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Is It Morning Again at Microsoft?

We at RCPU have been trying not to notice election season, but given that it seems to have been upon us since approximately March 2008, we do see signs of it here and there. Now that we're actually in the pig trough of a presidential-election year, we like to think back on some of the great campaign pitches of the past, back when times were simpler and TV was awesome. Of them, one stands out above all others.

It's morning again in America. Good heavens. Ronald Reagan's 1984 TV advertisement took every sappy Maxwell House coffee, long-distance calling (remember that?) and Pepperidge Farm cookie commercial of the day and rolled them all into a big, sweet sticky bun of Americana. If he'd been alive, even Norman Rockwell would have blushed a little bit at this one. Maybe.

Watch this spot wrapped inside an episode of "Family Ties," and you'll want to not only call your mother, you'll want to go to wherever she is and hug her and maybe even bake her a ham or something:


More than anything, though, you'll want to vote for Ronald Reagan -- which a lot of people did in 1984. (As for Walter Mondale, seriously, did somebody make this ad for you as a prank? You really thought this was the best way to win hearts and minds from Ronnie? Good thing there wasn't a blogosphere back then. Ouch.)

Microsoft, to its dismay, is not in 2012 where Ronald Reagan was in 1984. It's kind of where the United States was, arguably, in 1980, though -- hardly powerless, still wealthy, but kind of down and out and in a phase of self-introspection and (yes, let's say it in a Southern accent) malaise. Apple -- nothing at all like the Soviet Union, but please allow us to stretch the metaphor here -- is in the ascendancy and has eclipsed Microsoft in terms of power and prestige. (OK, so that never really happened to the United States, either, but we've typed too much to go back on this metaphor now. Just bear with us.)

But Steve Ballmer, though he has looked more Jimmy Carter than Reagan in terms of popularity in recent years, has one trick left up his sleeve. It's Windows Phone. No, really, it is! The mobile OS that keeps losing market share despite being noticeably good-looking and obviously different from anything else on the market might actually be set to make a name for itself.

Finally -- and we're really not sure what took so long, given that we've been saying for a long time that Windows Phone looks fantastic -- critics and the press are starting to see the beauty (yes, beauty) of Microsoft's mobile operating system. Even Wall Street types are starting to take notice, something Microsoft desperately needs as it tries to jolt its years-stagnant stock price. (Thanks to Jeff Schwartz, RCPmag.com legend, for the links, by the way.)

The unemployment rate was 7.2 percent in November 1984, almost exactly what it had been in November 1980 (7.5 percent), when Reagan easily dusted Carter in the presidential election. In the years between '80 and '84, it had actually gotten much worse and then started to fall again (at least that's what this chart says, anyway). But gosh darn it, it was morning again in America, and people felt good about themselves. More often than not, perception is reality.

We're not trying to make any sort of political statement here at all, by the way. We're just saying that Microsoft needs a Reagan '84 moment, and the combination of Windows Phone and Windows 8 might just provide it. The company's customers and partners -- and investors -- need to see that things are looking up, that people are raising metaphorical flags and planting symbolic crops and whatnot in Redmond, and that the "good guys" (from Microsoft's perspective) haven't given up the fight with Apple and Google just yet.

We've been very skeptical here at RCPU of Microsoft's chances of succeeding with a mobile OS because of how late the company is to the market, relatively speaking, and how lame Microsoft's marketing tends to be. But if the ultimate cynics and Microsoft haters in the punditsphere are starting to see Windows Phone as something positive (even before Windows 8 comes out) -- and actually saying as much -- then Microsoft at least has a foothold of momentum, a fightin' chance in the mobile-OS game. Clearly, somebody in Redmond is finally softening up some of the pixel-stained wretches who love to slam the company (although to be clear, Microsoft never talks to RCPU about this stuff, seriously). That's a good sign for Microsoft. It needs to continue.

All Ronald Reagan needed in 1984 was a few numbers to hang his hat on and a series of commercials that could bring even the most withered skeptic to stand and salute the TV while on the brink of tears. He also had an opponent who was mostly incompetent in running a presidential campaign. (Surprisingly, "I'll raise your taxes" didn't resonate with anybody outside of Minnesota, but we digress.) Microsoft is not so blessed to have a goofy adversary. Apple and Google are terrifying. But if Microsoft can even establish a respectable third place in the mobile market in 2012, it'll be back in the game and back in users' minds as an innovative company with interesting products.

Is it morning again in Redmond? It's still pretty dark from where we're looking, but we might just see the fingers of dawn beginning to grasp the horizon.

Is Microsoft going to "come back" as a consumer force with Windows Phone and Windows 8? Sound off at the comments section below or at lpender@rcpmag.com

Posted by Lee Pender on January 11, 2012 at 11:56 AM