The Mojave Experiment

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Someone sent me a link to the Mojave Experiment: http://www.mojaveexperiment.com/

This is amusing, and good marketing on their part.

Unfortunately, if you’re smart enough to realize it – there’s a huge hole in this campaign – they are showing Vista on a Vista compliant and ready computer.

Vista looks and acts great as an OS, if you have the right hardware and system resources to support it.

Sadly, most people don’t. And the cost of upgrading their hardware to a point that will support the bare system requirements are, for most Windows users, a gigantic brick wall that they can’t see themselves getting past. I’m not saying that the individual user is right in that thinking (I know they’re not and are being stupid), but it is how they think and that is what Microsoft needs to combat – that perception of cost and value, not how cool their OS is or isn’t, or what’s being said about it. If they can change that perception of value not cost, the rest of it will fall in line.

So, while this is clever advertising and marketing I don’t think it’s going to result in what they want it to – which is people upgrading their computers and operating systems to Vista compliance. This stems from a fundamental mindset put forth by Microsoft in the first place that is kicking them in the ass now – backwards compatibility and the freedom to choose every piece of hardware that goes into your machine from a myriad of sources who all offer a dozen different version of the same basic component, all of which require drivers, support, etc and so on. It’s a mega-beast of an industry and slower than a juggernaut when it comes to shifting course or changing the way ‘it’s always been done’. Also, it’s resulted in Windows -having- to be a bloated resource hog to support all that crap.

Microsoft got to the top using this philosophy and making tons of deals with tons of manufacturers – they built an industry and kudos to them for it, but there has been a steady shift away from that sort of thinking for the last decade and they made a strategic decision internally, whether driven by Bill or by their board or whoever, to take a ‘wait and see’ attitude to it. In the interim, they made no innovations, no strides forward as they had in the past – the very things which defined them as a leader and got them to the top in the first place.

In the past thirty odd years, have they ripped off other peoples ideas and concepts? Of course they have – Vista itself is a direct response to OS9 and X from Mac and the new Leopard OS – all of which have had the ‘bells and whistles’ of Vista for five years now or more. Has that ‘theft of concept’ helped Microsoft? Yes. And they’ve gotten away with it each time or they’ve simply bought the company complaining about them and the matter was settled that way – whatever, more power to them.

But their strangle hold on the market place has been slipping and no one can deny that. They crushed Netscape with Internet Explorer – winning the browser wars through attrition, now they’ve lost nearly 20% of the browser market to Firefox (http://marketshare.hitslink.com/report.aspx?qprid=0&qptimeframe=Q&qpsp=37) depending on where you look – some estimates have Firefox at 30% saturation or more. What happened?

Apple has jumped again into the personal computer market – something once dominated by windows based pcs. Last March, the NPD Group reported that Apple’s retail market share — its cut of the computers sold in brick-and-mortar stores — had climbed to 14%, a figure that’s roughly double its overall share of the U.S. market and reflects the power of the Apple Store to draw customers and move product. But what didn’t get hyped was Apple’s ability to sell computers over $1000, something PC’s only accomplish with High End Gaming platforms and the occasional graphics professional – In January 2006, Apple sat at 18% of this ‘high end market’, but by September 2007, they’d skyrocketed to 57% and in the first quarter of 2008 they were at 66%!

Why? What’s different? Why can Apple convince ‘normal’ people to spend $1000-$2500 on a computer when Microsoft and PC vendors can’t?

It goes back to that model I talked about above – the perceptions Microsoft has fostered, the ones that used to serve them well but are now outdated. Apple’s OS work so well because they intentionally limit the hardware that goes into each machine – you don’t have a dozen choices, or two dozen or three dozen – you have 2. Maybe 3. Graphics card: you have the one that will work, a better one for gaming and a high end card for gaming and graphics design. That’s it!

And users pay for it. Not only do they pay for it, when a new product comes out or a new OS is launched, they sell their old stuff or donate them to schools – whatever they can do, and they go out and buy the new thing. It’s a different mindset and a different culture and, unfortunately for Microsoft – it’s growing. Imagine if you ditched your computer each time a new version of Windows came out! Can you? Could anyone? Ditch that computer and get a new one. That concept is so foreign to the typical Windows user that I can’t imagine them accepting such a concept any time soon. Hell, Corporations still have ancient computers in the field with their sales people – you’re going to tell them that each and everyone of those computers needs to be upgraded to Vista? They’ll stroke out – the economy will collapse so fast no one will see it til it’s too late.

Apple has been very slowly changing people’s perceptions on what they can and can’t afford. It’s a slow marketing technique that’s been on a the back burner for so long now that most people don’t realize that it’s even there. They donate computers to schools, have done so since its inception. People are going off to college and are being exposed to Apple computers for their college careers and when they graduate, they purchase Apple stuff because it’s what they’ve become used to – when you become used to something, you don’t want to change to something else. Sound familiar? It’s what Microsoft did initially with Windows and Internet Explorer – it was there, so people used them and became used to it.

Now, Apple’s version of that same plan is seeping in. It’s a slow, simmering marketing technique that’s only now really starting to pay off for them.

On top of that, Apple products are becoming perceived as elite items – it’s cooler to have a Mac, it shows intellect and style – it doesn’t -really- but that’s the perception that’s been fostered over time and that’s taken root in the consciousness of a certain breed of consumer – one that’s growing in numbers each and every day – look at the lines and the mayhem associated with the launch of the iPhone 3G. Most people want the free phone when they sign up for a new cell plan, some folks upgrade to the Smart Phone, especially the person who works and needs their email and contacts in the palm of their hand – but the iPhone is answering that call too and so, more and more people are lining up for it. Trend or carefully orchestrated marketing to change peoples perceptions?

Microsoft’s bread and butter (arguably) has always been the corporate IT environment. When Microsoft announces a new OS, the IT depts of the corporate world get excited but they are also pensive; they’ve been burned before, and burned badly. They had a lot of issues with XP that weren’t solved with SP1 or acknowledged for a long time, which frustrated them to no end. So they took a ‘wait and see’ stance with Vista. That hurt MS more than anything else that could possible happen. If the IT guy doesn’t like it, he makes that known and the users who usually don’t know any better and go with whatever the IT dept tells them, immediately gets wary of the new OS and starts bad mouthing it to friends and family. Suddenly, there’s a ton of information out there, some tru and most not, about how much the new OS sucks ass.

I know a company where the IT dept purchased tons of XP licenses so they could continue to wipe any new PC’s purchased with Vista and put XP on them. That kind of thinking is what Microsoft really has to challenge and address – and so far, they aren’t doing it.

Talk to an ‘average computer user’ who has actually seen a Mac, played with one, worked with one and they will tell you (most of the time) that they really enjoyed it. Ask if they’ll buy one and you will usually get an answer like, “Oh – I’d love to buy a Mac, I just can’t afford it right now.” And that’s the truth – most people can’t afford to plunk down $1500 for a decent Mac, not when they can goto Sam’s Club or Costco and pick up a knock off PC for $499. It’s pure economics. But that $499 computer won’t run Vista -well- and Microsoft hasn’t come up with the marketing message that convinces that person to make the upgrade.

I think that Microsoft has to fall hard before they realize exactly what it’s going to take to shift things again. If they don’t, other companies and products are going to continue to erode at what was once a Microsoft dominated marketplace. The best thing that they could possibly do would be to start over and go back to their roots. Build a PC of their own, with choice parts that they meticulously pick and choose, and then develop and release a Single operating system for that PC along with all their other crap like Office – no more of this ‘ten different versions of the same thing’ bullshit that just confuses the marketplace (“Wait, I want Access – which version is that in? Oh – I don’t want Publisher – is there one without Publisher? What the hell is ‘Business Contact Manager’? I don’t want that crap!”). They build that PC with the new OS that doesn’t support any other crap hardware – they once again copy someone else’s concept, and then they ditch everything that’s come before.

In short, they start new and fresh. No backwards compatibility, no hundreds of sound cards, graphic cards, etc and so on – they draw a line in the computer sand and say “this is Windows moving forward, and in two years, you will sell this computer on Ebay and buy the new one we’re already developing to improve on this concept.”

That, would put them back on the top.