Microsoft Plays with Fire: Says Things Don't Work

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You have to feel sorry for Microsoft – no, really. In the search arena, it is getting taken to the cleaners by Google so comprehensively that even I feel sorry for them. Recognising this total inability to fight Google on its own terms, Microsoft has decided to take a bold approach: run lots of ads suggesting that search - *all* search - is broken, and that there must be a better way:

People with knowledge of the planned push said the ads won't go after Google, or Yahoo for that matter, by name. Instead, they'll focus on planting the idea that today's search engines don't work as well as consumers previously thought by asking them whether search (aka Google) really solves their problems. That, Microsoft is hoping, will give consumers a reason to consider switching search engines, which, of course, is one of Bing's biggest challenges.

"If you grab the average user off the street and ask them, 'Does search suck?' I think they'd say no. They don't know what else can be done," said Shashi Seth, a former Google executive who is now chief revenue officer at Cooliris. "They think search does a pretty good job, and if you could prove otherwise with a product that's differentiated, people will sit up and take notice."

It's a brave move, which probably looked brilliant when first proposed, but there's a teensy-weensy problem. To understand what that might be, consider this slightly re-written version of the above:

People with knowledge of the planned push said the ads won't go after Microsoft by name. Instead, they'll focus on planting the idea that today's software doesn't work as well as consumers previously thought by asking them whether software (aka Windows) really solves their problems. That, free software proponents are hoping, will give consumers a reason to consider switching software, which, of course, is one of GNU/Linux's biggest challenges.

"If you grab the average user off the street and ask them, 'Does Windows suck?' I think they'd say no. They don't know what else can be done," said Fred Bloggs. "They think software does a pretty good job, and if you could prove otherwise with a product that's differentiated, people will sit up and take notice."

Now, you might argue that Microsoft's software *does* do a pretty good job, so there's no way of persuading people otherwise. And while it's true that Office meets people's needs in terms of word processing and spreadsheet functionality, it's not generally true of the Windows ecosystem as a whole, which remains unstable, buggy, insecure and expensive.

Indeed, Firefox succeeded precisely because Internet Explorer was all these undesirable things except expensive; it was when people realised that things didn't *have* to be this way - that there was an alternative - that they started moving to Firefox. If Microsoft starts suggesting that people reconsider whether search – and hence Google - is really delivering, why shouldn't they start asking the same questions about software - and hence Microsoft's Windows?

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