy black-T-shirt-wearing Apple demodroids. The videos are full of little jump-cuts and “oh are we recording now?” gimmicks that make you want to start punching whoever made them and just never stop.

The premise is that they took a few people, showed them a new version of Windows in development, recorded their squeals of delight at how fast and pretty it is, and then oh my God would you look at that pulled the rug out from under them and told them they’d been using Windows Vista all along!

So apparently, Microsoft is aware that Vista is a miserable failure, and it has terrible word of mouth. Good for them. It’d be nicer if they were actually paying attention though, because they would’ve known that no one has complained about the first impression of Vista. It is pretty. All the little window effects are neat. You can believe for the first few minutes that Microsoft made something as slick-looking and enjoyable to use as OS X, and that even better, you can actually play games on it.

But it takes five minutes or less to run into your first “security” confirmation pop-up. And the eight different pop-ups warning you that some users have been the victims of phishing scams by using their keyboards, and are you sure you meant to type that letter? You’d better hope you don’t have to change a setting, because the Control Panel now has more icons than Ramses’s tomb, half of which are named “DreamFlight” or “SilverShade” or “ActionCenter” or some other boneheaded PR-driven non-name that has nothing to do with “I just want to copy a damn file over the network.”

And you definitely better hope you don’t have to turn the damn thing off, because re-booting it will take up 10-15 minutes of your life, especially since it’s constantly downloading updates every 5 minutes and then failing to install them. But at least you can run it in a virtual machine while you’re actually being productive in a different OS except oh no wait, you can’t, unless you blow $300 on the “Ultimate” edition of Vista.

But at least it’s incompatible with a ton of videogames, since playing games is the only reason left to have Windows installed on a machine. I’m a PC, and I log into an account with Administrator privileges and still have to explicitly say “Run as Administrator” and click away two or three confirmation dialogs whenever I want to launch a game!

They copied so much of Vista from Leopard, and got it wrong. Now they’re copying the ads from Apple, and getting those wrong. As a Mac user, I paid to have that smug sense of superiority over Windows. I need that. But I can’t enjoy it if Windows just keeps failing so badly.

(And the really baffling thing is that Xbox Live is so well done. How can these two products be from the same company?)

6 thoughts on “Windows: No doing, no thinking”

  1. You weren’t supposed to like the MS ads, Chuck. The ads weren’t made with you in mind. You’re a mac user. You’ve chosen your side.

    There’s a lot of people who have chosen the side of the PC, too. The ads aren’t aimed at them either. They’re aimed at the kids whose parents purchased a beige brick PC from Costco. Their aimed at all the people who use their work laptops at home and wish they had a “trendy” computer. Aimed at a huge chunk of their users — people who haven’t actually chosen a side yet but are currently using PCs.

    I have a few more random thoughts here, not quite on topic:

    I am pretty much a PC user, (although I’ve been using my Mac more) but I’ve always kinda detested the “OMG you use a PC? not a Mac?” attitude. I think of Windows as that fat kid who always got picked on last in PE, but was actually kinda cool if you spent time with him. He wasn’t popular or hip. But he didn’t rub me the wrong way the way the cool kids in school did. He was the underdog.

    As for the security dialog on Vista: That is nothing compared to the mac. The mac pops up those dialogs for the same types of operations that Vista does, but the Mac requires your password too. I hadn’t used my mac in a new months, and when I fired it up, the Apple Updater downloaded a bunch of updates — I typed my password about 10 times in the span of 20 minutes.

    And I’d also have to say that the Mac is shinier in the first five minutes of use, as well. How do you rename a file? I’m still not quite sure what the voodoo is required to do that. Click and then hold your mouse still for a second? I want to default to edit > rename,(or right click) but it’s not there. And apparently you’re not supposed to use auto-arrange on your desktop if it’s cluttered — it will overlap icons (on 10.3.9, anyway). And for a company that supposedly can do no wrong with GUI, I give you Apple’s shortcut key. It’s an unpronounceable, untypeable symbol. It actually has a name, but isnt on the key, which makes it extremely confusing for mac n00bs to follow tutorials, and makes it difficult to explain to “the rest of us” how to do things (“No grandma, hold down the Celtic knot and press C” or “Wait, there’s a COMMAND key? I’ve been assuming you’ve meant control this whole time”)

    These are all small things that just take some getting used to, I must admit. But small things that take getting used to are all I’ve found in Vista so far. I think Apple’s “Think different” campaign is accurate, because as someone who uses both PCs and Macs, I’d have to say that the Mac is not better, it’s just different.

    *I’ll probably be buying a top of the line Mac in a few months.

  2. Well, as far as where those Windows ads are targeted: they’re targeted at everyone, which is part of the reason they fail. It’s purely brand-retention for anyone who uses Windows by choice or necessity (including me), which acknowledges that everybody uses it but says nothing about why they should be using it. Like I mentioned, when other corporate giants run ads that just say, “Hey, our product still exists and everybody uses it. Keep it up!” they at least mention something positive about the product itself.

    The idea of Windows as the “underdog” is laughable. I’m constantly amazed at how the perception of Apple & Mac as being inherently “smug” has taken hold, since I find it so absurd I’ve stopped acknowledging it as sarcasm when I say it. I forget that there are still people who really believe it. (Check out the link that Steve posted again, including the comments). People still project smugness onto the Mac side of those ads, even though the ads themselves make the “Mac” polite, helpful, encouraging, and pretty much a complete cipher devoid of personality. That’s another reason those ads are so clever.

    (I’m not going to say that that perception doesn’t exist, or that Apple didn’t create it and use it to their benefit. When your market share is in the single digits, you have to establish yourself as a “boutique” product with a rabidly loyal fanbase right down to the stickers included in every box. And sell the idea that you’re paying more but getting more. But the reality of that is becoming less and less true, and spinning that into Windows’ being the “underdog” is ludicrous.)

    The “think different” campaign was equally annoying for its own reasons, even if you’re not as hung up on grammar as I am. Basically, it was Apple’s better, more-polished, but equally vapid equivalent of the current MS campaign: nothing about the product itself, just that it exists, it’s cool, and it’s “different.”

    As for all the usability stuff: I just completely disagree. If you’re comparing OS X around Cheetah or even Tiger to Windows XP, then it’s just “different but equally valid,” and OS wars are silly. But if you’re comparing Leopard to Vista, OS X is just plain objectively better.

    All your system updates are organized into one dialog and you get them in one swipe, unlike the multiple reboots and constant downloading of Vista updates. (And this is with my running Vista once or twice a WEEK, if you’re running OS X for the first time in “a few months,” you can expect a lengthy update process). When you download an app, you’re asked to confirm once that you want to run it and then your approval goes into the Keychain, unlike Vista which demands your confirmation every time you just want to run an app or change a setting. And you have to work hard to get the System Preferences window as bloated as Vista’s control panel, which Microsoft has thoughtfully pre-bloated for you. When you do run the preferences, the options related to Networking are under one item, mysteriously called “Network,” not spread out over a dozen different nearly-identical globe icons.

    Windows users like to complain that OS X “hides” options from the user, without understanding why that is: it’s what makes OS X feel like everything “just works.” Make the basics like networking, web browsing and file management trivially easy, and make the harder stuff available if you know where to look.

    And you rename a file by selecting it and choosing “Get Info” from the menu, or selecting it and clicking in the name box, or selecting it and pressing the ENTER key. The command key is called the “command key,” and the picture that’s on the key is the same as the picture in every single menu item. Everything has a user-visible but time-consuming way to do it, and a faster but less-visible way to do it, and that’s consistent throughout the OS. Sure there’s a learning curve to anyone who’s familiar with Windows, but at least it’s mostly consistent.

  3. >The idea of Windows as the “underdog” is laughable.

    I agree. But somehow Apple and its legion of fans have made me feel this way. The smugness is something that comes from Apple’s users more from than from the company itself. I actually had an art director for a startup recoil in horror — no, I’m not making this up — she actually recoiled in her chair and make a scrunched up face when I told her I used a PC and not a Mac. I get a “WHAT???! You don’t use a MAC???” from (young) people on a regular basis. I have never felt like I was too devoted to an os (other than the Amiga!) but I feel like I have to defend my position these days. It’s why I think of it as the underdog, because I choose to use a product that makes people recoil in horror.

    And yeah, I took a bunch of potshots at the Mac OS in my previous post not to say there wasn’t logical answers to them, or that Windows was flawless. Only that there’s issues with both.

    My final thought: Renaming a file is not very user-visible. The only method that has an affordance is Get Info, which is hidden inside the panel (I needed to expand the Name and Info arrow to see it), which is accessed though File, not Edit. The other methods have been cryptic to me. Thanks for explaining it.

  4. Fair enough, I’ve never worked in an environment that was Mac-dominant (and I don’t have a life outside of work), so I guess I never encountered that.

    And don’t tell anybody I said this, but: renaming a file under OS X does kind of suck. I’m constantly right-clicking and then not seeing “Rename” in the context menu, and then inadvertently double-clicking on the file and opening it. But I was on a roll, and my main point is still valid: it’s fairly consistent with the Mac philosophy of A Single Visible Menu Item->Mouse Shortcut->Keyboard Shortcut. If you’re being pedantic (which the Mac OS often is), the filename is a property of the file, so “rename” and “Properties/Get Info” would be superfluous. And after you expand the Name panel once, it stays expanded from then on.

    Also: if/when you switch to a Mac for good, get a real 2-button mouse, not the crappy Mighty Mouse. The insistence on one-button mice is the only area where Apple’s “simplicity uber alles” insistence has completely failed.

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