How pathetic is Microsoft's 'Macs might spoil your fun' campaign?

The managers stalking the halls in Redmond must finally feel confident in Windows 7, enough that heading into the back-to-school season, they are pitching an Apple attack ad that warns users that "Macs might spoil your fun." However, Microsoft's problem is that the piece appears unlikely to square with reality of the target segment: the happening crowd on campus.

The managers stalking the halls in Redmond must finally feel confident in Windows 7, enough that heading into the back-to-school season, they are pitching an Apple attack ad that warns users that "Macs might spoil your fun." However, Microsoft's problem is that the piece appears unlikely to square with reality of the target segment: the happening crowd on campus.

This pitch appears to be an attempt to combat the strong return of the Macintosh to the education market, both in secondary and in higher education. According to Global Equities Research analyst Trip Chowdhry, 70 percent of college freshmen are choosing Macs over Windows machines, up 10 to 15 percent from the year-ago back-to-school season.

The "PC vs Mac" section is a tab on the Windows 7 site. The page features a young girl with big brown eyes with a Mona Lisa smile. And she's ready for having fun, simplicity, working hard, sharing, compatibility and choice, although it appears that she already made the last one: We know she loves her Windows 7!

Here are the primary bullet points from the presentation:

Having Fun. When it's time to enjoy movies, games, and HDTV from anywhere in your home, PCs are ready to play.

Simplicity. Intuitive, familiar, and easy to use, PCs do what you want: they just work.

Working Hard. PCs are always ready, willing, and—most importantly—able to get down to business.

Sharing. Whether you're working or playing, PCs know how to help you get along with others. Compatibility. Most software is developed for PCs, and your PC will work with your music players, phones, cameras, and other devices.

Choice. Pick a color you love. Midnight blue, espresso, or pink? PCs offer the most variety and options to match your style or price point.

Each of these issues is expanded with a click. Of course, many of them make sense. But not all. And more to the marketing point, does the target audience care about these points?

Here are a few quick thoughts about each of the primary issues (without hitting every detail:

It's showtime - You can't get a Mac that ships with a Blu-ray player, TV tuner, Memory Stick reader, or built-in 3G wireless. You can with PCs running Windows 7.

Direct TV connection - Most Macs can't hook up to your TV unless you buy a converter dongle. Many PCs running Windows 7 are designed to connect directly to TVs, so you can watch movies and see photos on the big screen.

Unlike dorm rooms of past generations, there are few televisions in today's student housing. Your laptop is the vehicle for viewing streaming media. So, the TV connection is a non-issue to this segment. Blu-ray is an issue for large-screen HDTVs, not really for small screens.

In the "Macs Take Time to Learn" section, Microsoft says that the computer you already know is the easiest to use and that Macs come with a learning curve. This is, of course, absolutely true. That doesn't mean that you will love using that PC.

Use Windows 7 to simplify your life - Windows 7 was designed to make it simpler to do the tasks you do every day, with features that the Mac doesn't have. For example, the new Snap feature makes it easy to view two documents side by side.

Touch and go - Unlike Macs, many PCs running Windows 7 support Touch, so you can browse online newspapers, flick through photo albums, and shuffle files and folders—using nothing but your fingers. PCs with a fingerprint reader even let you log in with just a swipe of your finger.

Apple has its own share of pioneering UI elements in Mac OS X, such as Expose and Spaces, that users find essential to their increased productivity. And I seem to remember that it's been Apple that has driven touch into the mobile interface, first with the TrackPad and now with multitouch. Hello?

If most of the computers in your office or school run Windows you may find it harder to get things done with a Mac.

Sharing documents and spreadsheets - If you use Apple's productivity suite, sharing files with PC users can be tricky. Your documents might not look right and your spreadsheets might not calculate correctly.

Giving presentations - You'll have to buy a separate hardware dongle to plug your Mac into a standard VGA projector. Most PCs with Windows 7 hook up easily.

Protecting your drives - On a Mac, out of the box, you can only encrypt your home folder. With Windows 7 Ultimate, you can encrypt your entire hard drive and even USB drives. So your stuff can be safer wherever you go.

Are college students worried about encryption of their primary drives let alone a backup drive (be honest, do any of them ever back up anything)?

If there's a problem with file compatibility, students can purchase Office for Mac or use one of the Office substitutes. I have found that Numbers and Pages offer very good compatibility for most non-technical purposes. And Mac OS X was built on a foundation of PDF, saving any document to PDF is just like printing on the Mac and no extra software is needed to create or view PDF files.

Securely share your movies, music, and photos - With a Mac, it's harder to set up secure sharing for your photos, music & movies, documents, and even printers with other computers on your home network. With HomeGroup, it's easy to connect all the computers in your house running Windows 7.

It's easy with a PC - On a Mac, you have to manually set up photo sharing, manually set up music and movie sharing, manually set up file sharing, and manually set up printer sharing. It's easy to automatically and securely network with all the computers in your house when they're running Windows 7.

Harry McCracken discusses the PC vs. Mac site over at the Technologizer blog, and the former PCWorld editor is mostly fair in his analysis, calling it "almost reasonalble."  Here's his take on this point:

Microsoft’s specific claims are accurate, but they’re not the whole story. Windows 7?s HomeGroup networking does put more sharing features in one place than OS X does. But it requires that all the computers run Windows 7–to use Microsoft’s terminology, “Windows 7 PCs only like to share with other Windows 7 PCs.” Apple’s Home Sharing is actually part of iTunes, not OS X, and it only does music and video. But it works with multiple versions of OS X…and with Windows.

One of the weakest points in Microsoft's pitch is that "Macs might not like your PC stuff." Since there are more PCs in the world and more software for them, then you won't be able to run what you need on your Mac, the site points out.

Yes, this is so. However, Macintosh hardware is the one platform in the world that can actually run natively three primary operating systems: Mac OS X, Windows and Linux. It may require a reboot (or not if you decide to pay for third-party software) but a Mac can run all Mac, Windows and Linux software programs. So, it's actually the most conservative choice.

Finally, Microsoft points to the many different configurations available from Windows PCs.

Available in your favorite color - Macs only come in white or silver. PCs are available in a full spectrum of colors across a range of price points.

McCracken notes that Microsoft isn't hyping cost as much as it has in past campaigns. The price difference between Windows machines and Macs is called the "Apple tax."

I keep contending that the more similar a Windows PC is to a Mac, the more likely it is that the price is similar. I’m not sure if the lack of Apple-Tax math in this new comparison means Microsoft is conceding this point. Actually, I suspect it hasn’t, but I’m glad “we’re cheap!” isn’t the overriding message for now.

In Apple's latest earning call in July, the company said that it had record Mac sales in U.S. educational institutions "despite state budget constraints."

Here's analyst Chowdhry's conclusion about Microsoft and education:

He also said attach rates for Office 2010 are declining, especially in the public and education sectors and in call centers, which in all make up about 10 percent of the Office business. Attach rates refer to copies of Office sold per each copy of Windows owned.

THE ANALYSIS: "Our research is indicating that Microsoft is unable to connect with the new generation of users," Chowdhry wrote, adding that this could cause problems down the road when these students enter the work force and once again pick Macs over Windows.

In mid-July, Gartner released its Q2 2010 PC shipments data. In the U.S. market, Apple had a 9.8 share, a 24.7 percent year-over-year growth. For someone who watched the Mac's share rise in the 1980s and fall in the late 1990s, that 9.8 percent share is amazing. Will some "generational shift" as Chowdhry suggests keep that share growing? We Mac fans can keep believing it will be so someday.