James O'Neill's blog

Windows Platform, Virtualization and PowerShell with a little Photography for good measure.

Supercomputers and adverts.

Supercomputers and adverts.

  • Comments 6
  • Likes

One of those Saturday morning serendipitous link chains.

Sometime in 1988  I was talking to Mike, one of my colleagues at Research Machines. It's impossible to keep using increasing computer for ever I said. He had 16Mhz 386 computer on his desk with a 387 maths co-processor and a special cache board in it and people were cooing over the power of the thing.  Mike said however much power the hardware folks gave us, the software folks would find a way to use it: way beyond his awesome 386 he said. But there has to be a limit, I said "Even if you could give everyone a Cray ?". Even then said Mike....

You might have heard that we've been running some new adverts. The first couple were to get people thing "Oh Microsoft have something to say do they"... I greeted these with some skepticism. Bill transitions out of this full time job at Microsoft and we start running adverts with Bill as the star. Even now I can hear someone pitching "Bill" to TV studios , a sitcom about a guy in Seattle, "Think Frasier, but instead of Psychiatrist he's a computer geek. And the great thing is the real Bill is available. We can bring in guest comedians from all over..."  Reflexively my toes began to curl when I saw Bill in an ad because I learned a little rhyme when I was young.

When the client moans and sighs
make his logo twice the size
If he still should prove refractory
show a picture of his factory
Only in the gravest cases
should you show the clients’ faces

The first ad passed me by. Part of recent Microsoft folklore (if you can call blog posts that) was someone asking Steve Ballmer "When will act like an international company and not like an an American company which does business overseas". I didn't think people in Britain would get it. It seems a great many Americans didn't get it either: it's an advert so what does Microsoft want us to buy ? Vista, office, Exchange, Mobile , the ideas of Live ? Or just open our minds enough to accept that Jerry Seinfeld who is famously from New York and Gates - famously from Seattle - could possibly be in the same shoe shop. The second one did raise a laugh but would a British Audience get it ? Was there something to get ? Or is just the most expensive clearing of the throat in recent corporate history ?

My smoke alarm went off a couple of days ago. It does it every so often - this time was because I left a door slightly open and steam from the shower was enough to trip the thing. Burnt toast or frying some things can also set it off if the kitchen door is open. The thing is a nuisance, so why don't I just take its battery out ? You know why. I mention this because its actually quite a good metaphor with User Account Control in Windows Vista. Most of the time you forget it's there. When you're doing some things it's a nuisance... But one day it might save you. Granted UAC won't save your loved ones from death by smoke inhalation. And I'll take rebuilding an infected computer over even minor fire damage any day.  Trust me on this: I've caused a kitchen fire at home which needed two fire engines and men in breathing apparatus.

I mention this because Apple's ad campaigns got the skin of Microsoft folks so much, that they get into any internal talk about our own ads in first few seconds. Someone brought up this mac ad which is the most inaccurate representation of UAC I've seen to date.  Just like the ad agencies take on Viruses - Apple have more published vulnerabilities than Windows but - even virus writers don't bother with it as a platform. This one seems to be saying "Apple OS-X :  like a house without a smoke alarm".

As a Microsoft shareholder there are times when I think the money we've spent with advertising agencies has been wasted - worse than that: I can think of cases where it would have done us less harm to spend the money buying air time for those Apple ads. And for pity's sake why can I do I see ads like this one for the first time when trying to find something on youtube ? Watch it .... Notice it says 25 years ago a company was founded: that dates it to 2000. And the breaking down barriers bit ... well we might see more of that in the "Without walls" campaign. I tell you this because I think the latest ad might turn out to be a master stroke. 

 

They've taken Apples "PC" character and given him half a dozen words "I've been made into a stereotype" and shown a diverse set of people who are PCs. One of the comments I read  - and can't find now - said Microsoft had missed that the "I'm a Mac" adverts asked "Who would you rather work with."  This ad tells people the PC is people like them, not just the guy in the Apple ad. It makes him look like that guy we've all met at some point in our working lives, the one with the ill-deserved superiority complex - the one who thinks the designer logo on the shirt he wears to work matters more than what he does when he's there, the one who thinks constantly disagreeing with the consensus is proof of his creativity and superiority, when everyone else thinks its a sign of being a jerk. Long term readers might recall I linked to a Grauniad piece  which says the Adverts characterize  Macs as "Smug Preening Tossers". If people turn round and say "you know, the Mac guy isn't someone I'd want to be around, much less someone I'd want to be " Apple can never run an advert with him in it again.

Whilst using Google's (youtube's) bandwidth to show the ad in flash form is all fine and good, the version above is the silverlight version which I got from my colleague Keith Combs. Keith has a couple of interesting links on the front page of his blog right now, he's got the advance spec for Dell's new monster laptop: with 3 times the CPU grunt and 4 times the memory of what I have now, in a package which can go in wheel on luggage - is could be the core of event delivery for the next couple of years. Since I'm going to be helping out with an HPC (nee Computer Cluster Server) event in October, his piece on the Cray CX1 caught my eye. With 8 nodes with 8 cores in a single box, and it would have made it onto the top 500 supercomputers in the world in 2004.  Which thinking about the power of those weird and wonderful beasts with the Stonehenge-inspired design that I was thinking of in that chat with Mike. Lordy, you have to love Moore's law. According Wikipedia the Cray X-MP which was the top dog in 1988 was introduce in 1984 at a cost of $15M (call it £25M in today's Money). It had 1/5 of the power of each core in my Laptop. And if you've got £50K to spend on the CX-1 it will buy you the equivalent of 500 X-MPs for 1/500th of the price (£100 a go, a 250,000 fold improvement. Based the traditional doubling every 18 months Moore would only give about 65,000 times improvement).  Watch Cray's video which ends with the description "Unprecedented personal computing capabilities".  If a machine like that had a voice it would sound like James Earl Jones and it would be saying "AND I'M A PC"

 

Comments
  • John Gruber has good coverage of the new adds, see

       http://daringfireball.net/2008/09/digging_deeper

    John's reaction typifies those of many, including me.  *I* am not a Mac or a PC, I'm a human being who *uses* these tools.  In the Apple ads, two actors are personifications of computers.  In the Microsoft ads, people actually claim to be *be* the computers they use, which strikes me as disturbing at best.  Do they also say "I'm a Kleenex!" or "I'm a Nike Running Shoe!"?

    Then there is the rather sad news that the photos for the campaign were actually processed on Macs, and that the celebrity endorsements from Eva Longoria, Pharrell Williams, Deepak Chopra are somewhat tainted by the fact that they're Mac users. (According to Valleywag.)

    I understand that Microsoft felt obligated to respond to Apple's campaign, but it seems that in trying to copy it, their version shows that they've missed the point.  (Not for the first time.  There are many classic examples, but a recent one would be how Flip 3D in Vista clones Exposé on the Mac, but misses the point that the whole idea behind Exposé was to let you see all of your windows *at the same time*, rather than to show off the video card.)

    To me, the whole campaign, and in general Microsoft's response to the Mac, makes Microsoft seem worried (or possibly desperate).  Is the Mac really so threatening that they need to say "Really, lots of people use PCs! PCs are fine!".  Duh.

    On Silverlight, lots of people don't have it installed, and do have Flash.  In general, I have a negative reaction when someone has a website that says "To view this content, install this plugin" -- I reply "to reach this viewer, use web standards".  I think it is a mistake to needlessly throw up roadblocks to people viewing your content -- people viewing web pages have lots of choices and will wander elsewhere if you create hassles for them.  Flash is at least fairly ubiquitous, although personally I don't like any of these web plugins.  Flash is a CPU hog and Flash content isn't accessible.  I'd be pleased to learn that Silverlight is different, but I don't hold out a lot of hope there.  Most of the time we could do without the plugins -- HTML5 will make video embedding easier than ever.  And even without HTML5, much of the "cool" stuff people used to think required Flash can be done with pure web technologies (check out http://280slides.com/ for a cool example).

    Anyway, for those who have Flash but not Silverlight, here is a link to an article about the ads with embedded Flash versions

       http://gizmodo.com/5052051/microsofts-im-a-pc-ad-beats-seinfeld-but-not-hodgman

  • Nah. Apple said "Here's the personality of a Mac and the Personality of a PC". The Ads just show the PC has many personalities. I read the valley wag thing and tried to find any exif data which had the Photoshop for mac bit, but failed. Since we have used agencies which put sites up for us on Linux hosts that's hardly a first. (Sigh). I can't speak to the celeb thing. If they are mac users then it might call their integrity into question.

    We're neither worried nor desperate, but we are somewhat pissed off that the Apple ads insult the 90% of the world who use PCs.

    "To view this content, install this plugin" -- that's generally my attitude to flash. In fact so much flash is so bad that I use IE7Pro to block it and only once in a while I re-enable it.

    Flash is a fairly ubiquitous non-standard, and the push for Silverlight is to make it ubiquitous too. I had a link to the flash ad in the main post.

  • Nah. Apple said "Here's the personality of a Mac and the Personality of a PC". The Ads just show the PC has many personalities. I read the valley wag thing and tried to find any exif data which had the Photoshop for mac bit, but failed. Since we have used agencies which put sites up for us on Linux hosts that's hardly a first. (Sigh). I can't speak to the celeb thing. If they are mac users then it might call their integrity into question.

    We're neither worried nor desperate, but we are somewhat pissed off that the Apple ads insult the 90% of the world who use PCs.

    "To view this content, install this plugin" -- that's generally my attitude to flash. In fact so much flash is so bad that I use IE7Pro to block it and only once in a while I re-enable it.

    Flash is a fairly ubiquitous non-standard, and the push for Silverlight is to make it ubiquitous too. I had a link to the flash ad in the main post.

  • > The Ads just show the PC has many personalities

    Multiple personality disorder?

    Perhaps you view the ads differently, but to me, they do seem to be about "real" people making the somewhat bizarre announcement that they are PCs.  Otherwise, why have various celebrities claiming that they are PCs?

    In my experience, a Windows machine "feels like" a Windows machine.  It doesn't have a markedly different "personality" because it is a Dell or an HP or a Lenovo.  And for the most part, that's a *good thing*.  A few posts back you were saying how nice it was that in recent versions of Windows, the necessary incantation for attaching an external display has become consistent across machines and how that was a good thing.

    > We're neither worried nor desperate, but we are somewhat pissed off that the Apple ads insult the 90% of the world who use PCs.

    If Apple is insulting 90% of the world, wouldn't the best strategy be to let them dig their own grave?

    My understanding was that in the UK, their choice of actors for the campaign (and possibly different national perspectives) meant that Apple's ad campaign really wasn't that successful, so I'm fascinated that people in the UK think it is something worthy of being pissed off about.

    From my perspective, Apple's (US) campaign is fairly nice to PCs. John Hodgman's character is endearing in ways that real Windows PCs certainly are not.  In the Video you linked to ( http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VuqZ8AqmLPY ), both the Mac and the audience feels sympathy for John Hodgman's character -- at the punch line, we all feel for him as he sighs and says "Allow".  It's not the PC being made fun of there, it's Vista, and even if it is a bit of a parody of UAC, at the time it was made there was a lot of dissatisfaction with UAC being reported in the press, and the ad struck a chord with those unhappy people.   Part of what makes John Hodgman's PC endearing is that he doesn't represent Windows, he represents a PC that has no choice but to run Windows and has to make the best of it and has to convince himself that he's fine with that.

    I don't think any (sane) PC user would be insulted by this ad.  At worst, they would say "UAC isn't like that on my PC", but because they don't self-identify as a copy of Vista, if Vista is being maligned, it isn't an insult to them.  Do you think otherwise?  If someone said "I think Citroens have a crummy gear shift!" and they were totally wrong about it (or exaggerating a bit), would you say "Hey, I own a Citroen, don't insult me!"?

    FWIW, my own characterization of a typical Windows PC would lean towards picturing it as a needy three-year-old: "Mummy, mummy, can we clean up the desktop!?!", "Oh, look, Mummy!  A network cable is unplugged!", "Mummy, mummy, I know you're giving a presentation, but I just found a wireless network!".  It doesn't fully know how to take care of itself, and loves to interrupt you because it needs attention.

    > "To view this content, install this plugin" -- that's generally my attitude to flash. In fact so much flash is so bad that I use IE7Pro to block it and only once in a while I re-enable it.

    >

    > Flash is a fairly ubiquitous non-standard, and the push for Silverlight is to make it ubiquitous too. I had a link to the flash ad in the main post.

    It's not at all clear to me why the reasons you don't like Flash wouldn't also apply to Silverlight (or would if it too became ubiquitous).

    We already have Flash, Java, and Quicktime as ubiquitous non-standards, do we need another?  About the only reason I can see for Silverlight is NIH syndrome, and that might be a compelling enough reason for Microsoft to try to push it, but it certainly isn't a good enough reason for the rest of the world to adopt it.

    Flash is the default. Windows is the default.

  • Last things first, as you said yourself in your previous post silverlight has some good things going for it (accessiblity for one). I'd say video for the same bandwidth isn't a reason to take it. But yes if it becomes the default way for adverts to annoy the crap out of me I'll have to look for something to block it, like the flash blocker I have.

    Vista doesn't bother to tell you when there are wireless networks. It either connects to one it's been told to or changes the tray icon to show what's available. Ditto when the wired network is out. If you click in IE for the diagnostic for why it isn't working it says "Well, you could try plugging the cable in you muppet", but that's about it.  

    When it's been installed for a week it pops up a box to say do you want to clean house and you check the box saying "don't ever show me this again" and that's that. Outlook gets the same treatment when it wants to archive my mail.

    As for the citroen comparison ... if the PC/Mac ad was done against Citroen it would be portrayed as chewing garlic, wearing a Beret and Bretton shirt and pushing a bike with a string of onions over the handlebars. I guess you'd find that stereotype endearing too.

  • I think this advert shows a nice little MS nod to the Apple adverts.  After all, imitation is the highest form of flattery as they say!

    Other than their adverts, you have to love Apple's recent beautiful product design: you have to admit that the Cray CX1 supercomputer looks like it was designed by nothing more than a robot and a ruler!

Your comment has been posted.   Close
Thank you, your comment requires moderation so it may take a while to appear.   Close
Leave a Comment