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I got an AirMac the
other day. Sure, it’s all cute and small, and runs real fast, but what is it
running, anyway? Business apps? (Smirk) Is that what we’re calling GarageBand
and FinalCut nowadays? And where is the optical drive? Yeah, this is an

OK, I would never qualify to be a Jerry Seinfeld writer, but
you probably get the point. The funnyman who once graced our televisions with a
sitcom about nothing is being drafted in the war between Mac and Windows.
Microsoft is making Seinfeld the centerpiece of a new $300 million advertising
campaign to counter the wildly successful “Mac vs. PC” ads run by Apple for the
past millennium.

At last month’s Microsoft Worldwide Partner Conference in
Houston, a steady stream of executives—from CEO
Steve Ballmer and global channel chief Allison Watson to the guy running the
Redmond campus parking lots—paraded across the big stage trying to sell a
complicated message: Windows Vista is a success, but Microsoft still needs to
go on the attack to build sales momentum.

It’s a hard message to sell. Even though Vista
has sold more than 300 million copies since its release 18 months ago, it’s
besieged by users that have suffered integration and performance issues caused
by the operating systems footprint that’s slightly larger than Rhode
Island. The culmination of nearly six years research
and development, Vista has proven anything but being the most secure Microsoft
OS to date, but has demonstrated a superior ability at consuming limited PC
resources. (Personally, I can attest that my home PC running Vista Home Premium
frequently affords me the opportunity to get another cup of coffee while I wait
for a file to open.)

Solution providers and resellers know all too well the
problems associated with Vista. The B2B market—from
enterprises to small business—has been slow to adopt Vista.
Microsoft never gave them a compelling reason to give up the performance and
stability that came with Windows XP, arguably the best version of Windows since
the NT platform. The release of XP in 2001 forced many shops to upgrade from
their old NT infrastructure and deploy Active Directory to take full advantage
of the XP operating system. The performance and manageability gains were
significant; and Microsoft had finally vanquished “the blue screen of death.”

No such gains were promised with Vista.
In fact, the only thing that Microsoft promised was integrated search and
graphics that would chew up processing power. Some people I’ve talked with have
said that when they strip down Vista to its core
services, it’s a descent operating system – but it’s certainly not pretty to
look at. Again, it’s hardly a ringing endorsement.

Microsoft has another problem in trying to convince us Vista
is cool: its own development efforts around Windows 7 – the reported next
version of the operating system. Leaks out of Microsoft indicated that the next
version will be a lighter, more performance oriented OS that takes the best,
most desired features of Vista in a much smaller
footprint. Where Vista consumes a whopping 4 GB of RAM,
Windows 7 reportedly will sit inside an envelop far under 1 GB. Why upgrade now
when you can sit out the next two years on XP and wait for Windows 7?

Apple has a distinct advantage over Microsoft in the OS wars
and the battle for public perception: It owns both components of the platform –
the operating system and the PC. Microsoft is entirely dependent upon selling
its OS through OEM partners, which have a multitude of different machines with
varying levels of performance, features and capabilities. Personally, I like
Vista’s look, feel and features, but my underpowered HP notebook running Vista
is like running a Dodge Charger with a three-cylinder Smart car engine.

As much as I’m a fan of Office 2007 and the integration
Microsoft has done with its familiar productivity apps and the Dynamics
platform, these are hardly the pull mechanism for PCs sales as Apple has with
its iPhone and iPod. Sure, Zune is getting better – I hear you can play music
on them now, but I don’t see people bundling PCs and Zunes at my local Best

This is a huge problem for Microsoft since we know that
consumer electronic trends are greatly influencing business IT purchasing
decisions. Despite Apple’s continued rejection of the channel and Steve Jobs’
insistence that he’s not interested in the enterprise market, an increasing
number of Macs are showing up in the work place. IT stalwarts such as Juniper
Networks and Intel have pilot programs for deploying and supporting Macs to
their workforces. The integration of the iPhone with Microsoft’s Exchange
e-mail server will only fuel Apple’s expansion in the B2B market.

So bring on Seinfeld and the funny jokes. Hell, get Michael
Richards to revive his Kramer character (I hear he needs the work). Let’s see
if Microsoft can make us laugh as much as Justin Long (the cool Mac kid) and
John Hodgman (the stiff PC geek). At least $300 million of air cover
advertising can’t hurt the channel.

 Lawrence M. Walsh
is the vice president and group publisher of Channel Insider.