It has consumed enough money to make a Wall Street banker blush, but Steve Ballmer reckons that Microsoft’s biggest sin with Vista is this: it hasn’t spent enough telling us about it.
Nobody knows how much Vista cost, but some reckon it could be $500 million on marketing alone, plus several times that in development to get itself in a form that could look serious in a DVD jewel case. Anyway, Ballmer has his views on why the meeting of Vista and its paying public has not turned into a love affair. "We're going to have to invest more than we ever have in consumer excitement," he was quoted as saying at a conference last week.
Here’s an experiment. Take several embarrassing and hard-to-market products at random, prime them with huge advertising budgets, and see if their increased popularity out-performs that of the promised Vista campaign. My bet is that haemorrhoid cream and Acme stool softening will win hands down.
What Ballmer meant to say is that Vista has not puts its case well and needs to have its selling proposition better explained. But that implies that the way to a user’s heart is through marketing, not through a product’s innate quality. If that’s true, what he’s really saying, without saying it, is that the users are a bunch of impressionable schmucks who will, doubtless, hand over everything they hold dear in return for some coloured beads as long as the pitch is slick.
Schmuck is one of those Yiddish terms. It rhymes with all sorts of words that say even less charitable things about the users. I should point out that Steve Ballmer didn’t actually use that word though I can imagine he’s been from one end of the dictionary and back in his search for useful ways to describe Microsoft doubters. On second thoughts, Ballmer is more of a functional Anglo-Saxon kind of guy.
Linus Torvalds said something apposite to say about all this some days ago. "An OS should never have been something that people really care about... it should be completely invisible.”
Linux is an OS, of course, and it’s pretty invisible to the average non-tech. It’s also become the biggest OS story of the last decade on the back of a marketing budget that might last Vista until mid-afternoon on day one. It’s in phones, it’s in set-top boxes, it’s on the new generation of cheap, simple computers that people are starting to buy from supermarkets all over the developed world – and beyond. It’s even in big, serous computers too. In an indirect way, it might even make some people as rich as Microsoft’s shareholders have become.
Most of its users don’t love it any more than they will ever love Vista, but that’s because they don’t care about operating systems, and probably have never heard of it. That’s for Steve Ballmer, Apple users, and outright lunatics.