For the past months I’ve lived a dual-life, working part-time on a PC, and the remainder on a Mac. While there are things I like about both, (I can feel a flood of protest emails coming as I write this) I’m not convinced that the Mac platform is wholly better than Windows in daily usage.
I’m currently running XP on a desktop we built for about a thousand dollars. It’s blazingly fast, and I rarely have to fight with it or reboot. I also run a MacBook, which is a gorgeous device; it’s light, portable, glossy, and one of the nicest pieces of industrial design I own. I like it, but it hasn’t inspired me to migrate to it completely. The purpose of this post, however, isn’t to pose the question of which is the superior operating system.
Some people like the challenge of crossword puzzles or Sudoku. I personally find brand problems intriguing. (I know… nerdy right?) Well, my “dual-platform existence” leads me contemplate the clumsiness of Microsoft‘s brand. Although they are still dominant, Apple is closing the gap. I feel that Apple’s strong positioning and customer loyalty are incredibly powerful, and for all of Microsoft’s power and influence, they still come off like a dorky adolescent.
So, today I’d like to ruminate on how Microsoft could reposition.
1. Carve a unique line
Companies adopt ideas and improve upon them all the time. This often means better stuff for the end user. Just think of “spaces” on Leopard, which was available for years on Linux. The folks at Apple are smart though. They fit these approaches into their brand identity, and as such, the idea (almost) always looks like it’s theirs.
Microsoft, on the flip side, often seems like a cheap imitator because their design stylings are so derivative of Apple’s. In Microsoft’s own interest this has to end, and why shouldn’t it? Apple’s design sensibility is beautiful, but it’s not the only one out there. Redmond has to make a radical departure and create its own distinct visual style.
2. Position around power
In my mind, Microsoft is vanilla. Regardless of what strategies they may have in place, they do not maintain a compelling or identifiable brand position in the minds of the general public. They may be the “default setting” of computing, but that’s a dangerous spot to occupy.
I’d ask the team at Microsoft to ask some blunt questions about who they really are. I don’t mean the bullshit “mission statement” responses here either; I’m talking brutal honesty. From a peripheral standpoint, my nutshell response to this situation would be something like, “We’re the most powerful computing force on the planet, and we’re acting like a bunch of sissies.”
And what do you do with this sort of an insight? Well, first off, you make “power” the one core Microsoft value, and you then message this to customers: “If you want pretty, glossy, cool stuff, buy a Mac. For those want speed, tools and interoperability, there’s Windows.”
Such a position could easily inform that visual style we spoke of earlier. The new Windows would be deliberately “anti-Mac”. It would be stripped down: void of superfluous glows, bubble-gum shadings, and unnecessary gimmicks. We’re talking about an OS that’s raw—built to squeeze out every drop of power the processor can muster.
The great part about this is that it’s almost true. (Sluggish Vista compromises this promise.) A key factor in my choice to primarily use a PC is that even my inexpensive machine is very fast. Anything similarly configured on a Mac would be more than five-times the cost.
3. Cut the crap
To do this, we have to start editing, and I mean the ugly, “red ink all over the place” editing that Ms. Hughes used to dish out when reviewing my twelfth grade essays. This is a system wide removal of clutter and noise. What the consumer primarily sees, however, is a clean and confident presentation.
This means the implementation of a gutsy nomenclature for products that does away with anything wishy-washy like “Silverlight” or “Vista”. I’d even go so far as to disassociate the firm from its God-awful name that seems to be a strange reference to a small, limp penis.
This confidence would bring with it the end of corny stock imagery, nauseatingly uplifting theme music, meaningless glossy surfaces and swooshes of light in the operation’s advertising and design elements. Microsoft “blue” also gets the kibosh, replaced by black and grey. The message is clear: this company means business.
I imagine a company so emboldened by this position that they even start to release a single version of their operating system, instead of the traditional half-dozen (or so) flavors.
4. No, really… Cut the crap
Steve Ballmer seems like an awfully smart guy, but when he’s doing shit like this (see inset image) he does himself and Microsoft a disservice. As awkward as Bill Gates may have at times appeared, he always gave the impression that he was the smartest person in the room. Steve, on the other hand, presents himself like an Animal House reject with a boat-load of Energizer batteries stuck up his butt, as he bounces around in sweaty bumbling hysterics.
While I appreciate Steve’s enthusiasm, he presents himself in a fashion that isn’t in-line with that of the world’s most powerful software company.
5. Boldly embrace the customer
I’m sick and tired of Apple’s proprietary brand of black turtle-neck wearing smugness; I’m equally disenfranchised by corny and disingenuous campaigns like Microsoft’s “Wow” campaign, courtesy of McCann Worldwide, to promote Vista. It’s time for Microsoft’s marketing to get real and talk about solving problems, instead of turning this into the sentimental equivalent of a high-school valedictorian’s big speech.
Give us fewer things that work better. Focus on core competencies and articulate your offering plainly and honestly. I don’t need my machine to have a personality; I simply want responsive, effective and expedient tools. Just like any company, Microsoft could find its true voice by focusing on the basics, treating their customers like intelligent beings, and speaking with us sincerely.
Of course, none of this is going to happen. Microsoft is still a behemoth, and it’s not as though they are asking for my opinion. That being said, I had more fun with it than I would have found in a crossword puzzle.
Have other suggestions? Why not air them on this list at MakeFive?