Falling Back in Love with Microsoft -- and Windows 7

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As operating system launches go, Windows 7 has been a pretty sweet one for Microsoft. The reviews are mostly thumbs-up, and aside from some unintentionally hilarious videos promoting Windows 7 launch parties, the company has mostly done things right.

Today, the Microsoft site is featuring a running series of tweets praising the new OS (though they're running at least a day behind -- so much for real-time Web search). They're also a bit too uniformly positive, so you know somebody's cherry picking. Still, it's a clever idea.

According to the New York Times' Media & Advertising blog, Microsoft is planning a series of 7-second videos on YouTube and Windows.com extolling the virtues of Win 7, and a series of 7-word updates on NFL games on the major broadcast networks. (My favorite geek humor site has a few other ideas on what Microsoft might do.)

Here's my favorite gimmick: In Japan, Microsoft has convinced Burger King to sell a meat sandwich with 7 all-beef patties stacked on top of each other like poker chips. That tower of bovine power is called the Windows 7 Whopper.

But the real Windows 7 Whopper is this claim: "1 billion = 7." That's the new mantra in Microsoft's ads. The Times' Stuart Elliott explains the rationale behind the funky math:

"...many ads use a slogan, “1 billion = 7,” suggesting that the billion people who use PCs helped bring forth the new operating system.

"Our customers co-create the product with us,” said David Webster, general manager for brand and marketing strategy at Microsoft in Redmond, Wash. “We’re using the customers’ voice to tell our story.”

If Microsoft were really listening to users, it would have committed seppuku a long time ago. It certainly would not have continued to push the notion that Vista was the greatest thing since sliced bread when it was clear the thing was more like stinky cheese. If Microsoft is listening, it's selective listening at best.

As Elliott points out, the notion that Windows 7 was somehow an exception to the usual Microsoft product development process is essentially a lie.

Microsoft has always done extensive usability studies with every software product. And it has always resulted in Microsoft products being confusing and condescending at the same time. (Are you sure you want to do that? Really? Are you really really sure? OK then, just reboot and click Yes five more times. Oops, sorry -- there was a fatal exception error. Here's some nonsense hexadecimal code to chew on.)

Again, though, it's a smart tactic to win back some of the folks who got disgusted with, or scared away by, Windows Vista: "We're listening to you. We care. We're not the Borg anymore; if you look at us in the right lighting we're almost kind of cuddly."

The question is, after more than 30 years of bluster, hype, deception, cluelessness, and an inexplicable lack of humility, has Microsoft really changed? Or has it just hired better marketing consultants?

(Memo to Microsoft fanboys: I haven't laid a finger on Windows 7 yet. This is not a review. Please save your poison pen e-mails for later if/when I do trash Win 7. But heck, it's got to be better than Vista, right?)

This story, "Falling Back in Love with Microsoft -- and Windows 7" was originally published by InfoWorld.

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