Microsoft Mania

What the ads aren't saying about Windows 95

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Ironically, the lines that are missing from the Stones' 'Start Me Up' television ad for Windows 95 may be the ones that most aptly describe the much-hyped release of Microsoft's updated, user-friendly operating system. Microsoft's massive ad campaign very well might make 'a dead man come' -- into stores, that is, clamoring for boxes of fresh software and free pizza. As Stephanie Syman notes in Feed (August 1995), the ads bank on the suburban, '50s values (man in the office, woman in the kitchen) Microsoft evidently associates with home PC users. Whether or not Windows consumers actually reflect this retrogressive image, some critics say they'll be left crying before the jingle fades from popular memory.

First, there are the privacy issues to consider. According to Ralph Nader, Windows 95's online 'Registration Wizard' gives Microsoft an unfair advantage over competitors and threatens the privacy of its users. In July 1995, Nader fired off a letter to President Clinton, claiming that the Wizard scans a user's hard disk, dials up Microsoft and downloads information to Microsoft about the files on the user's hard disk. (The letter was also distributed on the Taxpayer Assets Project list serve listproc@tap.org.) Although registration is voluntary, Nader believes that consumers who are intimated by the technology will give Microsoft the information for fear that their software might not function properly otherwise.

Next up on the gripe list are critics' claims that Windows 95 won't be around long enough for consumers to get their money's worth. According to Leo Laporte, an industry analyst and radio talk show host, Bill Gates' near-term strategy is 'to squeeze as much upgrade money out of current Windows users as he can.' But his long-term plan, warns Laporte, is to move us all off Windows 95 onto Cairo, Microsoft's next generation operating system. Trade publications like Computerworld revealed the strategy months ago, when they reported that MS compelled software vendors to make their programs compatible with both Windows 95 and Windows NT (Cairo's baby brother) if they wanted to use the Windows 95 'seal of approval' on their packaging.

Obviously this does not bode well for millions of consumers who will upgrade to 95 only to realize that in just a couple of years they'll need more memory and a faster processor to operate Windows NT. Because most PCs are not nearly powerful enough to run NT, it seems likely that Microsoft introduced 95 as a stepping stone to Cairo, which drops the DOS format completely.

Finally, when it comes to Windows 95, it seems that 'new and improved' makes for higher costs but does not necessarily mean better quality. Some critics say Microsoft's market dominance has made it a lazy software developer that depends more on hyper-marketing than good software engineering. 'Microsoft trades quality for quantity and gets away with it,' Syman says, 'and its publicity's corny, middle-of-the-road tone is no accident. A more sophisticated pitch might demand better software. '



Original to Utne Reader Online, September 1995.