Who gets the last laugh?

This is a quick free association test:

  • Zen, iTunes… Zune
  • Aqua… Aero
  • Flash… Sparkle

The first column is made of product names, the last of Microsoft equivalent shipped after the first ones. See a trend here?

So, OK, this will be a Microsoft bashing post and I just hope it’ll be the last one. MS is an easy target (’cause it’s so big) and it’s been done over and over so, what’s the point? Venting I guess… especially when MS is using methods its so quick at denouncing
(and as quick as suing) when other people use them against them.

Poking fun at competitors mocking their product name is one thing. It makes for fun code names, allows a team to focus on a competitor. Using it as a marketing strategy is another. It’s cheap and it’s ridiculous.

Don’t tell me MS is having a sense of humour here: remember how they went after Lindows? Was that funny? Where was their sense of humour?

No, MS knows exactly how brand association works and they just abuse it, and it’s annoying. Like a bully cheating at games in the play ground, they use those ridiculous tricks to trip the competition but, like the bully, start whining when someone else does. When they run out of ideas, they just go back to an insipid “Windows whatever” or “Microsoft thingy”: Windows search (their SpotLight look alike), Microsoft Word (short for WordStar?) Heck, even “Windows” was a rippoff (off “X Windows”, the Unix windowing GUI).

Copying ideas is OK I think (at least, I think it’s OK and this is why I’m an Open Source zealot) but, brand names? All they have is recognition so copying brand names is just trying to lure customers away from the original product. It adds no value, it’s just a customer bait trick. It’s small and pityful. It’s…

O well… Don’t they have enough name recognition already? Would that change anything in their budget coming up with a creative original name? In short, am I the only one who thinks MS is really playing it cheap here? …

Sigh… Shrug…

OK, I’m done with MS bashing. Now let’s move on to an MS anecdote.

I worked for MS for almost 5 years at the Silicon Valley Campus (yeah, I know what I’m talking about when I talk about MS… Thanks for nothing…). One day, Ballmer came to visit and, as often, he went to the cafeteria and we had a short impromptu Questions/Answers session with the boss (Note: motivation management is something MS is really good at BTW). I was standing in the crowd next to Tantek Çelik with who I was working at the time porting Mac IE to OS X. After the pep talk was over and a couple of inoccuous questions were asked, Tantek, with his formidable gusto, raised his hand and asked the following question:

“So we’re beeing told about this new OS, LongHorn, that has all these fantastic features like networked search, a relational system for files, advanced graphics capabilities, etc… Well, we’ve been told that same story 5 years ago with another OS code named Cairo and it didn’t happen. What will be different that time around?”

Ballmer, who took advantage of Tantek’s tirade to sip water out of a bottle, gulped and quipped: “We’ll ship!”

Crowd rotfl (which was easy since most were already sitting otf…).

Well, that was funny. That was 3 years ago.

In the meantime, MacIE was killed, I move to OSAF (after a short stint at Macromedia), Tantek moved to Technorati and launched the microformats thing, 2 or 3 major versions of OS X shipped, etc…

And, you know what’s really funny? Well, the really funny part is that 3 year later, it’s still funny…

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2 Responses to Who gets the last laugh?

  1. Tantek says:

    Wow. Thanks for the flashback Philippe.

    The one footnote I would add to the start of your post is that the IE5/Mac team developed its “iMac-like” user interface (including flavor switching) codenamed “NewLook” totally independently and many months before Aqua. It may have just been a coincidence, but the IE5/Mac team gave a private demo of IE5/Mac with the NewLook (all public betas used the old IE4.5/Mac look and feel) in I believe early December 1999 to Apple, including user interface folks, after which they suddenly got silent and stopped returning emails / phone calls etc. Mere weeks later Steve Jobs announced/previewed Aqua at MacWorld SF in January 2000.

    In March of 2000 IE5/Mac shipped for MacOS8 and better, providing the first “iMac-like” / “Aqua-like” application user interface experience, customizable to the flavor color of your iMac/iBook etc. In fact, Maf Vosburgh (the software developer who implemented NewLook and worked with outside firm Nykris on the NewLook design) put code in IE5/Mac to automatically default the flavor color of the IE5/Mac user interface to the flavor color of your computer upon first launching the browser. Grape iMacs got a grape UI, Tangerine iBooks got a tangerine UI, Graphite towers got a graphite UI, and of course, original Bondi blue iMacs got a Bondi blue UI.

  2. pbossut says:

    Hi Tantek! Amazing the speed at which this post was found and commented on while I made no effort to “market” it. A credit to the efficiency of Technorati’s tools. 🙂

    To amplify your comment on “what Apple stole from Mac IE”, just go to the View/Customize Address Bar menu. This is a copy of Mac IE 5 hastily developed and half backed version that Jimmy Grewal put together at the end of Mac IE 5.0. Everything is there: the logic, the layout, the text, even Jimmy’s idiosyncratic abuse of ellipsis. Jimmy and me always had kick when looking at that one… 🙂

    But my point was not about copying features or ideas. As I said in my post, as an Open Source zealot I’m all for copying and improving on the ideas of others (though I grant you that copying them before they make it in a public version is cheating…). That’s the way technology makes progress. Even minutes improvments or just the diffusion of a better way of doing something is a benefit to the end user and eventually to the whole industry.

    But copying names? This adds no value whatsoever. The only rationale for this is one of cheap marketing and lack of imagination. It’s simply low.

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