The ads, which began appearing on television Monday night, poke fun at some of the problems with the Windows operating system and play up Apple's user-friendly reputation. The commercials also come at a crucial time for the Mac.
"We're at a very convenient crossroads for them to say 'Check out the Mac for the first time...again,'" said Richard Shim, an analyst for research firm IDC. "They have a new operating system coming soon, and they're going through a very public transition to the Intel platform. And the biggest player on the block (Windows Vista) is going to be delayed."
Microsoft said in March that the widespread distribution of Windows Vista, which promises to offer such features as improved security, video and photo editing,until early 2007. Research firm Gartner is skeptical, announcing Tuesday that it doesn't expect Vista to be ready .
The past two years have seen Apple spend many of its ad dollars promoting the iPod, the company's hot-selling digital music player. But Apple seems to be picking up where it left off with the Mac.
The ads "are little different in tone from what Apple has taken in the past," said Michael Gartenberg, research director with Jupiter Research. "They're humorous but don't come across as particularly arrogant or elitist. They seem to be doing what they are supposed to: generate buzz about Macs."
Three of the TV ads began appearing Monday night and have run during shows such as "24" and "The Tonight Show," as well as some National Basketball Association play-off games. Three more commercials are due to appear over the next few weeks, according to Apple spokeswoman Natalie Kerris.
All the ads feature a very buttoned-down-looking businessman, who's supposed to represent a PC, debating with a young hipster who represents a Mac. Each spot ridicules an alleged weakness in the Windows operating system, including security and the need for frequent restarting.
In one spot, a sneezing PC cautions the Mac not to get too close. "Last year there were more than 114,000 known viruses for PCs," he says. The Mac sheepishly responds: "PCs....but not Macs."
Apple also has experienced security glitches. Two worms and a serious vulnerability were.
"While no operating system can be completely immune from security threats," Kerris said, "a computer running Windows has so far proven less safe than a computer running Mac OS X."
Representatives from Microsoft did not respond to interview requests.