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'Cool' Still a Four-Letter Word in Redmond

We don't want to pile on here, but the last week in August might be the slowest news week of the year outside of the last two weeks of December, so here goes: We love "Seinfeld" reruns here at RCPU, just as we love TV Land, classic tunes on our iPod -- uh, we mean Zune...ah, to heck with it, we do mean iPod -- and movies that remind us of years gone by.

But we're weird that way here. Your editor DVRs old episodes of "WKRP in Cincinnati" (although he already owns all 90 episodes on DVD with the original music -- just with poor video quality) and watches them with the same gusto with which he downs a full Southern (or English) breakfast. On a brief road trip this past weekend, more than a few Creedence Clearwater Revival songs figured among the tunes of choice -- and we still have no idea who the Jonas Brothers are, although we keep seeing their images on T-shirts. Just today, we read that someone named Daddy Yankee had endorsed John McCain for president and wondered why George Steinbrenner would be so interested in the race for the White House.

So, in recruiting Jerry Seinfeld to do an ad campaign for Vista, Microsoft has hit a nostalgic nerve with this segment of the 30-something market -- although it's not as though we can't see Jerry at his best twice a day in reruns of his sitcom. (And, really, George was the funny one, anyway.) We're officially, gleefully out of touch with pop culture here at RCPU -- a fact you won't have missed if you've ever paid attention to our rotting cultural references -- and we like it that way.

It's too bad, though, that we're not the audience Microsoft is trying to reach with its "Windows, Not Walls" (our response: "What?") campaign. And, in case you've been sequestered without TV or Internet since last Thursday, nobody else likes the idea of Seinfeld pitching Vista, either. There are approximately 4 billion blog posts about the topic floating out there now -- 99 percent of them negative, from what we can tell (there's a pretty representative wrap-up here).

We've said before that Microsoft needs to stop trying to be cool, but here we have to say it again. Redmond, Apple roasted you with those Mac Guy ads, and everybody knows it. Apple is cool, and everybody knows it. And you're not -- and never will be. Because being the gorilla in the market isn't cool. Being the enterprise's OS of choice isn't cool. Being Steve Ballmer's company (as opposed to one run by Zen master Steve Jobs) is definitely not cool. But being all those things has been pretty darn profitable and probably will be for the foreseeable future.

Vista's problems were a lack of application compatibility and onerous hardware requirements -- plus the fact that many people didn't see a reason to ditch XP for Vista. A lack of coolness was -- and is -- way down the list of factors holding Vista back from mainstream public acceptance. But still, Microsoft is spending $300 million to try to fix the wrong problem...and Redmond can't even get that right, passing over the stars of the moment (Ben Stiller? Seth Rogin? Steve Carell? Chris Rock?) for a guy who, while likeable enough, conjures up memories of the era of enormous cell phones and molasses-slow, dial-up Internet connections.

Again, we don't mean to pile on here (although we don't have much better to do). But Microsoft, enough is enough. Embrace your nerdiness, or throw us a total curve with somebody like Carlos Mencia or Bill Engvall (or a woman, for heaven's sake -- what a radical concept) as your spokesperson. But don't try to be cool. It's still not working.

Who would your idea Microsoft spokesperson be? Tell us at lpender@rcpmag.com.

Posted by Lee Pender on August 26, 2008 at 11:54 AM