Why Microsoft Will Never Be Cool (And Should Stop Trying)
In a move that shocked only those people who haven't operated a personal computer in 20 years, Microsoft recently announced that they'd be "lightly borrowing" the Mac Store concept by launching their own chain of trendy mall-bound retail boutiques. They hope this will give them a more direct line of communication with their consumers, create a concrete relationship with the public and provide opportunities for public relations interface and a slick, coherent new image. You know, all the things it did for Apple. But in case any Microsoft executives read this blog, I feel it's my duty to inform them of two facts. 1. It won't. 2. That's okay. Let’s back up. I think the best way to explain why the Microsoft stores are going to be a laughable failure is to answer the age-old debate between PCs and Macs. And here’s the answer, as disappointing as frothing fanboys may find it: they’re just different. Both have a place in the market, and they'll make money as long as they stick to their rightful domain. Macintosh is elitist. That’s its thing. That elitism may come in the form of family-friendly machines with bright colors and giant buttons, but it’s still an elitism, simply because of the level of image involved. Buying a Mac has become “a lifestyle choice,” from the Apple sticker on the rear window of your Prius to the black turtleneck guarding you against the fog of a Northern California morning. And that elitism is built right into the machine. Apple’s slogan is “It just works,” but it could as well be “Hopefully it just works, because if it doesn’t you don’t have a lot of options.” They’ve gotten better since the Linux makeover but, by and large, if my Mac breaks down, I tend to just drop it from my balcony and order another. The point is, Macintosh doesn’t have time to let you fiddle around with their insides; they’re too busy innovating. Also making out with Pixar. Meanwhile, Microsoft represents the ultimate in computing populism. Buying a PC and loading up Windows says nothing whatsoever about your lifestyle beyond “I live and work in the 21st century.” And by not cultivating any sort of coherent image, and copying other companies’ innovations with a ruthless efficiency that would make Edison proud, Microsoft has saved time better spent haphazardly licensing third-party companies to make their products and patching the shit out of their buggy software. There’s a lot more to be said about how that’s only an oversimplification and how this one guy totally overclocked his G5 and it has a steampunk brass casing and meanwhile this other guy super-glued his PC case shut and was like “what?”, but the history of the two companies bears out that when they stick to their respective domains, there’s plenty of money to go around for both. When Mac tried to copy Microsoft for a change and license their OS to third-party companies (yes, that happened), they nearly went bankrupt. That’s when Steve Jobs came back, put “i” in front of everything and made them trendier and more exclusive than ever. Part of that process was opening an upscale boutique, part of it was innovating the shit out of some stuff (mp3 players, phones, what have yous), and part of it was developing the mythos that at the Mac offices, everyone rides razor scooters around with the Incredible family and somehow this updates Jaguar. And guess what? Times are good again in the land of Mac. But this strategy just won’t work for the PC, and to convince you of that (let’s be honest; I’m talking to you, Bill), here are a list of key changes Microsoft will have to incorporate into their storefront to stay true to the Windows image if they want to compete with the Mac stores.
When not livin' it up 80s style, Michael serves as head writer for and co-founder of Those Aren't Muskets!