I wonder if you have ever looked at the Windows startup screen and thought “wow, that’s really cool,” or perhaps tried to get to grips with the ribbon menu in Microsoft Word and suddenly “got” what they designers intended, leading you to decide “hey, those guys are so cool, they really know what they’re doing!”
To be frank, it’s unlikely that any sane person has ever had either or both of those thoughts. Why? Well, the public perception of Microsoft is of a big fat dry old company that makes Windows and Office software, slow booting operating systems and email clients that hang… basically, stuff that doesn’t really work, but you use because they use it at work or school or everyone else does.
This public perception is then then further muddled by the superior PR machine of Apple, which has somehow fooled many people into thinking that their operating system is faster and less buggy, and that the company as a whole is immune from the need to make a profit for shareholders: more of a cool roommate then one of the world’s biggest corporations.
In actual fact, they’re both hugely successful and have current operating systems that are both pretty evenly matched (yes, Windows 7 is arguably better than Mac OS X 10.7, although this first-time event is partly due to Apple introducing unpopular features). The difference, of course, is that Microsoft has never been cool, despite an amazing range of software and hardware.
What Is Cool, Anyway?
I’m cool. I know this, because I tell myself that it is a fact, and my internal PR department relays this information to the various press offices around my body, resulting in me having the coolest walk, talk and attitude EVER.
Clearly, this is nonsense. It’s all down to perception, you see… what is considered cool becomes the darling of the press, the media teams working on magazines and websites that demand that you buy into their clique by joining in their admiration of a band/movie/application/device. This is how it works for popular recording acts, it works this way for other companies, but it rarely, if ever, works this way for Microsoft.
It might by argued that all those kids at school that went off and did their own thing were the cool ones, rather than the guys and girls who were all ultra-popular and got great grades and athletic results. Perhaps at the time they were misunderstood…
Perhaps Microsoft is too?
Loads of Cool Stuff! Look, It’s Cool…Isn’t It?
The problem Microsoft has with its perception is that no one thinks it is cool, even when it is releasing awesome products like Xbox 360, Kinect, Windows Phone and making the effort to revise the old MSN service into something usable like Windows Live.
Let’s create a scale of awesomeness. We’ll start off with the low end, slightly rubbish stuff and crank it up to 11 with Awesome:
- So Uncool It Should Be Ironically Cool Yet Isn’t
- Utter Garbage
- Getting There
I’ve done it this way because the term “cool” has a self-defining, inherent property whereby it isn’t possible to get too worked up and excited; that simply wouldn’t be “cool.”
Now what happens here when you throw Apple products at the scale? Most of it hits the Impressive, Excellent and Cool categories, such as Mac OS X 10.6 Snow Leopard (I’m not sold on the Lion), the MacBook Air and the iPad. Other items such as the iPhone have slipped down the list and hover between Impressive and Cool while hardware from the past that might once have been Impressive (such as the G3 clamshell notebooks) slips down to OK and Good, despite the quality design. A Bondi Blue iMac, while ancient, is a timeless classic that never goes below ten.
With Microsoft, however, we get a quite different story. Windows Vista, for instance, struggles with So Uncool It Should Be Ironically Cool Yet Isn’t and maybe got to Utter Garbage on its best day, while the Xbox 360 is clearly Awesome. Microsoft Office is Good (workmanlike might be a better approximation) while Windows Phone is Excellent, verging on Cool (there is a chance that the involvement of Nokia might help secure a Cool rating). Windows 7 is definitely Excellent, while what we know so far of Windows 8 is totally Awesome.
The story here is obvious. Microsoft just cannot do cool. It can do rubbish stuff and it can do good stuff, but when it really needs to go and release something cool, somehow the guys at Redmond knock the ball out of the park and hit the big AWESOME sign on the city limits. They make something and it’s rated by how well it works, and a lot of the time it hasn’t been very good. But even when it is very good, or even excellent or awesome, no one really thinks of it as being cool, and the marketing generally doesn’t push us in that direction. The “Really?” campaign for Windows Phone did a great job of showing off how efficient and practical it is and was even hilarious, but it still didn’t make Windows Phone cool.
Hey, What About Xbox 360 and Kinect?
I know what you’re thinking: surely the Kinect, Microsoft’s fastest selling piece of hardware ever, is cool? Surely hooking the Kinect to your Xbox 360 and outdoing the Nintendo Wii is clearly the coolest thing about Microsoft ever?
Well, no. It’s not. There is no denying the Kinect’s quality and impact, and this is reflected in the device’s high sales, a major success story for Microsoft in the past few years. But Kinect only goes to further confirm the fact that Microsoft will simply never be cool because it keeps creating stuff that goes beyond cool. The Kinect was a non-stop express to awesome and revolutionary with no time for cool.
The Kinect, of course, is awesome, not cool; and like it’s motion sensing device, Microsoft will never be cool, but it can be impressive, excellent and awesome from time to time.
- Windows 8 screenshot provided by author.
- Microsoft Kinect image credit: Wikimedia Commons/Evan-Amos