Archive for December, 2009

08
Dec
09

When consumer rights orgs get it wrong: Consumers International gets it twisted

In December 2009, Consumers International (CI) announced their annual ‘Bad Company Awards’ for 2009. Among the brands that CI deemed to label “Bad” was Microsoft, lambasted for it’s claims that Windows 7 was a greener OS. Consumers International claimed that whilst Microsoft was flogging a greener OS (which they liked), they were also trying to encourage consumers to buy new hardware / PCs (which they hated)…. and they could not have been much further from the truth.

The Simpsons is a very powerful show - this is how people still seem to see Microsoft - "Buy Him Out, Boys"

I’m all for consumer rights. I love the idea of organisations like CI or Choice Australia keeping companies honest and providing reliable, third party information for consumers. Heck, I started this blog partly because I wanted to showcase great, ethical marketing and expose shonky, dishonest marketing, so I share an end goal with these organisations to an extent. In theory, I like what Consumers International is doing. But part of the credibility of such organisations comes from giving objective, informed decisions, and in this case I don’t think either of these qualities have been displayed. They seem to either (A) have something against Microsoft or (B) just don’t understand what they are talking about in this case.

Before I look at the reasons I feel CI have totally missed the mark by including Microsoft as a “Bad” Company, I need to confirm that I am not employed by Microsoft – I am self-employed, but I am currently contracted to Microsoft to help with their technical community efforts. Further, I’m not a Microsoft fan boy… I like alot of their products, but I’ve got a Playstation aswell as my Xbox360, I have a Nokia phone, I’ve used MacOS on and off for years, I use Google for probably 50% of my search needs, and cut my teeth as a geek (in my past life) delivering open source projects in PHP for NSW state government departments. So I’m no Microsoft zealot. As such, I’m confident that the points I list below can be considered as a fairly objective criticism of CI’s “Bad Company Awards” (as they relate to Microsoft anyway).

1 – No-one I know has gone out to buy a new PC just for the Windows 7 experience – all have either bought the software from a reseller, or downloaded it and upgraded. Those that needed a new PC, bought one, but not just so they could upgrade to Windows 7.

2 – I’m no licensing expert, but I’m pretty sure an OEM (or ‘Original Equipment Manufacturer’) license probably brings in less revenue per PC for Microsoft than when someone buys Windows outright from a reseller like Harvey Norman. What does this mean? Basically that Microsoft makes less money from shipping a copy of Windows 7 on, say, a HP laptop, than they do by selling people the software alone through resellers / online…  it makes no sense for Microsoft to be trying to push people to buy new PC’s when it makes money from software, not PC hardware sales.

3 – Microsoft went to great efforts to ensure the upgrade to Windows 7 from Vista was easy. And it is easy. Ridiculously easy. Upgrading from a Vista machine to Windows 7 is something an average consumer with average computer knowledge can do themselves without needing help / tech support. Why would they Microsoft make upgrading old computers so easy if they were trying to get people to buy new PC’s.

4 – Microsoft also made sure that the large bulk of hardware and associated drivers that work with Vista will also work with Windows 7. So again, there was a consious effort on Microsoft’s behalf to make sure people did not have to buy new PC’s / hardware to enjoy Windows 7.

5 – Microsoft gave free upgrades with purchases of new Vista PC’s in the lead up to Windows 7’s launch. If you bought a new PC in the few months leading up to Windows 7 launch (in Australia, anyway) you received a free voucher for a Windows 7 upgrade. A free voucher that would make the Vista PC you just bought into a Windows 7 PC in a few months… for free. (Free also meaning there were no hardware upgrades necessary, and thus no hardware upgrade costs either.)

6 – Look at the Microsoft Press Release CI are using as proof that Microsoft is trying to encourage people to buy new hardware. At no stage does the press release say people should go and buy a new PC. In fact, at one stage, the press release says “Customers can purchase PCs with Windows 7 or software upgrades online or in-store from technology retailers”. ‘Upgrades’ being the key word there.

I could go on with more reasons, but let’s face it, CI got this one pretty wrong. Given it’s size and dominant presence in the world software industry, Microsoft presents an easy target for consumer rights group. Everyone likes to read about how “Bad” global corporations have been, so I think there’s perhaps a chance Microsoft’s inclusion in the “Bad Company Awards” is to drum up some excitement / interest. Admittedly, there have been occasions in the past where, either intentially or accidentally, Microsoft has found itself in trouble with consumer rights group, but Consumers International is far from the mark this time. I’d go as far as to say they’ve been very “Bad” themselves, since they have not shown what we need to be able to rely on from consumer rights organisations – that is, being properly informed, and impartial in their findings.

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