After a miserable start Microsoft gave up on a silly advertising campaign (and supposedly also a very expensive campaign) to have Bill Gates and Jerry Seinfeld explain to me why Windows was wonderful. Their next attempt was the “I’m a PC” campaign that was somehow supposed to convince me that it was cool to use Windows. Their latest attempt now tries to convince me that purchase price, rather than coolness, is the primary factor I should use when deciding on a new laptop. Uh, what?
I appreciate value as much as anyone else, but seriously Microsoft is once again missing the boat. I’m sure the Apple execs are laughing (again) at this new attempt. I certainly am. In addition to laughing I’m also quite puzzled why Microsoft seems to be funding the advertising for Best Buy and HP. Whatever.
People like their iPods and iPhones because they feel nice to use. Ok maybe people get them because they look cool. Maybe coolness is why people buy, but that isn’t why people recommend to their friends. When you ask people who have a MacBook whether they’d recommend one, they aren’t going to tell you about price or about coolness. They tell you about the joy of using it and getting things done. They tell you about the joy of having a computer that “just works” for them.
Usability has always been a key thing for Apple and it really shows. I believe this is because Apple creates a cult-like passion amongst developers and users about it. I believe that Microsoft is interested in usability, but somehow they can’t seem to make it work. You can watch Steve Ballmer run around shouting “Developers! Developers! Developers!” but is he really trying to create the passion and commitment to design? Probably not. There is even a famous email from Bill Gates where he bitterly describes his frustration with Microsoft products.
Its almost like nobody there actually gets it, but that certainly isn’t true. There are “islands” at Microsoft where usability really shows (Visual Studio is my best example off the top of my head – it is exactly the right tool for me to write solid software) but the overall consistency is lacking across Windows as well as every other application. I gotta say I’ve never believed you can have real usability without end-to-end consistency, and Microsoft’s product portfolio seems to be a perfect example of that.
I’ve been lucky enough to have been introduced to real usability concepts, and when you understand the science behind that word you can appreciate why Apple seems drenched in it but Microsoft isn’t even in the same neighborhood.