Can Microsoft create a reality-distortion field?

Can Microsoft create a reality-distortion field?

Summary: Will Microsoft's new era of "no comment" help usher in a Microsoft Reality-Distortion Field? Is an RDF something Microsoft should desire to emulate in the first place? (My vote: No.) What do you think?

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TOPICS: Windows, Apple, Microsoft
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The past couple of weeks of twists and turns along the road to obtaining info about Vista Service Pack 1 has gotten me thinking about RDFs -- reality distortion fields.

Given that RDF may be less familiar to Windows users than Apple ones, here's a quick recap: "Reality distortion field (RDF) is both slang and computer industry jargon. It was coined by Bud Tribble at Apple Computer in 1981 to describe company co-founder Steve Jobs's noted charisma and its effects both on devoted Macintosh users and on others who might otherwise be harder to influence." See also: "Drinking the Kool-Aid."

I started covering Windows in earnest in 1994. I remember the secrecy around Chicago, a k a "Windows 95." Microsoft delivered regular builds to external testers on a weekly -- and sometimes even more frequent -- basis. These testers knew what they could and couldn't say, in terms of their non-disclosure agreements. But they knew it was important to talk both publicly and privately about what was good and what wasn't in the weekly builds in order to help make the product better. And Microsoft knew the same; its Windows brass made themselves available to testers and the press. Customers had a pretty good sense of what was coming and when.

Cut to 2007. The Windows client team (or at least those in charge of it) have decided they are tired of transparency. Look at what happened with Windows Vista. Microsoft aired its dirty laundry, ranging from dropped features, to missed internal milestone dates. And it got hammered for it. So now the team is trying to transition to a new policy: Don't talk about products and plans until they are so completely baked that there is next-to-no chance of them changing. No more fun codenames. No more access to Windows management. Roadmaps -- who needs 'em?

There's another implied promise of secrecy: Mystery creates allure. At least that's the conclusion to which you might come if you're Microsoft studying Apple. All Apple has to do is say: "We've got something new and shiny coming" and users who've never touched a beta version of a Version 1.0 product will camp out overnight to get it. If you can build interest in Windows Seven by holding back information about it, maybe there really would be lines out the door of Best Buy and Circuit City the day it goes on sale….

In order to build Applesque buzz for Windows -- or any of its other products -- Microsoft would need a few things that it currently doesn't have:

  1. A charismatic leader (preferably in a black turtleneck, not a Microsoft-logo'd polo) who is both a showman and a cult leader. If you look at Redmond's executive roster, it's slim pickings on those counts. I guess J Allard would come the closest to a Steve Jobsian stand-in.
  2. Beautifully designed and packaged products (that don't create frustration among its own employees attempting to access the contents of said packaging) that appeal to more than geeks. In the case of software, think cinematic special effects with cool names (more "Time Machine," less "Volume Shadow Copy").
  3. Last but definitely not least -- a vociferous, loyal fan base. (But hopefully not one that is full of folks who believe they are the chosen people.) Yes, there are Microsoft fanboys and girls who go gaga over a Scott Guthrie code-fest. But the average Windows user -- all 800 million of them (according to Microsoft's count) who use Windows on a daily basis -- just are nowhere near as fanatical as the majority of Apple or Linux zealots.

Back to Wikipedia and the definition of RDF:

"RDF is said to distort an audience's sense of proportion or scale. Small advances are applauded as breakthroughs. Interesting developments become turning points, or huge leaps forward. RDF focuses less on outright deception and more on warping the powers of judgment."

Microsoft has shown itself adept at exaggerating the importance of its "breakthroughs." (Windows Vista, case in point.) But it hasn't found the key -- if there is one -- to" warping the powers of judgment" of most of its customer base. I used to think it was because Microsoft was such a dominant No. 1 in the client operating system market and the masses prefer rooting for the underdog. But Google has proven that theory wrong.

Will Microsoft's new era of "no comment" help usher in a Microsoft RDF? Is an RDF something Microsoft should desire to emulate in the first place? (My vote: No.) What do you think?

Topics: Windows, Apple, Microsoft

About

Mary Jo has covered the tech industry for 30 years for a variety of publications and Web sites, and is a frequent guest on radio, TV and podcasts, speaking about all things Microsoft-related. She is the author of Microsoft 2.0: How Microsoft plans to stay relevant in the post-Gates era (John Wiley & Sons, 2008).

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76 comments
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  • What Else Can They Do

    As the story said, they were forthright and got zinged for it. I'll be surprised if this topic produces many rationally detached and thoughtful responses on ZDNet. There is no way microsoft can release frank information that is truly useful to its huge user base because its PR energies have to be tailored attempts at deflecting a determined spirit of hate and envy.
    lmenningen
  • Why would they copy Apple?

    Who makes more money, MS or Apple? It seems to me that it is Apple that could learn a thing or two from Microsoft. :)
    NonZealot
    • It's traditional for Microsoft to copy Apple

      Three Apple Engineers and Three Microsoft Engineers
      Three Apple engineers and three Microsoft engineers are traveling by train to a conference. At the station, the three Microsoft engineers each buy tickets and watch as the three Apple engineers buy only a single ticket. "How are three people going to travel on only one ticket?" asks a Microsoft engineer. "Watch and you'll see," answers the Apple engineer.

      They all board the train. The Microsoft engineers take their respective seats but all three Apple engineers cram into a rest room and close the door behind them. Shortly after the train has departed, the conductor comes around collecting tickets. He knocks on the rest room door and says, "Ticket, please." The door opens just a crack and a single arm emerges with a ticket in hand. The conductor takes it and moves on. The Microsoft engineers saw this and agreed it was quite a clever idea. So after the conference, the Microsoft engineers decide to copy the Apple engineers (as they always do) on the return trip and save some money.

      When they get to the station, they buy a single ticket for the return trip. To their astonishment, the Apple engineers don't buy a ticket at all. "How are you going to travel without a ticket?" asks one perplexed Microsoft engineer. "Watch and you'll see," answers an Apple engineer. When they board the train the three Microsoft engineers cram into a rest room and the three Apple engineers cram into another one nearby. The train departs. Shortly afterward, one of the Apple engineers leaves his rest room and walks over to the rest room where the Microsoft employees are hiding. He knocks on the door and says, "Ticket, please..."

      Anonymous
      whisperycat
      • Haha, funny!!

        kittycat, that is probably the most truth filled post you have ever written here. Let's see if you take that as a compliment. :)

        Regardless, it is a funny joke!
        NonZealot
      • Made me laugh out loud

        Good one
        j.m.galvin
    • who's stock is worth more? (NT)

      NT
      Non-Zealand
      • Microsoft's stock is worth more

        Microsoft's market cap: $296 billion
        Apple's market cap: $121 billion

        Hehe, you weren't honestly using the price of 1 stock as any indication of a company's wealth, were you? HAHAHAHAHAHA!!!! A company with millions of stocks at $10/stock is worth [b]far[/b] more than a company with 1 stock at $1000.
        NonZealot
        • Holy Crap!

          Apple, with 5% of the computer market has a market cap only a little less the 50% of the world's largest software company with a lock on more than 95% of the computers sold around the world?
          frgough
        • NonZealot needs to learn to read charts

          NonZealot,

          From your statements, it's obvious that all you're doing is comparing the points on
          the charts (be they market share or stocks charts). What you fail to look at are the
          trends (or slopes) of the lines connecting these points.

          According to the trends, Apple's stock is rising faster than Microsoft's and Apple's
          PC market share is increasing at three times the rate of the rest of the Windows
          market. Apple's market cap will soon rival that of HP's.

          In other words, given the current trends, Apple will soon invert the points that
          you're focused on.

          You can deny and scoff all you like, but the fact of the matter is that Apple is
          diversified in money making businesses better than any other tech company at the
          moment. And it doesn't seem that Apple is going to loose steam any time soon.

          So, NonZealot, you're going to have to pass your Apple FUD mantle on to your
          grandchildren, because Apple Inc. will survive us all. Who knows, maybe by the
          time our grandchildren are on the scene no one will remember any of this blogging
          nonsense. Instead we'll be driving vehicles with easy to use UIs and managed by
          'software that just works', i.e. software and hardware created by Apple.

          By the way, 'software that just works' is Apple's specialty, and no amount of 'reality
          distortion field', even from Microsoft, can succeed in tricking consumers into
          accepting poor software. RDF goes hand in hand with GS (great software) and IJW
          (it just works). Remember, there's no reason to accept inferior quality software
          from Microsoft any longer, since in the 'post-PC' era applications will not be
          requiring Windows.
          YinToYourYang-22527499
          • Oh Please...

            Oh I see. So when asked what company is worth more the answer you are supposed to give involves making some reference to a chart and add in some future looking statements that basically say, in 20 years, if everything stays the same, then YES Apple will be worth more.

            Pathetic dude.
            BFD
          • read the article, it is about the future, not the past. NT

            NT
            Non-Zealand
          • it is about the future

            How does one know what the future will be?

            By looking at the past!

            If no one had ever seen the sun rise, how
            would anyone know that the sun will rise
            tomorrow?
            Ole Man
          • You're right.

            It was a badly phrased question.

            However, the stock market (the smart guys, anyway) don't look at snapshots - they
            look at trends.

            Microsoft's fundamentals over the past 5 years lag badly behind that of Apple.

            Using metrics like Book Value per share, or earning per share, we see that
            Microsoft has been trending downward (book value -7% per year average over the
            last 5 years), while Apple has been trending upward (book value +15% per year
            average over the last 5 years). Microsoft's market value growth certainly hasn't
            kept up with the growth of Apple.

            However, there's a reason that financial firms use the "past performance can't
            predict future performance" disclaimer.
            msalzberg
          • Your over estimating...

            ...you speak about grandchildren who might not remember this blogging... even Non
            Zealot himself wont remember blogging here in a few years... and speaking about
            numbers...
            99,9999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999
            99999999999999999999999999999% of the world population doesn't even know or
            care he blogs and
            the0.00000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000
            0000000000001% laughs.
            Non-Zealand
          • What are you two doing!?

            [B][U]malzburg[.U][/B]
            However, the stock market (the smart guys, anyway) don't look at snapshots - they
            look at trends.

            Microsoft's fundamentals over the past 5 years lag badly behind that of Apple.

            Using metrics like Book Value per share, or earning per share, we see that
            Microsoft has been trending downward (book value -7% per year average over the
            last 5 years), while Apple has been trending upward (book value +15% per year
            average over the last 5 years). Microsoft's market value growth certainly hasn't
            kept up with the growth of Apple.

            However, there's a reason that financial firms use the "past performance can't
            predict future performance" disclaimer

            [B][U]Yin to your Yang[/U][/B]
            NonZealot,

            From your statements, it's obvious that all you're doing is comparing the points on
            the charts (be they market share or stocks charts). What you fail to look at are the
            trends (or slopes) of the lines connecting these points.

            According to the trends, Apple's stock is rising faster than Microsoft's and Apple's
            PC market share is increasing at three times the rate of the rest of the Windows
            market. Apple's market cap will soon rival that of HP's.

            In other words, given the current trends, Apple will soon invert the points that
            you're focused on.

            You can deny and scoff all you like, but the fact of the matter is that Apple is
            diversified in money making businesses better than any other tech company at the
            moment. And it doesn't seem that Apple is going to loose steam any time soon.

            So, NonZealot, you're going to have to pass your Apple FUD mantle on to your
            grandchildren, because Apple Inc. will survive us all. Who knows, maybe by the
            time our grandchildren are on the scene no one will remember any of this blogging
            nonsense. Instead we'll be driving vehicles with easy to use UIs and managed by
            'software that just works', i.e. software and hardware created by Apple.

            By the way, 'software that just works' is Apple's specialty, and no amount of 'reality
            distortion field', even from Microsoft, can succeed in tricking consumers into
            accepting poor software. RDF goes hand in hand with GS (great software) and IJW
            (it just works). Remember, there's no reason to accept inferior quality software
            from Microsoft any longer, since in the 'post-PC' era applications will not be
            requiring Windows.

            [I]I don't get it, look at the formatting of both your posts! They are hard to read when posted like this. What browser / OS are you using, are you using Word to write your posts first then pasting them in? WTF are you doing?! And there are a couple others too... Listen I like to read the posts but when they are formatted like the two examples above, it makes it difficult to read.

            So whatever you are doing, stop, please. Thanks.[/I] ]:)
            Linux User 147560
          • What are you two doing!?

            [B][U]malzburg[/U][/B]
            However, the stock market (the smart guys, anyway) don't look at snapshots - they
            look at trends.

            Microsoft's fundamentals over the past 5 years lag badly behind that of Apple.

            Using metrics like Book Value per share, or earning per share, we see that
            Microsoft has been trending downward (book value -7% per year average over the
            last 5 years), while Apple has been trending upward (book value +15% per year
            average over the last 5 years). Microsoft's market value growth certainly hasn't
            kept up with the growth of Apple.

            However, there's a reason that financial firms use the "past performance can't
            predict future performance" disclaimer

            [B][U]Yin to your Yang[/U][/B]
            NonZealot,

            From your statements, it's obvious that all you're doing is comparing the points on
            the charts (be they market share or stocks charts). What you fail to look at are the
            trends (or slopes) of the lines connecting these points.

            According to the trends, Apple's stock is rising faster than Microsoft's and Apple's
            PC market share is increasing at three times the rate of the rest of the Windows
            market. Apple's market cap will soon rival that of HP's.

            In other words, given the current trends, Apple will soon invert the points that
            you're focused on.

            You can deny and scoff all you like, but the fact of the matter is that Apple is
            diversified in money making businesses better than any other tech company at the
            moment. And it doesn't seem that Apple is going to loose steam any time soon.

            So, NonZealot, you're going to have to pass your Apple FUD mantle on to your
            grandchildren, because Apple Inc. will survive us all. Who knows, maybe by the
            time our grandchildren are on the scene no one will remember any of this blogging
            nonsense. Instead we'll be driving vehicles with easy to use UIs and managed by
            'software that just works', i.e. software and hardware created by Apple.

            By the way, 'software that just works' is Apple's specialty, and no amount of 'reality
            distortion field', even from Microsoft, can succeed in tricking consumers into
            accepting poor software. RDF goes hand in hand with GS (great software) and IJW
            (it just works). Remember, there's no reason to accept inferior quality software
            from Microsoft any longer, since in the 'post-PC' era applications will not be
            requiring Windows.

            [I]I don't get it, look at the formatting of both your posts! They are hard to read when posted like this. What browser / OS are you using, are you using Word to write your posts first then pasting them in? WTF are you doing?! And there are a couple others too... Listen I like to read the posts but when they are formatted like the two examples above, it makes it difficult to read.

            So whatever you are doing, stop, please. Thanks.[/I] ]:)
            Linux User 147560
        • ok, you but 1000 MS stock, I buy 1000 Apple, happy? NT

          NT
          Non-Zealand
  • Can Microsoft pull off the RDF thing?

    In a word: no.
    Charismatic geek is an oxymoron.
    Userama
    • You can't succeed by RDF alone: We're not dupes

      Mary Jo's premise is illogical and insulting to consumers.

      Who would we buy Apple's RDF any longer if Apple had delivered the Zune instead
      of the iPhone?

      Given RDF is equal between Apple and Microsoft, Apple delivers the iPhone and
      Microsoft delivers the Zune. Is anyone in their right mind going to argue that RDF
      is the only ingredient missing in Microsoft's success? Again, the ZDNet bloggers
      miss the point about Apple: it's about the WHOLE experience.

      Mary Jo's RDF theory, assumes that consumers are dupes. If RDF were all there was
      to success, then consumers would just keep on buying bad products Apple as long
      as their curiosity bone was hit by Dr. Jobs' mallet. But consumers are not dupes
      and Apple's RDF distinguishes itself from Microsoft's by the quality of its products.
      In other words, consumers keep coming back to the Apple RDF because they have
      pleasant past associations with the experience.
      YinToYourYang-22527499
      • Yesssss! consumers are dupes

        If consumers were not dupes, no one would
        have ever bought the first piece of software
        with a Microsoft EULA that says you do not
        own what you just paid for, Microsoft
        retains ownership and full control with no
        warranty, You can only use it on one
        computer, you cannot move it to another
        computer even if your existing computer dies
        (unless you purchase a "RETAIL" copy
        separately at a premium price), Microsoft
        reserves the right to modify this EULA at
        any time for any or no reason with or
        without notice, and you have no right to sue
        Microsoft for any loss or damages, or any
        other reason. And especially after they
        released XP with their Activation garbage,
        and to make sorry even worse, added WGA and
        DRM, with rootkits and spyware to patrol,
        control, and harass them, and move their
        support to a foreign country halfway around
        the world with an unintelligible accent.

        After all this, they compound sorry with
        sneaky by inconspicuously hiding all this
        (no words to describe such horrible tripe)
        inside the package or computer so it can't
        be seen until after purchase.

        In spite of everything, Microsoft DID have a
        95% market share, until Open Source, Linux,
        and Apple became a viable alternative. THE
        DUPES ARE BECOMING UNDUPED. Now it's around
        86% and rapidly declining.

        http://64.233.167.104/search?q=cache:CpTQNXtvqREJ:cybersource.com.au/cyber/about/comparing_the_gpl_to_eula.pdf+Comparison+of+the+Microsoft+and+GPL+license&hl=en&ct=clnk&cd=1&gl=us

        The conclusion we reach is that the majority
        of the Microsoft EULA appears to protect
        Microsoft
        and limit the choices, options and actions
        taken by the users of the software covered
        by that license.
        In contrast, the majority of the GPL is
        designed to apportion rights to the users of
        the software
        covered by that license, with a secondary
        emphasis on protecting the originating
        developers of that
        software, in respect to the continuation of
        the availability of the software
        source-codes (under the
        GPL) in perpetuity. In all, a marked
        contrast to the EULA.
        Ole Man