Getting touchy feely (Microsoft versus Apple)

Brian RuncimanWhy do I feel sorry for Microsoft, whilst lovingly caressing my sparkly new iPod Touch?

I've just got an iPod Touch. We are shortly going to be experimenting with video podcasting so we want to test on a few common platforms/devices (professional!), so I've got my hands on the 'iPhone lite', as no-one else calls it.

It's lovely. Like most Apple hardware, software updates are almost invisible (something UML inventor Grady Booch once told me he thought was very valuable - he's right). But whilst the device is lovely and the software updating delightfully easy, I still have a problem with Apple.

I think it's the ridiculous encomiums from all the Apple fanboys whenever 1. anything newly labelled with the genus Malus comes out and 2. Steve Jobs speaks. And it's the implied creative superiority of Macs. I happened to be talking to a chap from a TV production house, currently working on a film for BCS's employees, and he had exactly the same schizophrenic views. So I'm not alone.

However I do go one step further - I feel sorry for Microsoft. Why? This is where my argument falters slightly, but I think it's my natural affinity with the underdog. Before you laugh derisively at the idea of an underdog with 2005 revenues of $39,788,000,000 (thanks CNN money), I think it's because of the perception of cool, integrity and customer-focus. Most lazy comment implies that MS have none of these. But that can't be true (can it?).

Anyway I heard a talk by Bill a couple of years ago for the BCS Elite Group and he seemed a decent chap. On the other hand I've seen films of Steve Balmer too.

Have I changed your mind?

NB Look out for the forthcoming video... more soon.

Comments (7)

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  • 1
    David wrote on 13th May 2008

    Apple have always wanted to be loved, and they are by a small band of devotees. They are also liked rather a lot by a wider set of people. Microsoft, I've always felt, were content with simply taking our money and didn't need or demand our affection.

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  • 2
    Stephen Davies wrote on 15th May 2008

    Working in the IT profession I spend most of my time working with MS technologies, however at home I use an Apple Mac. In my mind the difference between the approaches is that Apple takes a design led approach to product development (it helps when you control the ecosystem for the product also) allowing Apple to create creative products with the wow factor. MS has found itself in the position of needing to try and satisfy the majority of the worlds computer users and maintain compatibility which leads to a lowest common denominator approach to product development. For example contrast the current XP/Vista debacle with the speed that Apple converted it entire product range to Intel from PowerPC and further back the speed it converted users from OS 9 to OS X.

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  • 3
    Paul Osborne wrote on 15th May 2008

    As a long-term PC user who now supports both PC and Mac, I too get irritated by the almost religious blind devotion of Mac users. Without doubt the machines are much better designed and more aesthetically pleasing, but without regard for any degree of compatibility. For instance, there are now four different adapters in use to connect a Mac laptop to a data projector or external monitor, because the chassis of each model is completely different. When we consider the issue of upgrading and development, one factor which simplifies things for Apple is their disregard for their users. Most Apple O/S upgrades will not work on older machines - not unheard of with MS though not as common - but the older versions won't work on newer machines either. The same goes for application software: usually a change of O/S version also means a software upgrade as well. Macs have their strengths, but the more I support them the more I think that Apple treats its users with even more contempt than MS.

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  • 4
    Colin Gaudion wrote on 16th May 2008

    The Apple vs Microsoft debate will probably carry on until the Sun burns out. I have used and supported Windows since it was version 1.n on very few floppy discs. I have also used and supported Macs on and off since before they went GUI. The net result of many years of gathering data is - the majority of users are non technical and want to run their applications without any grief, they don't care about the operating systems or the debate. They want it to work out of the box 99% of the time (so not much choice there). I have also noticed IT professionals who support Windows are buying Macs for personal use, because then they don't have to take their work home with them... So although I use Windows professionally and its ok (just), I am phasing it out at home in favour of open source cross platform applications that work on anything. Then I am not tied to any platform, but it probably will be Mac as when you look at the the whole package including hardware its hard to beat, it looks like it has been designed and engineered and is not still a prototype.

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  • 5
    Peter Glock wrote on 16th May 2008

    I find myself erring into the fanboy camp at times. But how I feel about using a piece of technology is not exactly the same as my behaviour. For example, I use a MacBook as my main computer, but run most of my office apps under XP on a VM. Why? Because it's easier to communicate with my business colleagues if we are all using the same (or reasonably similar) apps to create documents but I like the hardware and software design of Apple for my personal use. This way I get the best of both. In the corporate world, the hegemony (I've waited years to use that word in an IT article...) of MS Windows + Office will be with us for a few years yet. For the future, I'm moving as much of my family's computing to online services (and encouraging my business contacts to do the same) so I don't have to be on call as unpaid support 24/7, but that's probably a discussion for a different post.

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  • 6
    David Victor wrote on 16th May 2008

    The way to look at this really needs to take in the whole thin client space. The iPod touch has delivered a revolutionary thin client! Until now only Sun Microsystems SunRay went anywhere near a real thin desktop client. Apple versus MS is not a useful point of view - Enterprise solutions need to embrace technology from a wide variety of vendors. Interoperability, deployment overhead, total cost of ownership matter in the real world more than the hype from any particular vendor. My personal opinion is that MS have adopted a far greater number of negative strategies to ensure market share at the cost of offering consumer choice and interoperability based on establised Open standards. David. CITP, MBCS.

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  • 7
    Michael Brooke wrote on 27th May 2008

    There is no correlation required between Microsoft and Apple. Microsoft is becoming irrelevant in todays age. Microsoft have great technologies around Messaging and databases and their server OS is excellent in my experience. But companies get too big and lose focus - give the customers what they want and need..... a computer that just works and if it looks great even better, makes it easier to integrate into ones living space. Don't try to battle every competitor in their own stomping grounds at the same time (Google, Apple, Sony, IBM, Adobe, Sun etc). Apple have hit a home run, not just once with the original iMac - but again and again and have only misfired a handful of times in the past 10 years. I use a Mac with Leopard at home and an IBM laptop with Vista at work, the Mac runs rings around my PC laptop in all facets of operation - Macs just work 99% of the time. Drivers and control of the hardware are answers that analysts like to use as reasons why Microsoft can never be as good - Xbox 360 anyone? failure across a third of their consoles, finally after 3 years of selling them they have an Xbox 360 that works - Microsoft do not have enough focus. Mobile phone platform? Microsoft have a reference hardware design for manufacturers to follow and they still haven't developed a compelling mobile phone solution. The lesson here is that you must keep focus on your core strengths, not try to be everything to all people and Apple have a CEO who is a tyranical in his pursuit of perfection starting from a small base - the computer, then Ipod / Itunes now iPhone etc. When Steve retires Apple will suffer a fate not worth thinking about but until that time Apple will run ring around Microsoft in integration and usability.

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About the author

Brian is Head of Content at BCS and blogs about the Institute’s role in making IT good for society, historical developments in computing, the implications of CS research and more.

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