Jan 10

Microsoft: needing a lesson from Disney

Attn: Microsoft — you have a message from Uncle Walt

As the Apple love-fest enters a new phase this week, I couldn’t help thinking about how some brands are so good at bonding with customers — while others excel at shooting themselves in the foot.

I flashed back to a moment I had in Disney World recently with my 12-year-old son. In an attempt to dazzle him with the depth of my Disney knowledge, I told him how, eons ago, you couldn’t just go on any ride you wanted. You had to buy this silly book of tickets (E-Tickets were the really cool rides), then hassle with buying extra tickets when you inevitably ran out.

“That’s stupid,” my son observed, “I bet nobody came here then.”

Pretty good logic, kid. But the truth, of course, is that tons of people came here then. It’s just that the Disney people were smart enough to look past the gaudy numbers and realize they could do it better. There was a way to make customers feel happier still, and pull them even closer to the Disney brand. The one-price, all-attraction pass was born.

I get the feeling Bill Gates and Steve Ballmer have never visited Disney. Or Universal, or Six Flags, or any of the major parks — since those businesses have all adopted the same winning system. The way they sell Windows is a hassle. It’s about Microsoft first, the customer second.

They’ve gotten a wee bit better with Windows 7, but still cling to the old model. There are now “only” three versions at retail: Home Premium ($120), Professional ($200) and Ultimate ($220). The “good” version takes some serious investment.

Meanwhile, over at Apple, they’re selling the all-attraction pass. Only one version of Mac OS X exists. It’s got everything in it. It’s for students and moms, Hollywood film editors and scientists — and it’s priced at Microsoft’s low end. Like Disney, Apple realized (a) it’s easier to market one product, (b) it’s easier for customers to understand one product, and (c) it’s good business not to make people feel like they’re being gouged for every nickel.

Imagine how much happier Microsoft customers would be if there were only one version of Windows 7, all features included, reasonably priced. Just a fleeting knowledge of human behavior tells you that more people would buy the product — and more people would feel good about buying it.

Maybe then they’d actually have something to dance about in those Microsoft Stores.

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  • but Apple took a page from Microsoft’s book … remember when the OS asked if you wanted a fat or lean version? now it’s still a well working OS but getting a tad bloated and, having removed the bits you can opt out of, includes lots of superfluous crap … just like MS …

  • ken segall

    You’ll have to refresh my memory on the fat/lean bit. I see nothing on Google. And Mac OS X is getting bloated? Superfluous crap — “just like MS”? I’m in shock! From my experience (and from what I read about Snow Leopard in particular), Mac OS X is getting more compact over time, and quicker. And I didn’t even mention in today’s post that once you figure out what flavor of Windows you want, you then have to pick 32-bit or 64-bit. These types of decisions exist in the Apple world and customers are far happier for it.

  • Cory

    What about the pain Microsoft must have in tracking, upgrading and supporting all those versions…. having one would save money and support hassles.

    Apple also trusts their customers… there is no activation or key to worry about… which caused the vast majority of issues during the Windows 7 launch. There was an article I read about this (for Leopard) about the number of family packs vs individual packs sold … it’s funny because there is no difference between the physical DVD inside both… yet more people purchased OSX Leopard family pack by percentage (by far) then those purchasing the Windows family pack… so the author believed that if you trust your customer… if you offer them a fair price… they’ll will reciprocate. Microsoft has pulled the family pack product… it was a limited time offer.

    One more thing…. some of the security features that they build into Windows 7 like preventing third party installation of software (or warning you at least) are only fully implemented in the Ultimate edition…. this seems like something every version should get and a feature the novice users would require more then those expert one purchasing the “ultimate” edition. And they wonder why they get virus…. they first create an environment where they thrive and then they sell you tools remove them… sounds like a great business model to me.

  • ChuckO

    Marino, Mac OS is getting bloated? If you install Snow Leopard it RETURNS(!!!!) 7 gigs of hard drive. One of the reasons it was $25 was because there was so little benefit that would be visible to the end user. It’s mostly changes for implementing a 64 bit OS and system optimization.

    I have to think MS has a team of actuaries that could prove me wrong but along the lines of what Cory said it seems like it would be cheaper and more profitable to make it easier to buy Windows and Office. Of course, it also seems intuitive that they would want to make sure these core systems are so good you don’t end up in a Vista style cluster f*ck. So it probably only goes to show the limits of common sense and decency in the face of mind bogglingly demented hubris and self-regard.

  • ken segall

    I like the way you keep your language clean around here. You also get bonus points for using the words “common sense.” At the end of the day, I think it’s what truly sets Apple apart from the rest of them. The bigger a company gets, the more divisions it grows, the more impossible it becomes to do the right/obvious thing. It sometimes takes incredible resolve and a willingness to spend a few extra bucks, but it is always worth it.

  • Tracy Jones

    Hey Ken,

    To your comment about Microsoft making things complicated, the irony wasn’t lost on me, or any of the 4000 people in the room at Steve Balmer’s CES keynote this year when two minutes before his speech, all of the systems in the auditorium crashed, delaying the presentation for almost an hour while they tried to figure it out and get it running again. You can read all about it here:


    Cheers… TJ

  • ChuckO

    Ken, sorry for the language! I usually don’t do “blue”.

    The wheels really seem to be coming off Microsoft’s business model. I remember reading a few years ago predictions that MS’s price structure for the OS and office was unsustainable as average PC prices hit $300 – $400 and that seems to be coming to pass.

    Apples combo of creativity and discipline really seems to work and I gotta say in a world gone mad I find that reassuring.

  • fair enough … i take the piss and the piss gets taken back … (that’s allowed, it’s british slang) …

    the OS i was referring to was right around the time of the FX, shortly before or or after and allowed the user to install all the bells and whistles or keep it to a minimum and faster … System 7 maybe? since then, it’s been building in atomic mass, right now, the system and library folders on my iMAc take up almost 7 gigs …

    as for having all the extra bits? yeah the Widgets and Spaces and the rest are cute, but how much time do you actually spend in the OS? very little, by most people’s standards and if you don’t know how to tab through open programs and windows by now, well …

    as for Apple not being worthy of sainthood, they are guilty of some truly Microsoftian gaffs and blunders, like: telling us that they’re working on a way to simply swap out chips so you won’t have to buy a new machine, releasing PR “leaks” about plans to work on other platforms … there is a long list …

    my point was, it’s still the OS and machine for me and that might be more conditioning than anything else at this point? the boundaries are starting to blur and with apps, music, movies, and all forms of content slowly getting to a cloud state and more rapidly than that, a state of transparency across platforms, the box might no longer matter? and with the box goes the OS …

  • A long ago Microserf with a Stanford MBA persuaded BillG that customer segmentation was the more profitable approach, and there ya have it.

    I once asked a Telecom exec what the difference was between their SOHO offering and the individual user plan. His answer was: Small business people pay more.


  • ken segall

    Love that story. I have no doubt that segmentation looks more profitable on a spreadsheet. Customer satisfaction and loyalty are things you have to take mostly on faith, knowing that they’ll pay off down the road. Few companies are willing to invest hundreds of millions on faith. They only act on the cold, hard numbers — which, I believe, is why they end up being seen as cold, hard companies.