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?)