The Great Double Standard

Disclosure: I am a Microsoft employee; however, the content of this blog does not necessarily reflect the views or policies of Microsoft Corporation.

Joe Wilcox recently discussed how Microsoft’s past mistakes have haunted itself by causing negative perception in the media and marketplace to a degree more severe than deserved. I liked the article a lot, but I think I took it in a slightly different way than he intended. I first reacted with a, “Word! This sucks! We don’t deserve that.” But then, I remembered that we really did this to ourselves and that, more importantly, we are responsible for digging ourselves out of this. It’s going to be extremely difficult, but I hope we can change that perception in the coming years.

I’ve peppered comments through selected portions of the article. Check out the link below for the full text.

Two closely timed events—today’s release of Mac OS X Leopard and yesterday’s big Microsoft earnings report—raise questions yet again about how Microsoft and Apple are perceived.Apple it seems can do no wrong, while Microsoft can do no right. If someone passes gas in the room, someone blames Microsoft. Yet Apple can “brick” iPhones for which customers paid $400 to $600 and sales just soar.

Microsoft reports solid earnings quarter after quarter—and yesterday beat earnings estimates by more than $1 billion. Yet Microsoft’s stock price is stuck at 2001 levels. Apple earnings results are good, but nowhere near what Microsoft delivers. Yet Apple’s stock just climbs and climbs—this morning to more than $185 a share, up from about 77 bucks 52 weeks earlier.

. . .

Apple’s success is one of perception, spurred on by some very smart marketing and branding decisions made over the past six years. Apple is a cool brand that people want to be associated with. When people really like something, they also tend to be more forgiving of faults.

[ben61a] I think the above statement goes a bit far; Apple makes some amazing products, which I believe is more a factor in their success than perception alone.[/ben61a]

By contrast, Microsoft has huge perceptions problems, many of its own making. For years, Microsoft rushed OK products to market, leading to a popular (and usually right) perception that the company wouldn’t get it right until the third release. Marketing 101: The products are the company, and its image. I hear people complain about buggy, crashy Windows, years after Microsoft released the very stable and reliable XP and, later, its Service Pack 2 update; the days of perennial crashes are long gone, but not forgotten.

Microsoft’s past behavior has created some perception that its products aren’t good enough, that the company doesn’t care for customers. Windows Vista is a poster product for Microsoft’s perception problems: It’s got an undeserved bad reputation.

[ben61a] Someone out there is saying that Vista deserves the bad reputation. But why?

I love Vista and have had no major problems with it, even on my 5-year-old home desktop that only had 1 GB RAM. Things run just as fast as in XP, I had no driver problems, the sidebar is awesome (with the right gadgets), it’s pretty, the sleep mode is awesome – it lets me turn off the computer in a few seconds and it boots right back up in less than 5 seconds, and more. There are a lot of great things in Vista.

Sure, there are also a few bad things like the annoying security dialogs that pop up (which I turned off) and its cost. The most common complaint I hear is that it consumes more resources than XP. Big deal. It’s a next-generation OS that was actually design to use that extra memory very efficiently. Why shouldn’t Microsoft design for the ever-increasing, ever-cheaper amount of memory that comes in computers nowadays?

Given its strengths and improvements over XP, I don’t think these things validate the “suck” label.[/ben61a]

. . .

This week, a number of tech journalists gave glowing reviews of Leopard. They received the software on Mac Book Pro laptops provided by Apple. Nowhere have I seen anyone gripe about conflicts of interest. But when Microsoft’s PR agency sent bloggers preloaded Vista notebooks ahead of the operating system’s launch, there were ridiculous accusations of attempted bribery. The accusations made it difficult for those receiving the Vista units to say anything positive about the operating system.

[ben61a] Hahahahahaha TOTALLY. I saw like 5 articles about how Microsoft was bribing people with awesome laptops with Vista installed. IMO, this is the best example of the media and bloggers’ double-standard.[/ben61a]

. . .

Apple is perceived to be a progressive company. But it has a spotty record for green computing—even though one of its board members just won a Nobel prize for environmental work. Its record of giving is OK, but not exceptional. Apple has few programs (actually none that I know of) for helping people in emerging markets. Oh, but it’s cool, though, and has style.

By contrast, Microsoft’s focus for years has been the conversion to digital documents, which is hugely environmentally friendly. The company’s chairman is trustee for a charitable organization with billions of dollars to give away. Microsoft’s Unlimited Potential program seeks to use technology to empower people in emerging markets.

[ben61a] Beyond this, Microsoft also matches employee charitable giving dollar-for-dollar up to $12,000 per year. Last year alone, Microsoft and its employees gave $39.2 million in cash through our Employee Giving Campaign. That’s a big deal! I’m guessing that if one year, Apple or Google employees gave that much through a company-sponsored program, it’d be all over the media. Microsoft has been doing it for YEARS. Since 1983, Microsoft + employees have given $2.5 billion in cash, services, and software to non-profits around the world. Isn’t that weird for an “evil empire?”[/ben61a]

There’s perception, and there’s reality.

No question, Microsoft makes lots of boneheaded decisions, for which it is rightly vilified. But the company also deserves more praise than it gets. Meanwhile, strong brand perceptions—and their feel good association—lets Apple off even when it screws up.

Today will be no exception. The blogosphere will praise Leopard as the next best thing ever and use it as more proof why Vista sucks (It doesn’t). Meanwhile, there will be little good said about Microsoft’s colossal 2008 fiscal first quarter results. Those people acknowledging the earnings results will blame Microsoft for trying to kill Linux and babies in Africa as reasons for its success. The perception: When Microsoft competes, it cheats.

There is a double standard.

5 thoughts on “The Great Double Standard

  1. Pingback: My Ghillie » The Great Double Standard

  2. Kelly

    Your “Only 1GB of Ram” statement made me chuckle. Vista gave my computer fits with my 5 yr old machine… I previously had win 2k with 512M ram. I installed Vista on a whim and basically can’t play SC on it…

  3. Kelly

    Yeah ram is cheap… but even so, my machine was ridiculously unstable after the installation. Slow is one thing, but I had a ton of boot errors. It was pretty frustrating. The box now sits unused at home and I’m tempted to reinstall fedora on it.

  4. prgmmer

    Vista’s main problem was driver support for weird outdated hardware. But I mean, that’s to be expected. Other companies can’t be expected to deliver drivers instantly. Although it’s there responsibility Microsoft always gets the blame.

    Still. I checked out ubuntu last week and after installing Gutsy and using it I can say this. Ubuntu is a good example of a usable operating system. Install was easy. Portioning and install was pretty (compared to ugly blue). It mounted my other disks and with ntfs3-g I can read and write to NTFS disks safely. Updates are fast and numerous (like windows) but the effects in compiz are amazing.

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