Have you seen those TV ads for Windows XP? A woman moans about being sacked or dumped or something, but is happy about it because now she can spend all her time playing the guitar through a computer and burning a CD... or something. Actually, she doesn’t look at all happy. It looks like she’s been offered a very small amount of money to act in an advert she has no passion for – perhaps all too aware that behind her are some rather average swirly graphics and bland music. At the end of it all there appears the rather shiny logo for Windows XP – and that’s it.

It’s a weird advert not just because of the passionless acting and trudging story line, but because Windows XP doesn’t do music or movie making. It’s an operating system that works with music- and movie-editing software. The ad implies that all you need to do is buy a £400 Dell computer and you’re transformed into Bob Dylan or Debbie Harry.

Microsoft’s TV ads have been better, like the one where kids are transformed into rocket scientists, teachers or zoo keepers… I’m sorry I can’t remember exactly which careers Microsoft was saying that it could help everyone achieve, as when I visited www.microsoft.com/mscorp/ads/tv.asp I was informed that “We’re sorry, the page you are viewing requires a media player plug-in that is not available for this browser” – even in the company’s own Internet Explorer. The site implies that there’s a doctor, small-business owner, and “jazz master” waiting to burst out of all of us if we’d just boot up Windows a little more often.

“At Microsoft, we see the world not as it is, but as it might someday become”, shrills each advert. I think a lot of Windows users probably feel the same way about Microsoft’s software.

A few years ago a TV ad for Microsoft’s Internet Explorer used the musical theme of the “Confutatis Maledictis” from Mozart’s Requiem. “Where do you want to go today?” was the cheery line on the screen, while the chorus sings “Confutatis maledictis, flammis acribus addictis”. This translates as: “When the accursed have been confounded, And given over to the bitter flames.” Again, something for Windows users to ruminate on...

For the past few years Apple has concentrated all its advertising spend on those pumpingly loud, primal-colour-bright iPod silhouette ads. I’m not sure how many jazz fans and classical-music buffs have been persuaded to adopt the digital-music player by being bombarded by dancers spinning on their heads to Gorillaz, Daft Punk or the Black Eyed Peas. But we all know that the iPod rapidly became the digital-music market leader on the back of these catchy ads.

Rumours now hint that Apple will soon launch a new ad campaign – this time promoting the Mac OS rather than the iPod or iTunes Music Store. Errol Morris, who worked on Apple’s Switcher campaign TV ads, was purportedly engaged in creating the TV spots. The ads were to be filmed in an illusionistic Ames Room. An Ames Room is distorted to exaggerate the proportion of objects or people within. Within an Ames Room people or objects appear to grow or shrink when moving from one corner to the other. Maybe it was going to explain the weirdness of PC market share...

The information came from an online interview with Morris. Almost immediately the page was amended to clarify that in fact the advert was not for Apple but Quaker Oats… Whatever, I’m certainly not alone in hoping that Apple really does start to push its operating system as hard as it does its little white music player. Even the staunchest of PC magazines admit that Mac OS X is a much better operating system than Windows XP. PC World magazine in the US awarded Tiger a Best Software Award, stating: “It’s the best-looking OS around. In other words, Mac fans are already enjoying the cool features that Windows won’t deliver until late 2006.”

Much praise and significance has been heaped on the so-called ‘Halo Effect’ that Apple has gained from all the iPod hype. At last PC users are recognizing that Apple makes very nice products that work just as well as – if not better than – those from Dell, HP, Microsoft, et al.

Apple has created the right hardware products to lure the curious over to the Mac side of the fence: the iMac G5 looks and operates better than chunky, clunky PCs; and the Mac mini hits the right low-price points.

But the jewel in Apple’s crown isn’t the impressive roster of Jonathan Ive-designed hardware. It’s the Mac OS itself, ably supported by its wonderful software programs – the iLife apps on the consumer side, and Final Cut Pro and so on for professionals. Many PC users already know how impressive this software is since Apple ported iTunes free for Windows. Now it’s time they discover the rest.

Apple should seize the moment to extol the many benefits of Mac OS X: its ease of use; simple Internet setup; low maintenance; reliable security; lack of viruses; absence of spyware; frequent, free update tweaks; and robust refusal to crash… too often. Then tell the people that it’s compatible with their old PCs and even has a version of Microsoft Office that’s better than the Windows one!

Apple should show as many people as it can just how easy it is to use iMovie, iPhoto, iDVD and GarageBand, and get amazing results immediately. That angry woman in the Windows XP advert really will be able to make music, movies and CDs if she channels her fury not at the boyfriend but against the spyware, viruses and bugs in Microsoft’s software, and goes buy a Mac – which, unlike Windows, really does include all the software that she needs… for free.

Microsoft had amazing success when it advertised Windows 95. Even though they communicated nothing informational about the operating system, the ads conveyed excitement and innovation with their fast-moving images of people actively interposed with the Win 95 desktop and file menu. You were left with the impression that Windows 95 would enrich your life and open new possibilities. Windows 95 could do nothing of the sort, of course, and XP doesn’t go that close either. Mac OS X and iLife actually do – but Apple isn’t telling enough people.

Microsoft sold a hell of a lot of copies of Windows 95, and PC makers shifted tons of new PCS. While it continues to wait for something real to sell people – its next-generation operating system Longhorn isn’t likely to appear before 2007 – Microsoft is filling time with these misleading but still brand-extending telly ads. Apple has something to say and sell right now, but won’t move away from the funky iPod. You don’t need to be a marketing genius to realize which company
is thinking and spending for the long-term. MW