Daniel Eran Dilger
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Why Windows 7 is Microsoft’s next Zune

Windows 7 Zune

Daniel Eran Dilger

Every once and a while I get the opportunity to appear brilliantly prescient by pointing out something that is blatantly obvious but which has been so obscured by valiant marketing efforts that it makes me look like a grand wizard at detecting emperor nakedness just to say it. In this case, it’s that Windows 7 is becoming the next Zune.
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Consider the Zune.

Over the past couple years, while I enjoyed explaining why the Zune was set up for disastrous failure, I was even more entertained by the caustically religious response that it elicited from Windows Enthusiasts. I was accused of predicting things nobody could yet know and was assailed for being “biased,” as if the facts and rationale I presented to outline why I thought the Zune was doomed were all based on wishful thinking and a blind attraction to Apple.

It’s almost like having the 22% of inbred Americans who think Iraq was involved in the attack on the World Trade Center point their quivering finger at me and disdainfully accuse me of being against war, all because I’m biased toward presidential candidates who can speak articulately and intelligently.

The problem with the Zune wasn’t just that it was from Microsoft, but that it was a copycat product trying to be something Apple already had delivered, which of course does means that the problem was related to being from Microsoft, as that’s all the company knows how to do. Despite being congratulated at every opportunity for copying other’s successes in a half-assed and often more expensive way, Microsoft’s business plan isn’t all that cool.

It’s not impressive when Korean car makers clone portions of a BMW, or when the Chinese attempt to copy the iPhone using portions of Windows Mobile, or when WalMart releases a suitable clone of Adidas sportswear it can market for ten dollars to the kind of people who live in sweats and drink most of their calories two liters at a time.

Microsoft’s attempts to copy the iPod was a store-brand strategy, hardly genius. In further laziness, however, the company didn’t just set out to make a copycat iPod but started by building on top of a flawed product that had already failed in the market. The Zune was a Toshiba Gigabeat with slightly different plastics and navigation, where “different” should not be confused with “better.”

Imagine Microsoft trying to enter the SUV market by taking a Pontiac Aztec and adding new pin striping and perhaps flames, and its obvious why the Zune was doomed even before considering how terrible Microsoft is at developing consumer software (Songsmith?), how counterintuitively bad the company is at forging relationships with media companies (the Zune was abandoned by MTV’s PlaysForSure Urge store in the first year), and how terrifically incompetent the company is at conceptualizing and delivering consumer features (I already cited Songsmith, so I’ll just point out the train wreck that Zune “WiFi sharing” was).

pontiac ass-tech

Why Microsoft’s Zune is Still Failing

Why Windows 7 is another Zune.

But wait, you may ask, the Zune was an effort by Microsoft to travel well outside its core competency. Microsoft has never delivered consumer hardware products outside of its Microsoft-branded Logitech mice and keyboards (and if you are counting those as innovative or interesting products, please put down the invisible scissors you’re using to craft those exquisite invisible clothes for the Redmond emperor before you hurt yourself with them), the company has never been cool, and has never really successfully sold anything to anyone outside of OEM hardware makers and brainwashed IT drones.

Windows is an entirely different story, say Windows Enthusiasts. Microsoft has sold those two categories of customers–PC makers and IT drones–so much “Windows” that it can afford to blow out billions in hobbies that never go anywhere, from Windows CE devices and Windows Mobile to Microsoft TV to SPOT watches to the Surface and the Xbox, which isn’t a game console business so much as a multi-billion dollar bribe to prevent video game developers from using open and interoperable APIs.

What Microsoft is really good at is keeping generic PC OEMs and IT drones happy, right? That’s where the company makes its money, and back in 2006 when I was pointing out how badly Windows Vista would tank, the conventional wisdom pundits were laughing at me because there was No Chance the company would fail at selling Windows, because it doesn’t have to sell Windows, it merely forces the industry to pay for it as a tax on all new hardware.

Even if Vista were terrible, they insisted, companies would still roll it out and PC makers would still force it down the throats of consumers, just as they had for the last fifteen years since Windows 3.1 showed up offering them a way to insist that their generic PCs were just as good as a Macintosh. No amount of terrible Windows software, from 98 to ME, had ever prevented Microsoft from milking the tech industry dry and starving out competitors selling products that actually worked. How could things possibly ever change?

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Vista? Que?

In retrospect, Vista was the Zune. Rather than Microsoft doing what it had been doing all along to please the PC makers and IT drones (that is, releasing a rewarmed version of Windows every few years that did little more than keep the tech industry consumed with keeping up with the latest version), Microsoft looked at Apple and tried to copy it. But what makes Apple interesting and successful as a hardware and software integrator is not transferable to a software monopolist.

The straw that broke Vista’s back was Microsoft’s attempt to give Windows XP a graphics compositing engine just like Mac OS X’s, a technology which Apple had initially debuted in 2000. Microsoft delivered its own version six years later, but the problem was that that feature, which worked so well to breathe new life into the Mac and differentiate it as a platform, was an unwelcome albatross around the neck of generic PCs.

Generic PCs are sold to be cheap. When Microsoft ripped off the Macintosh look and feel and introduced the first version of Windows that PC users could actually use (which was in 1991, six years after the introduction of the Mac and nearly ten years after Microsoft gained access to Apple’s technology as a software partner, and not in the early 80s as historical revisionists in Wikipedia attempt to claim in order to shore up some credibility for the company), PC users never claimed that Windows was anything comparable to the Mac environment. Instead, they prided themselves with how cheap they’d acquired their generic PC, and only ever mumbled about Apple’s superior user environment in an embittered shrugging off of somewhat out of reach sour grapes.

When Mac development at Apple ran off the track in the late 80s and early 90s and the creative forces behind the Mac jumped to NeXT and Be, Inc and to other efforts that seemed more promising, Windows gained credibility solely from the fact that nobody was around to show how hopelessly behind and conservative Microsoft was. The one-party tech kingdom ended up a Soviet Union of sorts, where everyone hailed the supreme leaders who were really doing so little to accomplish anything. Compare PCWorld from the 90s with Pravda and you’ll find lots of similarities.

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NeXT strikes back.

When Mac OS X broke loose on the scene, Microsoft realized the danger of allowing a competitor to show up how little the company was doing in exchange for the massive profits it was syphoning off of the tech industry. Linux was already indicating how little Microsoft was adding in the enterprise software arena, but now Apple was proving the same thing to consumers, a market Linux didn’t have the unified leadership required to woo.

Vista was a desperate attempt by Microsoft to turn Windows into Mac OS X. In 2000, Windows was Windows 2000, aka NT 5. Microsoft had spent the 90s trying to deliver an alternative to Unix with the administrative ease of use of the Mac. In large part, it had succeeded with Windows 2000, but that accomplishment was embarrassed by the fact that a small group at NeXT had already delivered a superior product that did the same thing a full decade prior, albeit without losing any compatibility with Unix.

Bill Gates had used his position to hamstring NeXT and refused to develop for it, which had helped to hide the fact that all Microsoft had managed to do in the 80s was copy Apple’s Mac, poorly, and all it had managed to do in the 90s was copy NeXT, badly.

Now, all of a sudden, NeXT was back in the form of Mac OS X. Except this time it had two new features: an open foundation based on open source software (a heretical liberal cancer in the mindset of Microsoft’s hard liners) and an advanced compositing graphics engine that promised to do to desktop graphics what QuickDraw had done for the original GUI in the early 80s, what QuickTime did for video in the early 90s, and what NeXTSTEP did for object oriented development in the same period: embarrass Microsoft.

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Rise of the GPU.

Mac OS X’s Quartz graphics compositor wasn’t just a new feature. Apple was onto a very powerful new concept in computing: the offloading of desktop graphics to the GPU. The company realized that the CPU was no longer the engine that would define the power and usability of a computer. It was being eclipsed by the latent processing power of the GPU. Microsoft and Intel realized this too, to some extent.

In the late 90s, the team of tech monopolists tried frantically to figure out a way to get PC users, primarily running Office, to continue to buy increasingly faster PCs, but ran out of reasons for consumers to keep buying new PCs when their old one ran Word pretty decently already. Their solution was to build 3D visualizations into web pages, so that users would need a faster CPU to look at crap on the web designed entirely to make their CPU hot. This was the extent of their vision.

Microsoft also saw games as a reason for buyers to spend absurd amounts for PC hardware, but Microsoft doesn’t sell hardware, so all it could do was devise software to make games that only worked on Windows, further tying Windows to PCs sales. This wasn’t so much a strategy as a reaction, a ploy to shore up the moat surrounding its monopoly.

While Microsoft and Intel were in monopoly maintenance mode, a myopic condition that almost always results in a face planting stumble before long, Apple was assembling a GPU strategy that took everything painted on the screen and made it an OpenGL surface. The Mac OS X desktop was now a video game; individual windows could be slurped into the Dock with their contents being rendered live during the animation. Vector art could resize with liquid realism.

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Microsoft tries to clone Mac OS X.

Microsoft wanted to stop the comparisons between Apple’s new Aqua-smooth operating system and its boxy Windows 2000, so it renamed the next NT 5.1 service pack Windows XP, in the hopes that consumers would confuse XP and OS X just as quickly as they might equate Mr. Pibb for Dr Pepper.

The problem was that Apple capitalized upon its core technologies to rapidly outpace Windows XP, which despite being a fairly decent operating system fitting the needs of PC makers and IT drones, could not fake the ability to render its graphics using a modern Open GL surface, but was instead tied to the simpler graphics model Apple had originally introduced in the early 80s, which Microsoft duplicated in the flattering imitation of Windows GDI.

In the last few years, Apple rapidly advanced its graphics compositing engine to take increasingly fuller advantage of the untapped power of GPUs. Similar efforts on Windows have been entirely limited to screen savers and video games. However, while this was a source of embarrassment to Microsoft, it did not represent much of a problem for Microsoft’s key customers, who are not consumers and end users, but rather PC makers and IT drones.

When Microsoft released its own graphics compositing engine in Windows Vista (NT 6), it hoped to wow consumers sufficiently enough to jack up the price of Vista significantly. However, the PC buyers of 2007 were largely the same cheapskate demographic of 1991 who prized cheapness over utility. Microsoft’s attempts to make Vista match the graphics savvy of Mac OS X were like WalMart trying to introduce its sweats-wearing customers to organic vegetables.

Pearls before PC users.

Like the proverbial swine who have pearls thrown at them, they reacted with umbrage and ferocity. They’d grown used to every version of Windows being slower, but Vista was much slower without any advantage apart from looking more like Mac OS X. If they wanted a nice looking computer, they’d have bought a Mac.

PC buyers wanted trough-cheap hardware with the least invasive annoyance of Microsoft possible. Instead, they got a more expensive operating system that demanded greater hardware resources, didn’t quite work with their existing software and peripherals, was significantly slower overall, pushed Microsoft into their faces to a greater extent, and attempted to extort Vista upgrade to unlock Ultimate features Apple was offering for free in Mac OS X.

When somebody asks for an iPod and you hand them a Zune, which has no cost advantage, no compatibility with either the iPod nor PlaysForSure, is slow and looks silly, they fail to see any reason to buy it. Connecting the dots between the Zune experience and Vista should not be necessary at this point.

Windows 7’s audience problem.

However, what some pundits are still missing is that Microsoft’s promise that Windows 7 is some flawless hyper-jump advancement over Vista is a typical Microsoft assurance, with all the utility of toilet paper. Apart from cleaning up an unpleasant mess, there’s not much else it’s suitable for. Recall that Microsoft has also promised that each version of Windows was its best operating system ever, even as each got slower as it dragged along the legacy required to please its customers, which again is not consumers but PC makers and IT drones.

Windows 7 does offer some real fixes for Vista, which it damn well should a full three years after that high-priced catastrophe was launched. The problem is that Microsoft’s customers, those same PC makers and IT drones, do not want another generation of Vista and its Mac OS X-envy imitation. They want a thin layer of supportable software that runs legacy Windows software. That’s not at all what Windows 7 is aiming to do.

PC makers are desperately trying to weather the storm of a brutally competitive market that is shrinking globally for the first time ever. They don’t want a fancy bunch of glitz that shows the power of GPUs, they want Windows XP as cheaply as possible so they can apply it to netbooks and sell something, anything, before they go out of business.

IT drones don’t want a layer of GPU sophistication, they want Windows XP as cheaply as possible so they can roll out centralized services in the pattern of mainframes and dumb terminals, the game they were playing when Microsoft waltzed in and sold them on PCs running DOS and then Windows as an alternative to the terminals they’d been using.

Netbooks killing off sickly Windows PC sales

Bad news: Windows 7 no faster than Vista.

The fact that Microsoft has borrowed its operating system strategy from Apple is also the reason why Windows 7 is no faster than Vista. Anecdotal excitement from Windows Enthusiasts aside, recent testing (by no less than PC World) has shown that Windows 7 does nothing to noticeably speed up PCs over the baseline performance of Vista. That’s a huge problem for PC makers and IT drones who have pushed back against Vista adoption in large measure because it was too slow.

It’s also a rude awakening to the dreamy illusion that Windows 7 would somehow enable Microsoft to sell a Vista-based operating system for netbooks that was wildly faster than Vista and therefore could bring the company greater revenues on netbooks compared to the Windows XP it had been dumping on netbook makers for next to nothing, just to prevent them from using Linux instead.

Never mind the reality that even if Windows 7 were spry and capable on netbooks, Microsoft wouldn’t be able to bleed significant software revenues from the ultra cheap hardware that is now commonly selling for $300 or less. The big problem is that Microsoft can’t speed up Windows 7 appreciably because it is Vista, and the reason Vista is so slow is not just because Microsoft didn’t have the time to worry about optimizing code in its 6 years of gestation, but centrally due to the fact the Microsoft was copying Apple to deliver a product that is not like the one Apple wanted to deliver.

Speed Test: Windows 7 May Not Be Much Faster Than Vista

Microsoft is no Apple.

Microsoft does not have Apple’s audience of sophisticated consumers, and it’s ridiculous that the company keeps trying to pretend that it does. Microsoft serves an installed base of cheapskates through a blackmailed array of PC hardware companies who are forbidden from selling alternative software by exclusive licensing contracts. It also services, at very high cost to companies, a large number of corporate cube-holders who have no voice in the technology decisions forced upon them by corporate IT drones.

Both markets are impossibly out of reach to Apple. That’s why Apple does not copy Microsoft’s development or marketing strategies; they simply wouldn’t work at Apple. But the converse is also true; Microsoft can’t be successful at its own business by copying Apple, because the two companies serve very different markets.

The Zune clone of the iPod was a good example of this and the results of trying. It’s like stealing answers from your classmate during a test, even though you know he’s taking an entirely different exam. Don’t plan on acing your test no matter how smart he is!

Microsoft’s consumer failure is only going to get worse.

The biggest problem for Microsoft, outside of the fact that it is getting ready to release another tepid Zune to follow up the original lead balloon Zune (and if you didn’t catch that metaphor, I’m talking about following up Vista with Windows 7), is that the PC cheapskates and IT drones are not as valuable as Microsoft seems to think they are. All the buzzword dropping around netbooks aside, the real value in PC hardware and consumer electronics is in delivering devices that work, which users will pay extra to obtain.

That’s a market Apple has locked up. Despite the efforts by Dell and HP and Acer to tiptoe past Microsoft’s Iron Curtain and investigate free market ventures using Linux, none are even close to delivering a well-integrated product similar to the Mac. All they can do is cater to cheapskates with unprofitable, low-end hardware that is so problematic and virus-vulnerable that those consumers will be forced to return and buy a new PC within a year and a half.

Having staked out a business that serves PC makers first, IT drones second, and consumers dead last, Microsoft is left only to advertise that its software arrives on cheap hardware that isn’t burdened with being cool or sexy like Apple’s. As a marketing strategy, that’s so blatantly moronic that it’s hard to imagine a Fortune 500 company could decide to do that.

This company delivered also Vista and the Zune, and all I’m pointing out is that the company is getting ready to do the exact same thing this year. Now will all those people who insisted that Microsoft would never stop making increasing amounts of automatic money regardless of how badly it performs please post an apology? Thanks!

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  • focusonandy

    I have been waiting to hear your thoughts on Windows 7, and you didnt disappoint. Very interesting read. A well constructed and easy to understand arguement. I have a first hand view of the drones you refer with my university computer network. They have refused to leave Windows XP SP2 for Vista, and I really doubt we will upgrade to Windows 7 either.

  • hurtle

    I’ve been a fan of your articles for a long time, but this time I had to register to express how I feel about this one. Thank you Daniel for continuing to tell it like it is. As someone who remembers the start of the computer era, I get annoyed with the revisionist version of events which paints microsoft as somehow equal to Apple.

    Buying DOS for $50,000 and licensing it to IBM is the only “innovation” that microsoft has ever achieved and the basis of the gravy train that they’re still riding. I’d be fine with that if they at least acknowledged the debt they owe to Apple, it’s the mean spiritedness of it that rankles.

    Apart from windows and office, everything else that they do fails, often spectacularly, why are their shareholders so forbearing of such relentless product failure?

    Anyway, thanks again Daniel for a superb, well researched article, keep up the good work.

  • fatbarstard

    Good article Dan. Who is the guy at the top of the article? One of the 22% you mention??

    My view is that anyone with XP doesn’t care about Windows 7, while Vista users are desperate for anything to improve what they have. By the sounds of it Windows 7 won’t deliver anything.

    I run XP on my MacBook Pro using Parallels because I need to access Windows software for work. Its rubbish compared to OS X but I won’t be changing it. I’ll hold out on XP for as long as I can!

  • deardeveloper

    “…I’m biased toward presidential candidates who can speak articulately and intelligently.” – Daniel Eran Dilger

    Either you meant Ron Paul or maybe the Teleprompter, because unless you’ve been under a rock, it’s pretty well known that our current president is about as inarticulate on his own as our last one was. Not being a hater, just stating the facts.

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  • gus2000

    I agree with the article in principle, but the fact remains that Microsoft still holds a monopoly. New PCs will still ship with the latest Windows NT/XP/POS/etc. regardless of how awful it is. Microsoft will linger for many years after it is no longer capable of delivering a working (ish) product because Apple refuses to challenge them in the IT space, or in the el-cheapo space, or allow OSX licensing. That leaves a very wide field for Windows to dominate unabated. Even if they imploded Enron-style tomorrow, users would continue to cling to their XP for years.

    Linux is there, but it’s still not good enough for casual users and is not ready for widespread acceptance. My feeling is that Apple is creeping up on IT, and will eventually have a Server+Workstation+PIM vertically-integrated model. I hope they pull it off soon, since I’m tired of XP at work and shudder at the thought of “upgrading”.

    P.S. Pontiac Aztec? Oh, snap!

  • http://scottworldblog.blogspot.com scotty321

    Dan, this may be your best article ever. I loved it so much that I wrote about it on my blog here:
    http://scottworldblog.blogspot.com/2009/05/why-i-hate-microsoft.html

  • hurtle

    @deardeveloper

    “it’s pretty well known that our current president is about as inarticulate on his own as our last one was.”

    This is a joke right? You should use smileys so there’s no confusion

  • stormj

    Daniel,

    I’ve been reading you for years and I appreciate you for your long memory. Your ability to put these things in context is what makes your writing so good, and, I believe so accurate.

    I don’t think I’ve ever disagreed with you before, at least this much. I tried on a few occasions to move to Vista on PC hardware and on VMs. I always reverted to XP. I’ve been using Windows 7 for the last few builds, and, as much as I hate to admit it, I don’t just like it better than XP, I just… like it.

    Yes, it’s a mac clone. Yes, it’s what Vista should have been. Yes, it’s still not as good as Mac OS X. But, at least on my subjective experience it’s faster on my hardware even than XP. And, there are a couple of useful UI improvements that I wouldn’t doubt that Mac OS will copy one day. Being able to make two side by side windows so easily, for one. I’ve set a pretty low bar there, but, erm, it’s just not that bad.

    XP just won’t be viable forever. It’s happened before—most people skilled Windows ME.

    Here’s the real problem. I see Apple rotating into a leadership spot in the industry. It has been apparent for a while that that’s been going on. Microsoft has really taken it’s lumps. It can’t act like it’s the boss anymore, and Apple can’t act like it’s the scrappy upstart anymore. To do that is to buy in to the kind of ZDNet spin you always hate.

    Apple runs the risk of its own complacency on the desktop. I’ve run Snow Leopard betas, and I think it opens up a bunch of exciting frontiers in terms of harnessing hardware capability, but Mac OS X is over 10 years old at this point, and the refreshes aren’t making quantum leaps anymore.

    Windows 7 isn’t going to be a paradigm shifter like Windows 95, and it probably won’t be as ultimately successful as XP was, but it doesn’t suck, not like a Zune.

  • peter.s

    The biggest problem for microsoft is their lack of a competitive mobile operating system. The netbook class will devide into two developing lines – one will go with Windows XP and will end up as cheap and limited notebook replacements with a bad user experience and the second will start over based on smartphone operating systems. Only the radical change could found a new platform with optimised software for a new category of devices.
    And microsoft pushed the wrong system, because you will never be happy with a desktop system on a small device and Windows mobile 7 will come far too late.
    But Microsoft have another problem, because their main focus in optimising Windows 7 were Netbooks instead of MultiCore/ Multithreading and compared to Snow Leopard they will get a big performance problem for true desktop applications.
    So their market left is the legacy, but the best way here is to stay with Windows XP.

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  • enzos

    Dan, you bastard! My guts are hurting.. from laughter!
    A joy to read, and a sign that the art of invective is alive and kicking.
    Cheers

  • macmo

    @ stormj

    “Apple runs the risk of its own complacency on the desktop. I’ve run Snow Leopard betas, and I think it opens up a bunch of exciting frontiers in terms of harnessing hardware capability, but Mac OS X is over 10 years old at this point, and the refreshes aren’t making quantum leaps anymore.”

    But keep in mind the reports that the current SL developer builds appear to be stripping major UI changes, so we may just be surprised by such a “quantum leap”.

    http://www.appleinsider.com/articles/09/03/25/apple_close_to_unveiling_guarded_snow_leopard_ui_overhaul.html

  • http://www.adviespraktijk.info Berend Schotanus

    The issue that fascinates me is:
    There is a huge amount of useful things you can do on a computer without an advanced graphical interface. I mean: just the usual array of office applications like wordprocessing, e-mail, spreadsheet, database… You would be able to do it on a 1984 Mac, on a Windows ’95 machine or even on a computer running XP. In 1984 these applications were innovative and only used by the happy few. In 1995 they were becoming mainstream. Today the rest of the world is trying to get access too.
    Given the usefulness of these applications and the relative simplicity – it is all proven technology – users searching for this kind of functionality are perfectly right that they are aiming for the lowest price.
    Even when this is a conservative market, a low-margin market, an uncool market, the size of this market is enormous. And because of the size, the cultural impact is enormous, a lot of applications run on a certain platform just because it follows the majority.
    So what are the prospects of this market when it is apparently neglected by Microsoft, in its ill-fated attempts to copy Apple?

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  • TenThousandThings

    I think it’s hilarious they decided to name it Windows “7” just when 10.7 is on the horizon — I guess the idea is 1=Win3.x; 2=Win95; 3=Win98; 4=Win2000; 5=WinXP; 6=WinVista. As DED points out, Microsoft is trying to recreate in 7 what they did when they created XP — get everyone to pay for an update instead of an upgrade. The problem is that while NT 5.0 (Windows 2000) was good and provided a solid foundation for NT 5.1 (Windows XP), NT 6.0 (Windows Vista) is not good and does not provide a solid foundation for NT 6.1 (Windows 7). It is true that pretty much every Vista user who can afford it will upgrade to 7 immediately. So initial sales will be strong and no doubt much-ballyhooed. But fixing the NT 6.x code is not going to address the fundamental problem here: “Having staked out a business that serves PC makers first, IT drones second, and consumers dead last, Microsoft is left only to advertise that its software arrives on cheap hardware that isn’t burdened with being cool or sexy like Apple’s.”

    Let’s posit that there are some smart people at Microsoft. They’re laboring under the leadership of a man who thinks and acts like a used-car salesman, but they can still slip some good ideas past him by misleading him about their sophistication. The current “Laptop Hunters” campaign does exactly that — Ballmer thinks it is about the value of cheap hardware in a severe recession, but in fact it is all about forcing PC makers to offer more for less, the recession and its severity be damned. Microsoft needs that to happen because Windows NT 6.x needs the extra juice. It needs DDR3 RAM, it needs a discrete and powerful GPU. Otherwise, Microsoft is facing another Vista-type debacle.

    The end result is going to be that there is going to be a leap in PC computing power. The people behind the ads saw it coming. This is good for Apple, because PCs will need to be comparable with Macs in order to run Windows 7 well. Microsoft’s current ads are misleading in terms of price comparisons and hide engineering problems like those Prince underlines in his articles about them. But it won’t be too long before the comparisons are fairer. The problem for Microsoft is that’s not going to be tomorrow, and the Great Recession isn’t helping. Apple has plenty of time to respond in kind to the sort of across-the-board hardware upgrades Microsoft is forcing down the throats of its core customers, the PC makers.

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  • http://www.muir.tumblr.com John Muir

    @ TenThousandThings

    The cheapo PC makers are competing amongst themselves, entirely on price. If they have the super lame Intel integrated graphics, they have a price advantage and to them it’s a simple win. Screw the user. If they’re dumb enough to buy a bottom end system with a hog of an OS, it’s their loss. These companies do not need to care. So long as it’s the cheapest option and “has the internet” (that little blue “e”) then it’s a computer, and that’s what the cheapskates want for their <<$300.

    Why Vista was a failure has been covered well by Daniel, but I’ll just recap a crucial point: it didn’t look like XP – or “a computer” as most users considered that specific style – and it ran like trash. Users loathed both. Yet with XP being pulled ever further out of the market, that was their only choice besides the unthinkable options of ponying up for a real computer (whether a higher end PC or a Mac) or learning how to live with Linux.

    The idea that Vista’s and 7’s fundamental inadequacy on the worst of cheapo hardware is going to force the industry ahead into better specs is, alas, fanciful. The Netbook craze is evidence that people don’t care nearly as much about performance and usability as they do the one thing everyone fundamentally understands: price.

    Many people’s addiction to the cheapest computers the market can assemble, is going to continue to hurt them for years to come. But compare with smokers and fatty food junkies and alcoholism: people aren’t naturally logical things. If there’s a hook, many will cut themselves up real bad on it.

  • http://www.muir.tumblr.com John Muir

    @ Berend Schotanus

    Way back on the original Mac, word processing and spreadsheets and the like were indeed pretty revolutionary stuff as they were suddenly intuitive and easy. Those who needed them could have them. The same eventually arrived on the PC many years later, after the Amiga and many other platforms failed thanks to the whole IBM/DOS thing.

    The trouble is: although there are many, many people all over the world whose current and likely future computing needs are meagre, those needs are all online now. It may have a wealth of geeky charm, but taking a 1980’s Mac around to a non-technical person’s house and encouraging them to use it as their first computer in this day and age is an exercise in frustration. Computing has become connected. The Internet is what it’s all about for so very many. And the internet is quite demanding compared to WriteNow and Claris Works!

    My pet theory is that the internet is now far more significant than the platforms which access it. This is why the iPhone has such potential: the internet in your pocket, wirelessly, and in time globally. Poor nations will be able to skip the costly home broadband and desktop phase entirely as their populations advance in the years ahead. It’s going to be mobiles which do this for most people. The iPhone is the technological leader, and Android and all the rest are eventually open to that potential.

    Everyone who can read can use the web for practical matters and entertainment. But it takes a certain sort of user to be able to make an older system, largely confined to its own hard drive or disks, into something with potential they can use. It’s so the internet which is leading us now. Apple’s been onto that for years.

  • TenThousandThings

    @John Muir

    If you are right that my thinking is “fanciful” (nicely put, by the way), then Daniel is right that Windows 7 will be the next Zune.

    I wasn’t thinking about anything that costs under $500. I was thinking of the ca. $700 price point and above, into Apple’s low-end territory. My sense is that’s where the pressure is being applied by Microsoft on the PC makers in these ads.

  • Tardis

    Excellent article, Daniel, as always, but this time maybe even more so?

    As you say yourself at the start, you make it all seem so easy, when the internet is full of butterfly commentators flitting this way and that and never getting at the truth. Could it be that your particular insight is the result of having built up a firm foundation of knowledge and understanding and then building on it step by step? Isn’t that why it all seems so easy? You have spent the time, made the strategic decisions and established a set of documentation/products/objects that you know work and that you can quickly roll out and modify to meet whatever objective comes along? Isn’t that why all the flutterers hate you? Any new question and they have to flut around, parroting press releases and repeating old wives’ tales, when you can build on the firm foundation you have already established?

    If so, is there a parallel here? Apple (via NeXT) has built a series of solid foundations, based on strategic decisions, that have lead from personal computer to graphic interface to networks, internet and media. That hard work has made their recent success seem so easy that others, such as Microsoft, are jealous. Those foundations, for example, made the iPhone App Store possible, even though at the time, say, when Apple bought SoundJam, however much of a visionary Steve Jobs was, there was no iPhone, let alone iPhone Apps. In emulating the results, rather than the foundations, of Apple’s strategy, Microsoft has had to jettison several efforts that took a lot of skilled people a long time to produce.

    But what I really want to know is, since I have Windows Vista running on my MacBook, how much will I have to pay to get Windows Seven? However bad it is, I already know it will be worth it.

  • http://www.muir.tumblr.com John Muir

    @ TenThousandThings

    The respectable midrange is certainly where Microsoft wants attention to go. That’s because Netbooks are a big problem for them, as Daniel has written about at length. Netbook sales displace PCs, not premium Macs, yet Netbooks contribute so little in Windows licences. Microsoft would much rather have the average selling price of Windows machines rise back up again. Such a thing, though, would take winding back time.

  • Tardis

    So how well will Windows Seven address the “compatibility issues” that bugged Vista? I was surprised to find that Vista couldn’t connect to our network when many XP machines (and the Mac, and Ubuntu) had no problems, and I had to use 3rd-party software to connect.

    Getting the network printer to work with Vista also took a lot of effort.

    Is there any reason to think Windows Seven will make this easier?

  • Tardis

    Windows Vista isn’t so bad really ………..

    Apart from the compatibility problems that I have either solved or given up on, there are really only two things that really, really annoy me when using Vista and make me want to go back to Windows XP, if I need to use Windows:

    1. Every authorisation dialogue comes twice. I know I could probably disable this by turning off User Access or Genuine Advantage, but I don’t know which.

    2. The screen goes black when you select something. Don’t know what, don’t know why and more importantly I don’t know whether the PC has crashed or not.

    3. There was a third thing but it’s probably not so important.

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  • kerryb

    “trough-cheap hardware” this bit is pure poetry.
    Excellent article once again. I don’t think M$ apologist still believe that their company produces the best OS or anything else really. I think they consider themselves as being part of the biggest, baddest company in the world much like sports fans somehow think they have won something when their team wins a championship.

  • http://twitter.com/NateTehGreat nat

    Great. Article. Daniel!

    I hadn’t even seen or heard about that PCWorld speed test. I love how Macworld reposts all the negative PCWorld and InfoWorld articles regarding Macs on their site while somehow leaving out such a damning test by PC World, an IDG affiliate.

    I see two excuses from Windows Enthusiasts from this point on: 1) Well, Windows Vista was never that slow to begin with, or 2) it will be faster by launch this Fall (and definitely by SP1, just you wait!).

    The most entertaining thing will be new users’ faces when they discover the Dock Taskbar, hahah. And what a time to release it: with overall PC sales retracting 7%, netbooks seeing a spike in popularity (systems on which Windows Vista is slow and where Win7 will only be able to handle three applications at a time), and Apple releasing Snow Leopard, potentially on highly subsidized MacBooks with MultiTouch trackpad displays.

    This isn’t even factoring in the next iPhone, which could eat into potential netbook buyers.

  • http://twitter.com/NateTehGreat nat

    Whoops, and by eat into potential netbook, I meant entice potential netbook buyers…or maybe eat into netbook sales. :D

  • http://bkpfd.org qka

    Not to be too pedantic, but it was the Pontiac Aztek.

    After, some folks get upset by Iphone, iphone, i-phone, etc.

  • http://crankyoldnutcase.blogspot.com/ The Mad Hatter

    Vista=Seven=Zune.

    Yep, makes sense to me. Microsoft can’t deliver junk for much longer, the company is in bad shape already, it’s quite possible that Seven could kill it.

    Unless they get rid of Ballmer, and hire someone who actually has a clue…

  • http://crankyoldnutcase.blogspot.com/ The Mad Hatter

    Nat,

    Thanks for the warning, I didn’t realize that IPhones were that dangerous:
    This isn’t even factoring in the next iPhone, which could eat into potential netbook buyers.
    However I disagree with you a bit. I don’t see the IPhone doing that much damage, at least not while company’s like Rogers Communications are Apple’s partners. If you are Canadian, you’d have to be insane to buy and IPhone. Yes, Rogers is that bad, and until Apple realizes the damage Rogers is doing to it’s image and dumps them, the Touch and the possible Touch Tablet will be the main sellers. here.

  • http://www.muir.tumblr.com John Muir

    It was slightly before my time, but Mac OS X 10.1 came along as the “now it’s fixed!” update from 10.0 some years ago. OS X was a huge undertaking, and Apple were taking risks left right and centre as OS 9 was beyond repair. Anyway, 10.1 was all about being the same as 10.0 but sped up and just “better”.

    Anyone get the feeling that Windows 7 is 10.1 to Vista’s 10.0? Only Apple knew 10.0 needed fixing as soon as its release, and set about doing it; Microsoft meanwhile…

    Don’t worry folks. Stick with OS 9 on your new low end and just plain old systems. Oh, XP rather!

  • Steve White

    A nice article that helps me understand what is motivating Microsoft.

    But one complaint: stop trashing Walmart.

    I’m a physician, and I shop at Walmart from time to time. Walmart is what Microsoft could only hope to be: a responsive large company that has found its niche, understands its fundamentals, delivers product that lots of customers will buy, and actually treats people (employees and customers both) pretty well. If Microsoft had that level of understanding in its corporate DNA it would never have produced Vista in the first place. There are plenty of companies in the U.S. that would do well to copy Walmart.

    Now a comment: netbooks.

    Doubtless people have seen the reports and websites in which an intrepid user buys a Dell mini-9 or similar netbook, removes the old OS, grafts Mac OS X onto it, and presto: a Mac netbook. And it works, and the intrepid user raves about how nice it is to have a small, very lightweight computer that runs an OS that doesn’t suck.

    Now whether Apple would produce a netbook (unlikely), or a scaled version of the iPhone with a larger screen (something that is a cross between the current iPhone and the Kindle DX, let’s call it the iPhone-DX for lack of a better name) I don’t know, but it does illustrate that, having gotten the fundamentals right, Apple is in the position to do what Microsoft can’t do very well at all: if Apple chooses, it can invade the low-end space to bring value to the customer and profits to itself.

    So far it hasn’t done that. Steve Jobs knows that margins and profits are his first priority. That’s how he’s always run whatever company he’s run. He doesn’t see the margins there in a netbook, but profits might be there in an iPhone-DX. Whichever route he takes, it’s interesting how Mac OS X and its related technologies can scale to that and Vista/W7 can’t.

  • LMC

    Excellent as usual Daniel.
    If I were in charge in Redmond I would propose splitting up Windows.
    Business XP & Home Win 7. Refine the crap out of XP. Secure it and trim out every single piece of bloat-ware fat, until it’s a lean mean operating machine that businesses could tailor exactly to their needs.
    It won’t be fun or shiny or slick, but rather utilitarian and most importantly able to call upon years and years of legacy apps.

    Enter Win Home 7 – a brand new OS built upon Unix (you know just like apple did) or some other stable core OS. Legacy apps be damned. Nothing left to pull it down WH7 could be free to soar and be the new future of computing. Net books, cell phones and laptops all enabled by a killer application developers kit. Eventually WH7 will become so good and stable it will become a viable alternative to Business XP because CEO’s will be bringing their much more user friendly home laptops to work and telling the IT guys, ” Just make it work for me.”
    Thats how you can copy Mac OSX. But with a 9 year lead MS has a long row to hoe.

  • chrisxcr

    Daniel,

    I know this is drifting off topic a bit but something you said has me confused.

    Did you really mean to imply that just 22% of inbred Americans believe that Iraq was involved in the attack on the World Trade Center or did you mean the inbred 22% of Americans have that belief? I’m not sure about how to go about checking your statistics but if it’s the former that seems like a lower number than I have experienced. If it’s the latter that sounds more plausible given the recent Washington Post poll that 21% of Americans now identify themselves as Republicans.

    Maybe deardeveloper can supply us with more accurate statistics based on the numbers of fellow tea baggers at the recent Republican Tea Parties.

  • Phildikian

    Great article Dan (as always a fresh piece of reality for a Saturday morning). I think your analysis and analogies are spot on.

    @Steve White:
    I’m sure a lot of credentialed people shop Walmart, but it doesn’t change who they are as a company: They exploit legal and illegal workers, skirt around paying employee’s benefits by making a lot of them work part-time and they copy higher-end products (having them manufactured overseas) and sell them at bargain prices. Contrary to your belief, they are a company that a lot of American companies are copying – unfortunately. We don’t need anymore Walmarts. We need companies who will treat and pay their employees reasonably (so they don’t need to be on welfare while they’re working).

    Now back to Dan:
    With Microsoft in such a pitiful state I think you would have to add Businessweek to your list of Cold-War-Era Microsoft propaganda shills. I read an article recently of the top 50 performing companies in America and am horrified to see Microsoft hailed as #8. They have some brief mention about how despite facing tough competitors – they have a history of rising to the occasion and being innovative…. do they read the crap they write? It is sad to see but reflective of a much bigger problem with the media – they are in an “auto-pilot” mode where they just make crap up with zero thought attached.

    It’s nice to read your analysis for a change. Thanks for the hard work Dan.

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  • http://crankyoldnutcase.blogspot.com/ The Mad Hatter

    PhilDikian:

    With Microsoft in such a pitiful state I think you would have to add Businessweek to your list of Cold-War-Era Microsoft propaganda shills. I read an article recently of the top 50 performing companies in America and am horrified to see Microsoft hailed as #8. They have some brief mention about how despite facing tough competitors – they have a history of rising to the occasion and being innovative…. do they read the crap they write? It is sad to see but reflective of a much bigger problem with the media – they are in an “auto-pilot” mode where they just make crap up with zero thought attached.

    Do you have a link for this? I’d like to read it.

  • http://crankyoldnutcase.blogspot.com/ The Mad Hatter

    PhilDikian:

    With Microsoft in such a pitiful state I think you would have to add Businessweek to your list of Cold-War-Era Microsoft propaganda shills. I read an article recently of the top 50 performing companies in America and am horrified to see Microsoft hailed as #8. They have some brief mention about how despite facing tough competitors – they have a history of rising to the occasion and being innovative…. do they read the crap they write? It is sad to see but reflective of a much bigger problem with the media – they are in an “auto-pilot” mode where they just make crap up with zero thought attached.

    Do you have a link for this? I’d like to read it.

  • http://twitter.com/NateTehGreat nat

    @The Mad Hatter,

    While I empathize with Canadians, that’s a pretty isolated problem. Most of the carriers selling iPhones around the world appear to be good enough for most people, even here in the US where AT&T’s 3G coverage isn’t as widespread as Verizon’s. While perhaps the iPhone won’t seriously cut into netbook sales, subsidized MacBooks could and a number of signs are pointing in that direction, from that Mac 3G WWAN job posting, to Snow Leopard purportedly having built-in support for 3G WWAN antennas. Apple could still sell them unsubsidized for those who don’t want a lower upfront cost with monthly fees.

  • stormj

    @macman

    I’m not sure that even if true the rumored “Chrome” interface on Snow Leopard is the kind of quantum leap I’m talking about. I’m not even sure what such a thing would be.

    Maybe a fully integrated multitouch and a cheap usb multitouch pad so that it will work on old hardware, or even on Windows.

    Anyway, that was more of a point for 2015, not today.

    As for Windows 7, it’s far from a quantum leap. There are one or two things I like about it. Most of the things that make it the very-just “ok” that it is are ripped from Mac. But I’m willing to run it, and I’m willing to ditch XP for my few remaining Windows apps that I have to have.

    I’m just disagreeing that it’s a Zune. I think it will be popular.

    However, I don’t think it goes far enough to put Windows on a course into the future. It’s guts are old and outdated (the registry must die) and it isn’t keeping pace with modern development in hardware enough. Does Windows 7 even support EFI? if it does, can it use it? Where is the advanced file system?

    Windows 7 isn’t the Zune, but the future of Windows is Zunish.

  • Michael

    to make matters worse, microsoft decided it would drop xp compatibility for those apps needing it altogether unless you bought some expensive hardware AND probably have to pay for some ultimate edition to get that feature…

    http://arstechnica.com/microsoft/news/2009/05/r2e-microsoft-intel-goof-up-windows-7s-xp-mode.ars

    sounds like old microsoft again… and here I thought windows 7 was actually going to be good, based on the raves. Now I know better :) And hearing how horrible the Windows development cycle is makes me shudder… the very fact that microsoft uses UI elements inconsistently means that there is no official UI standard… everyone is expected to produce apps for Windows, but they don’t look very nice and aren’t very intuitive BECAUSE developers don’t have the proper tools to create a great interface (when have you seen an ugly mac application?) Btw, Ars Technica is super useful for learning about these sort of things ;)

    http://arstechnica.com/apple/news/2008/04/what-microsoft-could-learn-from-apple.ars
    http://arstechnica.com/apple/news/2008/05/microsoft-learn-from-apple-II.ars
    http://arstechnica.com/apple/news/2008/06/microsoft-learn-from-apple-III.ars

    and then there’s… UAC, the deserved poster boy for the majority of criticism hurled at Vista, after the performance issue…

    http://arstechnica.com/microsoft/news/2009/03/opinion-ms-should-kill-win7-uac.ars

    @stormj
    Windows 7 doesn’t support EFI, and as a result few manufacturers (besides Apple) are willing to invest the necessary resources to make it work with the BIOS that Windows expects. Even Linux hasn’t adopted EFI, since they too largely depend on PC vendors’ support.

  • http://twitter.com/NateTehGreat nat

    @stormj,

    The way Snow Leopard promises to efficiently handle media playback with QuickTime X (a la the iPhone), to harness Macs’ latent GPUs with OpenCL, to take advantage of multiple CPU cores with Grand Central, to support 32bit and 64bit apps in a 64bit environment that goes to the core (rather than splintering development between a 32bit and 64bit version), all seem pretty quantum leapish to me and that’s just on the software side.

    On the hardware side, Apple could replace those glass, MultiTouch trackpads with glass, MultiTouch displays as Daniel predicted last year, enabling practical, direct touch manipulation of things pulled down into the trackpad-display in addition to the gestures already built into Leopard (and any coming in SL). They haven’t even made use of PA Semi yet!

    We have no idea what they’re planning for the UI, but it is unlikely to follow Windows Vista/7’s example of putting a glitzy veneer on poorly designed software.

  • TenThousandThings

    @John Muir (28)

    10.1 was free upgrade from 10.0, and it was really just the finished version of 10.0. In many ways, 10.0 was a a paid beta — I’m pretty sure it never shipped as the primary OS on any Mac — full Unicode and international language support, for example, wasn’t even complete in 10.0.

    A better analogy to Vista-7 might be the 10.0/1 to 10.2 upgrade. That’s not to negate Daniel’s basic observation in this article though, that “… Microsoft was copying Apple to deliver a product that is not like the one Apple wanted to deliver.”

    The XP = OS 9 analogy is not bad, since both descended from a long line of earlier systems, if Apple had spent 6 years tweaking and adding stuff to OS 9.

  • Michael

    hey i just thought of a new mac/pc ad by apple, the UAC security guy shows up again, except that the PC guy has a microsoft app able to fool around without UAC prompting, as well as MALWARE able to fool around without UAC prompting. now that’s windows 7 behavior ;)

  • GwMac

    I would be interested in a follow up article where you point out actual specifics of what you do not like about Windows 7. I will agree with you that 7 is basically nothing more than Vista rehashed in a lot of ways. I don’t really see the comparison with Zune though since it has never sold very well and has a minor market share whereas Windows 7 will probably surpass OS X in the number of licenses sold within a very short time. Windows 7 does not really have to be better or even as good as OS X, it only has to be “good enough” for Joe Schmoe. By all indications it appears that it will achieve that through a combination of false advertising, paid media shills, and mostly just by the fact that it will come pre-loaded on practically every PC.

    This will not be a repeat of Windows 95 with people waiting in lines at midnight, but there is enough pent up frustration with Vista and people looking to upgrade their old computers with XP that it will very likely be a success.

    Benchmarks aside, I installed the RC1 on my Mac Pro and Netbook and it feels much snappier than Vista whether it actually is or not. I also like the look and feel of it and think they have done a pretty good job, at least for Microsoft. There is probably enough there to keep the Windows fanbois happy. One thing I really wish OS X would allow is more flexibility with settings for the GUI and theme like Vista. In this regard Apple is far to restrictive and draconian for my taste. Would it really be that hard to add more choices besides graphite and aqua in the appearance pane for example?

    All things being equal I don’t think Windows 7 or Snow Leopard will change the market share very much at all. The only way the numbers will change is if Apple does something very radical like drastically reducing their prices, introducing a very cheap netbook, or licensing OS X to other PC makers. None of which is likely to happen and for good reason. One idea that might work well though is if Apple at least licensed a copy of OS X to run through Virtualbox, VMware, or another virtualization program. There are a hell of a lot of people that are just too scared to spend several thousand dollars for a new computer on an unknown OS but might be willing to at least take a test drive for a virtual Mac. Even better if it included a free 30 day trial. Once people actually get to play around with OS X they would be far more willing to buy a real Mac when the time comes. Just a thought.

  • http://twitter.com/NateTehGreat nat

    Once people actually get to play around with OS X they would be far more willing to buy a real Mac when the time comes. Just a thought.

    They can already do that at Apple Retail Stores and authorized Apple retailers like Best Buy or local Mac retailers. Most people interested in switching to Mac OS X are disgruntled Windows users, i.e., casual computer users who wouldn’t know the first thing about virtual environments (and sorry, but aren’t the programs you listed only available for the Mac?).

    Windows 6.0 (Vista) was the Zune in retrospect according to Daniel, so why would Windows 6.1 (Win7) not be an operating system analog to the Zune? It’s not that Vista/7 is horrendous, it’s that it’s mediocre, especially considering the resources at Microsoft’s disposal.

    The main difference between the Zune and Windows is that the former isn’t automatically sold with every new PC like the latter is.