Bill Gates vs. Steve Jobs, Dell Does Sony, HP Powers Wal-Mart

Unless you were sleeping last week, you saw Bill Gates get really upset when asked about the Mac vs. PC campaign that Apple is putting on. I’m not sure it is wise to piss off someone like Bill personally in this way, and the campaign does seem to over-stereotype both Bill Gates and Steve Jobs.

In addition, Dell announced plans to sell Sony TVs on the Dell site and there is more to this strategy than initially meets the eye. Finally, Wal-Mart, which has been aggressively fighting movie downloads, turned to HP to make these downloads work. This could be a game changer, and it also came right after Steve Jobs released his manifesto on DRM (digital rights management). I may question Steve’s motives, but I couldn’t agree more with his message that DRM is stupid and not only doesn’t work — it actually may increase piracy.

At the end, I’ll close with a quick Vista week 2 update on product experiences.

Clueless in Cupertino?

If the Mac is better, why does Apple need to misrepresent Windows?

That’s the fundamental question. If you look at the Mac vs. PC ads, they really don’t showcase the Mac’s advantages — and there are a number of them. Instead, they focus on mostly contrived Windows disadvantages, and most of these are hardly deal breakers.

In some cases, the advertising actually makes it look like Apple has no idea what IT actually does. It is basically saying, in one instance, that the Mac isn’t for business — it’s for the amusement of little kids. It also looks like Apple marketers didn’t do their research and just decided to make things up. For instance, they say you need to upgrade your processor to run Vista, but this simply isn’t true. You may need to upgrade memory and maybe graphics — if you want to run Aero — but Vista even runs fine on the VIA C7 processor.

In a verywell-argued piece in The Register, Andrew Orlowski suggests that this is largely the result of Bill envy in Steve. There probably is a bigger question about truth in advertising, which is nicely addressed in thisvideo, but let’s take a moment and look atApple’s spots.

In the “security” spot, Apple makes a big deal over the security feature in Vista that I too find annoying — accept or deny — but after you get Vista running, you actually don’t see this very much, except when you are running older applications.

This feature actually protects against phishing-type attacks, though I don’t think it does that good a job, but Apple doesn’t protect against them at all. The Mac platform is simply attacked less often.

I can see the reasoning, but I’m not sure this is wise, given that Apple really doesn’t have any focused protection against this class of problem. It often feels like Apple is where Microsoft was five years ago and thinks security is something someone else has to worry about.

Failure to Interoperate

The spot with the camera and the duct tape, called “tech support,” makes me wonder if everyone at Apple has forgotten that they had the best of the strap-on video cameras and it was their own IT department that first tried to give everyone desktop cameras only to find that the employees hated them.

IT does not want cameras on people’s desks; if they did, Sony and IBM — now Lenovo — had them built into laptops long before Apple ever did. Notably, theThinkpad design for a laptop camera was modular and more unique five years ago than Apple’s is today. Even Dell and HP have laptops with built-in cameras today — and Dell’s even swivels.

Finally, in the spot called “counselor,” where the Mac and the PC are in what appears to be marriage counseling, the PC acts almost as if it has been abused by the Mac. The implication is that Apple wants to work together, and the PC doesn’t. This is upside down, given that Microsoft licenses its stuff, and Apple traditionally does not.

Apple interoperability is an oxymoron, while it is core to Microsoft’s business model.

Granted, Microsoft has been blamed in the past for not being interoperable enough, but Apple regularly refuses to interoperate at all. Recall that all Cisco wanted was an assurance that Apple stuff would interoperate with Cisco’s stuff in exchange for using Cisco’s iPhone brand. Apple, in response, simply stole the name.

So, I can see why Bill is pissed. However, the Vista campaign, while it supposedly is heavily funded, is largely a visibility campaign and not well targeted. A pissed-off Bill Gates could fix that. If Vista were to target Apple and point out Microsoft’s inherent advantages right when Apple itself is vulnerable for competitive displacement — during the Leopard rollout — it could get ugly for the firm.

Microsoft hasn’t done good demand-generation marketing in years, but upset CEOs — and particularly Bill Gates — tend to focus and suddenly fix things. So, I’m not sure it really is wise, given Microsoft’s lack of marketing focus, for Apple to fix that problem. Dell, HP, Gateway and Lenovo would sure be appreciative, though.

Dell Does Sony

Speaking of Dell, the company announced last week it was going to discontinue its large TVs and pick up Sony Bravia. I just went to the site, and the price for the46-inch set — and I’m in the market for a new LCD TV myself — is actually very aggressive. This strategy actually makes a lot of sense.

You see, people tend to look at TVs in stores first and then shop for price second. Dell does have a trusted brand, and it is the No. 2 online retailer behind Amazon. But, Dell TVs aren’t in stores, so there are few places buyers can go see them. More important, when folks are shopping for TVs, they really aren’t thinking about Dell and tend to shop elsewhere — which means Dell doesn’t build store traffic. Without traffic, it is at an extreme disadvantage against chains like Best Buy.

So, by having aggressive prices for Sony sets, folks that like Sony are more likely to shop at Dell and, while there, see Dell’s other products and maybe buy one. This is Dell realizing it is a retailer and starting to compete like one. Expect the company to expand its third-party offerings and promote them at aggressive prices.

Dell is very lean, after all, and has one of the strongest business intelligence and logistics systems in any industry. Applied properly, this could be very powerful for the company, and it makes you wonder where it is likely to go from here.

HP does Wal-Mart: Death of the DVD

A few weeks ago, Wal-Mart was using its heft to block movie downloads and had become the biggest barrier to the success of projects like Apple TV. Basically, it was setting up to massively penalize any studio that provided its content to a service like Apple’s. What a difference a couple of weeks makes.

Suddenly, Wal-Mart is in themovie download business, and it has signed up HP to get it all to work. HP and Wal-Mart have become reasonably close of late, as HP also supplies the photo kiosks that have popped up in Wal-Mart stores.

This is showcases both a change of attitude by Wal-Mart and the success of HP’s long-coming strategy to become an end-to-end media supplier by creating solutions that start with media creation, move to media distribution and culminate with media delivery.

Right now, there is no other vendor that has a toolset targeted at this new media delivery opportunity that is as complete. Long term, this puts HP in a very powerful position in what is clearly a rapidly emerging market.

Of course, for most of us, this really means we may finally be able to download decent content for a reasonable price over the Internet. This may also help spell the early demise of DVDs and create one more big reason why neither Blu-ray nor HD DVD will ever reach its separate — or their collective — potential. When the biggest single seller of DVDs in the U.S. moves to downloads, you have to wonder if we are seeing the beginning of the end for DVDs — all DVDs.

Quick Vista Week 2 Status

We are now exiting the second week after Vista’s launch, and for a new OS, it seems to be doing OK. We are seeing the typical driver problems, and it is interesting that ATI now has final drivers, and Nvidia, as yet, doesn’t. This impacts games like “World of Warcraft” and “City of Heroes.” Most of the gamers I know are still dual-booting to play these and other games that haven’t received Vista patches yet.

The biggest problem I’ve run into is with McAfee’s virus checker rendering a Vista system unusable and requiring a complete reinstallation of the OS. Symantec’s Vista product is arguably the best that company has ever produced. Game peripherals like those from Belkin don’t yet have Vista drivers, and some on-board sound systems aren’t working yet either.

For new PCs, I’m not yet tracking any inherent problems suggesting the OEMs (original equipment manufacturers) are handling this well. For security, the only confirmed problem apparently requires that you turn voice command on, position your speakers, and then run a file that verbally tells your computer to do bad things — there are easier ways to compromise any computer.

As a result, gamers should continue to hold off on Vista or dual boot unless their game has a Vista patch — many do now. Vista is best on new hardware, but things will be vastly better by April, as most of the patches and software updates should be done and tested by then.

With the exception of gaming, where I’m still dual booting, I’m entirely on Vista and Office 2007 and wouldn’t go back on a bet.

Rob Enderle is a TechNewsWorld columnist and the principal analyst for the Enderle Group, a consultancy that focuses on personal technology products and trends.

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