17 October 2002

Microsoft to Users: How Stupid ARE You?

Some of you have probably been waiting for me to rip MS a new one for the latest in a seemingly-neverending series of serious marketing/ethical blunders that make Chuck Shepard's "News of the Weird" look boring. I love the part in the c|net story where they admit that the testimonial is fake and that they paid for it, but insist they did "the right thing" by removing it. "We lie, we bribe, we slander ... but we did the right thing when, after getting caught, we tried to cover up what we did!"

But honestly, I'm too tired. I mean, really: I want to talk to you Windows users out there. How many times does it have to be pointed out to you that a) Microsoft engages in blatant lying in their ad efforts and b) they appear to believe that you, their users, are thieves and idiots, before you finally get it through your thick skull that maybe this is a "Trustworthy Computing" company that doesn't really deserve your patronage?

If I wasn't an eternal optimist that truly believed that most people are basically good and intelligent, I would begin to believe that Microsoft users really are as stupid as, well, Microsoft seems to think they are. Their continued dominance in the marketplace, despite the existence of several superior alternatives, provides evidence that my hopeful view that people will eventually add 2+2 and come to their senses is hopelessly naive.

In case you haven't heard, here's a very short summary of the latest brouhaha:

About 48 hours ago (from the time of this posting), Microsoft posted a rebuttal to Apple's effective and popular "Switch" ads. Said rebuttal told the tale of a "freelance writer" who "demanded the best" and so switched from Mac to PC because a) her new machine was $450 cheaper than Apple's $1799 iBook, b) She loves Microsoft Office better than AppleWorks and c) She likes Internet Explorer better than Netscape Navigator.

You can read some better (and worldwide) rakings over the coals than I'm capable of here and here and here and here and here. I've saved the best two for last: this one here, with the last word going, as always, to the brilliant Jack Miller at As The Apple Turns.

Thanks to amateur investigative journalists on the web (the only truly investigative journalists left, incidentally), it was quickly discovered that:

  1. The photo accompanying the "testimonial" is a stock photo.

  2. The stock photo comes from Getty Images, a competitor to Microsoft's own Corbis Images. They couldn't even be bothered to use their own service!

  3. The "freelance writer" is actually an employee at a PR firm hired by Microsoft to write stories like these. She has written other such fake "testimonials." However, MS insists that she really did switch.

  4. The writer was paid directly by Microsoft to write this story. Apple does not pay their "Switchers" (apart from flying them out for an expense-paid trip to shoot the commercial).

  5. The writer claims that her primary reason for switching was the money saved on the hardware, but then (in the very next sentence) tells readers to dump the pre-installed XP Home Edition and buy (for $199) the XP Pro Edition. She also purchased Microsoft Office Pro Edition (around $450) which did not come with her machine. Those of you who can do math will notice that her "savings" add up to -$150.

  6. The writer goes on to claim that Microsoft Office (around $400-500) is better than AppleWorks ($69). Gee. She infers that Microsoft Office is not available for the Mac. I hate to break it to her, but not only is it available, it preceded the Windows version by over three years -- and has features and security not found in the Windows version.

  7. The writer makes much hay out of the fact that she likes Internet Explorer better than Netscape Navigator, and lists this as another of her reasons for switching. In point of fact, Internet Explorer is the default browser on most Macs, and the only browser that ships with the latest version of Mac OS X.

  8. So how did the AP track down the anonymous "switcher?" Well, see, Microsoft Word is legendary for its security problems. Turns out it embeds loads of personal information in every one of it's documents. At the bottom of the "testimonial," there are a couple of boilerplate "tell us your story too" links, one of which is a Word document. Opening it in a text editor revealed that the author was one Valerie G. Mallinson who works for an ad agency now revealed to be in Microsoft's employ. Do you find it odd that the person who wrote the "testimonial" also wrote the boilerplate for the "tell us your story" form? It's her job, apparently.

  9. At the bottom of the original testimonial (which has of course been pulled by MS now, though cached copies are littering all over the Net), an "Editor's Note" says "Now that we've switched our writer, we'll try to get her to use a PocketPC handheld!" Later reports point out that Valerie Mallinson, the Microsoft PR employee who has admitted being the author of the fake testimonial, is credited in a 1998 online report as being an expert on WindowsCE (what PocketPC used to be called).

  10. If any of you still have some doubts that this isn't completely made up by MS's marketing department, I offer you this: the writer refers to Outlook (the Microsoft professional email program) as "a messaging and collaborative client." Oh yeah, we all talk like that.

Please, I'm begging those of you out there who are using MS products by "choice": How many times? How many times does Microsoft have to get caught bald-faced lying? How many times do you have to read stories about them faking petitions, letters to the editor, testimonials, videotape demonstrations? How many times do you have to hear them making patently ridiculous statements like "Internet Explorer cannot be removed from Windows 98" and "640K ought to be enough for anybody"?

What does it take to get you to admit that Microsoft are a bunch of lying sleazeballs who take turns alternating between believing their users are a) thieves and b) morons? What does it take to get you to admit you deserve to be treated better than this? What does it take to get you off your lazy ass and looking at alternatives (be they Linux, Mac OS X, Lindows ... I don't care, anything)?

UPDATE: It turns out that MS has pulled another of their fake editorials, because it got noticed (apparently nobody reads these things until the media picks up on them) that a 12-year-old boy (complete with accompanying fake stock photo) could not possibly have written it as they claim. Oops.

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