Microsoft tries to reclaim Windows' image

After years of letting Apple's attack ads go unanswered, software maker sets out on difficult, costly journey of trying to take back control of what Windows stands for.

Ina Fried Former Staff writer, CNET News
During her years at CNET News, Ina Fried changed beats several times, changed genders once, and covered both of the Pirates of Silicon Valley.
Ina Fried
3 min read

It's been about 18 hours since Microsoft started running its Bill Gates/Jerry Seinfeld ad and the negative comments continue to pour in.

But Microsoft's Brad Brooks looks at it this way: Even if people aren't talking kindly about the new Windows ad, at least people are talking about Windows.

"It's got a lot of people talking and that's exactly what we wanted," said Brooks, Microsoft's vice president of consumer marketing for Windows. For too long, he said, Microsoft has been silent. And as a result, the only dialogue has come from competitors, namely Apple.

Brooks acknowledges it will take more than just ads to improve Windows' image. The key, he said, are the substantive changes the company is making, such as trying to improve the experience for buying Windows PCs as well as getting machines up and running. Here, Microsoft appears to be taking a page or two from Apple's playbook.

Microsoft has set up this "retail experience center" at its Redmond HQ as a means to learn more about how people shop for Windows PCs. Microsoft

Microsoft is setting up store-within-a-store locations at major retailers like Circuit City and Best Buy, a concept that Apple employed at both Best Buy and CompUSA. Microsoft is also hiring between 100 and 200 "Windows Gurus"--Microsoft employees that will be positioned at retail stores to help customers learn more about the operating system. Like Apple's Geniuses, Windows Gurus won't be paid commissions. Instead, Brooks said, they will be compensated in large part based on customer satisfaction.

The software maker also has a new engineering team that Brooks said is working "hand in glove" with computer makers to reduce the time it takes Windows PCs to boot, wake from sleep and to initially get up and running out of the box. Systems that have gone through Microsoft's new process will start showing up this fall from all the major computer makers and get highlighted on Microsoft's Web site. Microsoft considered having some sort of logo to highlight the machines that got the extra attention, but opted against such a move, Brooks said. The company has also revamped its Windows.com site.

Microsoft's efforts come at a critical time for the software maker. It has seen its still-dominant market share slip amid strong gains by Apple. At the same time, the ever increasing power of Web applications has increased the threat from Linux-based machines, seen most poignantly with the appeal of cheap, low-end portable computers like Asus' Eee PC.

On the advertising front, Brooks said Microsoft's pitches will start to get more concrete in about a month, centering on the notion that "Windows stands for living on your own terms."

Although the ads are unlikely to mention Apple by name, they will target some of the Mac's limitations and highlight the breadth and choice that Windows allows.

"You decide what color of PC you are going to have," Brooks said. "You decide what services you are going to use. That was the vision that we had behind our entire model over two decades ago."

As for the rationale behind the teaser ad, Brooks said it would have been a mistake, after being silent for so long, for Microsoft to have just come out swinging with a bunch of shop talk.

"We don't get to come in after being silent in the marketplace for so long and just start saying, hey, here's what Windows is, and here's what it stands for, and here's the specific products we want you to try."

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