Microsoft is in trouble

From a technology perspective, Thanksgiving 2011 ranks as one of my most insightful and frustrating holidays ever. I'm an enthusiast who wants to see Microsoft make a strong comeback among consumers. Unfortunately, three Turkey Day incidents left me disheartened.

Microsoft has got a big perception problem.

Three Thanksgiving Day Tales

Incident #1: All Windows PCs are cheap and unreliable. The holiday started at a friend’s house for our yearly Thanksgiving brunch. He and his wife were looking for a new laptop for his parents, because their previous portables -- two Acer netbooks -- finally crapped out on them. My friends told me their budget, and we began our search on Craigslist, then moved on to a few other sites.

As we looked, his wife said she not only wanted to look at Windows PCs but Macs as well. I acknowledged and as we searched, one other person chimed in and said that anything Windows was cheap and unreliable. I asked her why she felt that way and before I could explain why her statement was not true she told me about spending $2,000 on a Gateway machine years ago only to have it give up on her after a few years of use. I explained that Gateways weren't anywhere close to being high-end, and that there are plenty of reliable, handsome and affordable Windows PCs to choose from now.

At this point, my friend's wife is only looking at Macs and not considering Windows PCs at all.

Incident #2: Windows Phones are dead. Later on, my buddy’s brother walks up to me to ask me what cell phone I use. "Original Motorola Droid. But I will be switching to Windows Phone once they go on sale for one penny". (Since, I am officially a new Windows Phone user, by the way.) His response: "Why? Everyone has stopped selling those phones because they are not selling well".

I told him that wasn't true because Windows Phone 7.5 models started selling a few weeks ago and what he had heard or read was most likely retailers clearing out older stock. I told him that Nokia has bought into the WP7 platform and that their new Lumia 800 smartphone sells well -- it's even sold out in some markets.

I then asked him where he was getting his news from and he said, "Google searches that lead to various articles". I told him that was his first problem and suggested several sites to get more accurate technology news.

A similar scenario played out a few minutes later when I shared with my buddy excitement to order my first Windows Phone. "Why? Why not get an iPhone?" My answer is better suited for another post, but he seemed to understand how Windows Phone would better fit my needs.

Incident #3: Microsoft’s absent marketing. I'm a football junkie every Thanksgiving Day -- who isn't? I watched the Packers and Lions, Cowboys and Miami (Go Cowboys!) and my beloved Aggies and Longhorns (how devastating!). One thing I noticed during commercial breaks: Apple and Samsung (to a lesser degree) dominated technology advertising. Where was Microsoft? One commercial: where the dad is in the store using his Windows Phone OneNote application shopping list. Perhaps you saw more?

Microsoft’s Big Problem This Holiday Season

As I contemplate the three incidents, it becomes very apparent to me that Microsoft has some pretty large hills to climb. I can't escape the feeling that they may be in really big trouble. Have things really gotten so much out of hand that no matter how amazing Windows 8, Windows Phone 7.5/8 or any manner of Xbox integration into these platforms is, that Microsoft will not be able to overcome the odds that are stacked against them? I personally do not believe that is the case but let me explain briefly why I believe these three incidents pose some very big challenges for CEO Steve Ballmer and Microsoft.

Cheap-quality Windows PCs? Many people really do believe that the Windows PCs they see in BestBuy, Walmart, Target and many other retailers represent the entire PC industry, that every PC is cheap -- and why not when Macs cost so much more? Why would Apple charge so much more for pretty computers if they weren't better? Many consumers have this unfortunate mentality.

This perception hurts Microsoft. HP and Dell have been running commercials advertising high-end PCs in the Envy and XPS lines that easily compete with Macs. But commercials like these are not enough to change perceptions.

Microsoft has a perception problem and they need to address it much more stridently in their marketing. Many Windows PCs really do offer better value and provide a much more solid user experience than can be obtained on a competing Mac. But who really knows this!

There is a generation of young people growing up with iPods and Macs -- and all they know is Apple. They have never used a Windows PC. Someday this generation will become the decision makers in IT departments and they will choose Macs over Windows PCs. They'll know pretty Apple products and believe Windows PCs are cheap, unreliable and destructive to the financial bottom line of IT departments. They will want something they think is more reliable, and an Apple logo will be on it.

What is a Windows Phone? Version 7.5 "Mango" launched nearly eight weeks ago, and the first new WPs started earlier this month. While I have seen some TV commercials for the products, there are nowhere near as many as iPad and iPhone 4S.

I am not a big fan of Microsoft's "We’re a Family" commercials so far because I do not think they do the best job at clearly articulating why a Windows Phone, PC or Xbox is better than the competition.

It’s my personal opinion that Apple is onto something with their commercials. In many of them they pick one feature and hammer it home. I prefer this approach because there are so many people who do not know that Windows Phone also includes the ability to talk to the phone and have it perform certain tasks, for example.

Thanksgiving football is a perfect opportunity to get your products on the minds of millions the day before Black Friday. How Microsoft could be so absent in its advertising at this critical juncture is appalling. Just like with Windows Vista, they’re letting someone else -- Apple obsessed-biased media -- tell the story of one of their key but struggling products.

What Do You Think?

I really believe Microsoft has created some compelling products in Windows Phone and Windows 7. But I don't think they are being aggressive enough at combating some of the negative perceptions that work against them. Many poeple are unwilling to give Microsoft products a try because they automatically assume that anything with an Apple logo is anointed with unicorn tears.

What do you think? Is Microsoft in trouble? Is their Windows Phone marketing ineffective so far? What can Microsoft do to overcome the perception that all Windows PCs are unreliable pieces of junk? Sound off in the comments below.

Robert Johnson is a user interface developer specializing in the user experience (UX) of .NET-based web applications. He has been working in some form of web development and graphic design for 14 years. He loves technology in general, particularly that of Apple, Google and Microsoft. He is a Betanews reader.

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