Mac Musings

Microsoft Doesn't Get It

Daniel Knight - 2009.03.31 -

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It's amazing how short our memory can be.

According to many headlines, Mac sales were down 16% in February.

What they fail to remember are the headlines about the February 2008 Mac sales that they are comparing this "16% drop" to. In case you've forgotten, here are some of last year's headlines:

Those basic math skills you learned in grade school can be applied here. If February 2008 Mac sales were up 60% over February 2007 while February 2009 sales were 16% lower than February 2008, we find that February 2009 sales were up 34-35% over February 2007.

2007 sales x 1.6 x .84 = 1.344

Yet all the headlines about February 2009 sales trumpet doom and gloom for Apple, and several also point to a Windows resurgence. You can bet that HP and Dell haven't seen 33% sales growth over the past two years. Apple has, yet the sensationalist headlines would have you think Apple is beleaguered yet again.

Fortune Stands Alone

US Mac sales growth, Jan. 2008 to March 2009Only one of these articles bothers to show a growth chart that includes both February 2008 and February 2009. Kudos to Fortune for sharing a graph (right) covering Mac sales from January 2008 through projected March 2009 sales!

Looking at this data, it's obvious that Apple had an incredible year in 2008 with year-over-year sales up 60% in February, over 70% in March, roughly 50% in April and May, and still over 40% in June and July. In fact, there was only a single month in 2008 during which sales did not increase over 2007 - November.

In January 2009, Mac sales were down by about 8%, while sales had been up about 12% a year earlier, so there was still a net gain over 2007 sales figures. But that doesn't make for attention getting headlines - January 2009 Mac Sales Ahead of January 2007 Figures.

Raising the Bar

Apple raised the bar with phenomenal year-over-year sales growth figures higher than 40% from February through July 2008. That kind of growth would be difficult to duplicate under the best of circumstances, and in light of the current economic recession (when will we call it a depression?), it's remarkable that Apple, which doesn't sell low-cost computers, is still selling Macs at a brisk pace and still turning a profit.

LaurenMicrosoft has chosen this as the right time to attack Apple. First, Steve Ballmer cries out that we're paying a $500 premium to get the Apple logo on our hardware. Then we have the $1,000 laptop ad with Lauren, who isn't "cool enough for a Mac" and buys a cheap, low-specification $699 Windows notebook because she's convinced that a $999 13.3" MacBook could never meet her needs.

The interesting thing is that Microsoft's attacks on the Mac and on Linux have only legitimized these alternatives to Windows.

If we're insignificant, why bother trumpeting to the world that you consider us a viable alternative?

Microsoft Doesn't Get It

Microsoft just doesn't get it, because Microsoft has never sold personal computers. From its perspective, computer hardware is interchangeable and just a platform for moving copies of Windows. Microsoft sees every Mac sold and every Linux computer sold as a slap in the face. Hardware is hardware, and a billion Windows users can't be wrong.

Microsoft, as always, is shortsighted. Mac users have historically been at least as likely to buy Microsoft Office as Windows users, and Microsoft has never even attempted to sell Office to Linux users. For years, Microsoft Internet Explorer was the default browser on the Mac, and it only disappeared from the Mac platform because Microsoft chose to let IE 5.2 atrophy and die in the face of Apple's Safari browser - which is now taking on Internet Explorer on its home field of Windows. (Linux users have never had IE as an option.)

If anything, Mac users are now more likely than ever to run Windows on their computers because of Apple's 2006 switch to Intel CPUs. And they're not getting Windows at bulk prices like HP, Dell, Acer, Asus, and the rest of the PC world - they have to buy the retail version or find a way to obtain an OEM version that will still cost more than PC makers pay Microsoft for a copy of Windows.

Macs are a profit center for Microsoft, yet the company treats us as the enemy. Linux could be a profit center for Microsoft, yet it wants nothing to do with that open source operating system and its wealth of open source software. Microsoft doesn't seem to believe that its software is worth anything in the face of free competition.

Apple Gets It

I won't debate the simple fact that you can always find a Windows computer that's cheaper than a Mac. Nor will I debate that these low-end Windows PCs often have less RAM, less powerful CPUs, and less adequate graphics processors than the least expensive Macs. PC makers are hardware vendors, and they make money by offering build-to-order options such as more RAM, a faster and/or better CPU, and a more powerful graphics engine.

I won't debate that Apple notebooks tend to have much better battery life and higher resolution screens (at the same size in inches) than do cheaper Windows notebooks. Nor will I debate that Macs tend to look better and be better built, or that spec-for-spec Windows machines will almost always cost less.

I won't debate the value of Apple's hardware, operating system, free software, bundled apps, and the Mac-only software that we Mac users have access to.

What I will state for the record is that Apple understands the value of its product. While the PC world dukes it out for the lowest price or the best gaming performance among a host of hardware vendors, Apple is consistently making a money selling Macs at a profit.

Apple has nothing to fear from Windows, from netbooks, from Tablet PCs, or from traditional desktop PCs. As much as many of us would love to see Apple produce a netbook, a tablet, and an affordable, expandable desktop Mac, Apple does not need to do so to survive, profit, and thrive. Apple can enter those markets any time it chooses to, and if it ever does, it will do so in its own way - excellent hardware, excellent software, and excellent profits.

Apple knows that Macs are worth more than Windows PCs. So do those of us who use Macs. We have long memories, and we'll never forget how good the Mac experience is.

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Dan Knight has been using Macs since 1986, sold Macs for several years, supported them for many more years, and has been publishing Low End Mac since April 1997. If you find Dan's articles helpful, please consider making a donation to his tip jar.

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