The new Windows ads ignore what they're selling

Earlier this evening we saw a new ad come out of the Microsoft hive mind showing Lauren, a charming everywoman, purchasing an HP laptop for $699 after finding that the lowest-priced Mac matching her meagre requirements would cost her nearly double. The resulting commercial is effective in these lean times but isn’t it a bit disingenuous?

I’ve often spoken of the PC industry’s race to the bottom. A $699 laptop – along with a $200 LCD monitor – would have been unthinkable a few years ago but it is now commonplace. At that price, however, you get a machine that wouldn’t get a second look, spec for spec, a few years ago. These would have been called barebones machines – a little memory, a hard drive, and a processor are all you’d get. But with the advent of high design, it’s easy to put lipstick on that particular pig and make Lauren happy.

But what is Microsoft really selling? Apple is selling computers. Microsoft is selling software, namely an operating system. This lopsided competition has put Microsoft in a bad spot and for years the Mac/PC argument has danced, fairly, around this dichotomy. Interestingly, however, Apple has never really dealt Microsoft the body blow of hardware comparison, even in price, simply because it never saw the competition as such and, thus far, Microsoft has followed the same pattern – both companies talked up their OSes and hoped for a fair fight. It was all about Wow and ease of use and photo uploading rather than average yearly downtime and hardware costs.

Now, however, Microsoft has ignored the OS question entirely. Vista is a dog and all but the nerdiest among us have no understanding of the vagaries of Windows 7, so Microsoft knows that it can’t win on that front. The decision? To fight it out in price. Lauren, in this case, isn’t offered a PC vs. a Mac. She’s offered a Vizio TV vs. a Pioneer TV (or, say, Taco Bell vs. Chipotle) and, solely on price and ignoring such buzzwords as “resolution,” “digital tuning,” “contrast ratio,” and “percentage of insect parts and mouse feces,” she gets the cheaper of the two.

Macintardation aside, this is not any way to spend money. However, said money is not her own – it’s Microsoft’s- there is a time pressure. And she’s an actress.

If she knows that the HP laptop running Windows is the laptop for her – and you can assume that HP had a bit of skin in this game as well – then I say that she should rock out with whatever appendage out she wishes. However, this is far from a fair fight. This isn’t Lauren being a PC. It’s Lauren being a foolish shopper.