The Difference Between Microsoft and Apple

Robert Cringely writes the best article about Microsoft and Apple I’ve come across in a long time. I’ve had many discussions with friends who are current and former employees of Microsoft and they can’t seem to grasp what Cringely explains in  exquisite detail:

In every business there is some version of the 80-20 rule that says 80 percent of the business comes from 20 percent of the customers. Smart businesses do whatever they can to play to that powerful 20 percent…There’s another kind of company, however, that applies the 80-20 rule in a different manner and Apple is one of those companies. They aim everything they do at that top 20 percent and ignore the rest…There are other companies that take a similar market approach to Apple, but few of them are in the computer business. BMW and Porsche are good examples…If Microsoft gets only 20 percent of any market it enters, they consider that effort a failure and it would be, because Microsoft’s business is scaled and its cost structure is optimized for really, really big numbers of mindless and fairly undemanding customers

This describes the differences between Microsoft and Apple better than anything I’ve come across. This explains why Microsoft products like Zune and Live Search haven’t been widely accepted. Those products aren’t aimed at the top 20%. They are products aimed as the masses which might work when your previous version has a huge installed based for a product like Vista. But it’s an uphill battle when your product doesn’t stand out against the likes of the iPod or Google search.

Microsoft isn’t the Porsche or the BMW of software. They are the Toyota Camry: cheap, lots of features, reliable, but not very exciting. But good enough to meet the needs for the majority of drivers.

And when I listen to Balmer and Gates keynotes all I hear are references about OEMs and partners and resellers. You seldom hear either of them talk about products for the consumer. I find it interesting that my two favorite Microsoft products are ones they give away for free and don’t have giant armies of programmers and marketers behind: Windows Live Photo Gallery and Windows Live Writer. They are both simple and fun to use programs.

As I read the Cringely article I was reminded of a blog post Seth Godin wrote a while back about titled, “Why Downloading Firefox is like getting into College”. Very similar concept.

5 thoughts on “The Difference Between Microsoft and Apple

  1. I agree that Apple has the “cool” factor about it. I don’t understand why Microsoft just sits back and take all those funny ads that Apple has been showing. Microsoft needs to do something about it. I don’t think they can restore their image but we’ll see.
    Microsoft continues to release compelling software that users want. One example is Windows Home Server. I have been using it for 4 months now and it is built to allow plugins from 3rd parties which extend its base functionality. I don’t know of any other software where you can have a catastrophic failure with your PC (i.e. PC becomes a paper weight) then buy a brand new PC, throw the Windows Home Server Restore CD in and in a few hours your original Windows installs on the new PC with all your files and profiles restored. I agree that Vista has had a hard adoption rate. I also believe that people are having a hard time adjusting to the changes that have improved Vista security. The security improvements have had impacts on many things including drivers, and software that isn’t written correctly, what I mean by “written correctly” is that software tends to write data to places that it shouldn’t and that alone causes problems. People have become too used to being able to conveniently upgrading their OS without upgrading their hardware. I believe the best and possibly the only way to truly get the most out of Vista is to buy or build a new PC.
    One more thing I’d like to mention. I don’t really understand all the talk about Live search being “half-ass”? I admit that I was a power Google user before coming to Microsoft. I even have used it up until about 6 months ago when I decided it was time to try Live without Google. I haven’t had one search that has come up where I didn’t find what I needed in Live search. It has the capabilities that Google has. I just believe that it has come in too late in the game to gain a significant market share.
    Ok…enough random thoughts.


  2. Matt, I agree that Windows Home Server is a very cool product. But it’s a product for geeks and nerds and people who write their own blogging software. Microsoft doesn’t market it much and it’s not a glamorous product like Xbox or iPhone so it goes unnoticed by most people, but it’s a great product for those that have a number of machines at home. Vista’s backup and restore probably works for most people.

    What I mean by “half-ass” products are those that follow the leader. Zune is a “me too” iPod knock off that hasn’t put a dent in the Apple juggernaut. It’s not a bad product but that’s not good enough to win over iPod fans, all 100 million of them. The same goes for Live Search. Google is all people need. Live Search may work as well for some people but again, it’s virtually unknown product outside of MS. Even my mom and grandma know about Google. How many of your friends outside of technology use Live Search? How many of them even know what it is? You can’t turn it into a good verb either. 🙂


  3. “Microsoft isn’t the Porsche or the BMW of software. They are the Toyota Camry: cheap, lots of features, reliable, but not very exciting. But good enough to meet the needs for the majority of drivers.”

    Microsoft is not reliable!! not even that do they get right, so comparing a Toyota to them is making a huge injustice lol


  4. I would also say that MS software is not like a Toyota, because Toyota performs well, i.e. engines, suspension etc… So it is fair to say the MS is the Ford of software, unreliable and average to below average performance (rattles after high mileage and bad body panel and interior trim fit) and boring….

    But for Apple, yes their software is worth of being compared to a German high-end car, for their precision, quality and appeal.

    In terms of the 80/20 rule, BMW used to apply it religiously, but within the last 10 years they have taken what worked in the 20% band, watered it down and applied it to the 80%, result: the entry level relatively cheap 3 series E90-92. Have you seen how ugly a base 3 series is, with those tiny cheap wheels and tires and no areodynamic body panel treatment? BMW has gotten greedy in the last few years, kind of like Mercedes, too many models with different trims to appeal to almost everyone who can scrape together a few extra bucks. Therefore I feel Porsche is the better comparison for Apple, they have remained much more true to their mission. I am a BMW M3 owner, love the cars, but again feel BMW has gone too corporate and are at their limit…. before losing their edge…

    I have driven Camry’s, Porsches and Fords, and have owned both Macs and PCs and their software, so I feel I my two cents here are worthy reading, cheers!


  5. I am 49 years old and have used microsoft for years. i have a son in college and he bought a new apple. I think after numerous computer faillures, software glitches, etc… I will also try the apple.


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