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Microsoft has more to fear than a $1,000 Mac

Microsoft and Apple have more to worry about than price competition: the browser threatens to dismantle their desktop market share.

Microsoft has a new advertising campaign and, as Gordon Haff of the CNET Blog Network argues, this one has the potential to nail Apple to the wall.

Even as Microsoft tells the open-source world to stop competing with it on price and instead focus on value, Microsoft is blitzing Apple with a new advertisement suggesting that your next laptop purchase should be all about cost.

Microsoft needs something. As recent data from Net Applications suggests, Apple is eating into Microsoft's market share in the operating-system market, even as Firefox chews into Microsoft in the browser market.

Browser Market Share Data, February 2009 Net Applications

The more market share Firefox takes from Internet Explorer, the worse things will be for Microsoft, and not merely in browsers. The browser is the key to operating-system independence: the more applications that one uses in the cloud, exposed through a browser, the less need for Windows, paving the way for Apple and Linux.

Apple's design aesthetic prevents it from putting its weight behind Firefox, but this is short-sighted. Apple needs Firefox to succeed, and it is unlikely to be able to drive as big a wedge in Microsoft's market share with Safari, which, while growing, lacks Firefox's potential.

Of course, what's bad for Microsoft is also bad for Apple. Someone needs to counter Microsoft's clever new ad with a shock to both Microsoft's and Apple's system: why pay $1,000 for a laptop at all when, for the price of a free Firefox download and super low-cost hardware running Linux ($100 or less), you can get all of the power of the desktop and the Web? Hardware and the operating system become afterthoughts, at that point.

But that's not really a marketing message about which either Apple or Microsoft want you to think.

Follow me on Twitter at mjasay.