Microsoft's New PC-Mac Face-Off: Less Snark, More Facts

For years, Microsoft’s marketing efforts for Windows ignored the fact that Macs existed. That changed last year. In the wake of rising sales for Apple’s computers, Microsoft went on the offensive. But the case it made for Windows PCs and against the Mac was touchy and evasive. It ran PC ads that knocked Macs as overpriced but couldn’t find anything nice to say about Windows. It got pointlessly insulting about Mac users. And it commissioned a white paper on the “Apple tax” that was rife with fuzzy math and bizarre errors.

All that stuff happened in the late, not-at-all-lamented Windows Vista era. Back then, you could understand why Microsoft would be crabby about the whole subject of Windows vs. Mac–especially since Apple was repeatedly sucker-punching Vista in the face, via the meanest ads ever in its long-running “Get a Mac” campaign.

Today, however, is a new day. Vista has been replaced by the vastly superior Windows 7. Apple seems to have ditched the “Get a Mac” campaign in favor of a much lower-key, lower-profile Mac/PC comparison section on its site. And now Microsoft has responded in kind with a “Deciding Between a PC and a Mac” section on the Windows 7 site.

As with much of Microsoft’s consumer marketing for Windows, this new comparison is aimed at teeming masses of folks who don’t know a whole lot about computers, not geeks and enthusiasts. It clearly strives to come off as calm and reasoned, not snarky and emotional. There’s as much boosting of Windows as there is knocking of the Mac, and the whole thing is free of name-calling.

Let’s look at Microsoft’s claims, section by section. I understand that Microsoft isn’t going to make a balanced comparison of pros and cons here; you won’t hear about the hassle of dealing with Windows security, or the fact that few PCs come standard with creativity software to rival the iLife suite that’s bundled with every Mac. But checking out Microsoft’s case for Windows in the age of Windows 7 is a worthwhile exercise. And it’s reasonable to expect that even marketing copy should contain no gross mischaracterizations or factual errors, right?

The section: “Having Fun”

The bottom line:

  • These are all factual, reasonable points in Windows PCs’ favor. Clear evidence that this comparison is aimed at non-techies: Microsoft goes out of its way to avoid technical terms such as “HDMI.” And it chooses its words precisely–the reference to “Most Macs” lacking a TV hookup acknowledges that one Mac (the Mini) has one.

The section: “Simplicity”

The bottom line:

  • I dunno–the gist here is “Windows works more like Windows than OS X does,” which seems more like a tautology than an argument for using Microsoft’s OS. If it’s a compelling argument, shouldn’t everyone stick with whatever products they’ve got right now–including Windows XP users and people who don’t use Microsoft products at all? Wouldn’t nobody ever give up anything they already have for something better?
  • Anyone who’s used both Windows and a Mac knows that the similarities are more striking than the differences; the mouse may not behave exactly the same, but the learning curve isn’t exactly terrifying
  • The new snap feature in Windows 7 is, indeed, something that OS X doesn’t have. (Side note: After a few months with Windows 7, I’m less enamored with it than I was at first, though–I sometimes snap windows to the side of the screen by accident.) Of course, OS X also offers multiple conveniences that Windows doesn’t–at least in such well-designed form–including Exposé, Stacks, Spaces, built-in PDF creation, and better file previewing.
  • Yes, there are Windows PCs with touchscreens and fingerprint scanners.

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