Microsoft fights back, but does it have enough ammo?

Microsoft is fighting back and this time, it wants you to know that it's in for a fight. But can all this good Vista PR really solve its problems?

Don Reisinger
Former CNET contributor Don Reisinger is a technology columnist who has covered everything from HDTVs to computers to Flowbee Haircut Systems. Besides his work with CNET, Don's work has been featured in a variety of other publications including PC World and a host of Ziff-Davis publications.
Don Reisinger
3 min read
Microsoft fights back. Microsoft

For quite a while now, we've heard Microsoft claim that when it unleashes its barrage of advertising, Apple and the rest of the software industry will be put on notice.

"You thought the sleeping giant was still sleeping?" Microsoft's VP of Windows Vista consumer marketing said recently. "Well, we've woken up, and it's time to take our message forward."

And it looks like the company has done just that. In what will surely prove to be just the first salvo in an ongoing marketing struggle with Apple that could bulge to an astounding $300 million investment, Microsoft has unleashed an ad campaign saying we all need to learn the facts about Vista.

"When Windows Vista debuted in January 2007, we declared it the best operating system we had ever made. 'Windows Vista is beautiful,' The New York Times raved. It's humbling that millions of you agree," Microsoft's site says after clicking the ad.

"But we know a few of you were disappointed by your early encounter. Printers didn't work. Games felt sluggish. You told us--loudly at times--that the latest Windows wasn't always living up to your high expectations for a Microsoft product...Our goal is always to make each new version of Windows better than the last. With Windows Vista, we're convinced we succeeded."

With 180 million licenses in the wild already, it's hard to argue with Microsoft's logic. But the main question that Microsoft needs to answer remains: Why should I buy Vista if XP works so well?

There's no doubt in my mind that Microsoft truly wants to see its operating system succeed. But as much as the company wants us to, I simply don't think we can forget about XP.

As bad as it was before SP2, XP is now a fine operating system that satisfies the needs of both individuals and companies alike. And with the ability to run SP3, which adds the valuable security features already included in Vista, the latter becomes a hard sell at the register.

The way I see it, Vista simply doesn't provide enough benefits to justify its ownership. It also doesn't provide enough benefits to force companies like Intel to switch its 80,000 employees from XP to Vista. And although it may be a better operating system in Microsoft's opinion, advertising won't solve its major dilemma: too many people like XP.

How does Microsoft solve the XP problem? Ostensibly, the first part of its plan was to eliminate its availability altogether, but I don't think Microsoft knows where to go from there. What can it possibly do with XP's installed base? No matter what Microsoft says about Vista, it doesn't address one problem: what makes Vista so unique, so wonderful, so new, so special, that we all want to run out, do away with a perfectly fine computer and operating system, and buy a new one running Vista?

So Vista has better driver support, games work better, it's extremely secure, and it's oh-so beautiful. Who cares? XP has full driver support, games work great, it's just as secure now that SP3 is installed, and although it's not as pretty as Vista, some people think XP is actually better looking in the first place.

I'm afraid Microsoft may be spending its money in the wrong way. I understand its desire to improve Vista's perception, and it makes total sense. But if it can't coax XP users to come to Vista, I don't see the point. As Vista's success shows, Microsoft is fully capable of selling Vista to users who are ready and willing to upgrade, but it still hasn't been able to provide compelling reasons for users and companies who rely on XP to switch to Vista.

And unfortunately, I don't think it can.

I applaud Microsoft for finally fighting back and confronting Apple's marketing ploy that has put Vista in the wrong light. But if it can't find reasons to make people and (most importantly) companies switch to Vista from XP, it's facing the same problem it was before. Only this time, the company is spending more to get the same response.

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