Ballmer to Apple: Bite me

Microsoft's Big Cheese says in a down economy people won't pay $500 just for the Mac logo. Are Apple fanboyz crazy about logos or is Ballmer just plain loco?

The more I watch Steve Ballmer strut and fret across the world's stage, the more I am convinced he is bat---- crazy. At the very least, he's got a king-sized case of Tourettes matched only by a similarly outsized ego.

Last week provided yet another example of why when The Mad Ballmer speaks, everyone stops what they're doing to watch what comes out of his mouth.

In an interview with BusinessWeek's Steve Adler at the McGraw-Hill Media Summit, Ballmer was asked to comment about Apple Mac sales, which dropped like a rock in February. Spoketh he:

"Apple gained about one point, but now I think the tide has really turned back the other direction," Ballmer said, via webcast. "The economy is helpful. Paying an extra $500 for a computer in this environment -- same piece of hardware -- paying $500 more to get a logo on it? I think that's a more challenging proposition for the average person than it used to be."

Props to Todd Bishop, former ace reporter for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer (RIP 2009) and now purveyor of the TechFlash blog, for that tidbit.

Ah, the old $500 logo trick – and we fell for it. Damn that Steve Jobs and his marketing voodoo.

The underlying assumption, of course, is there's no difference between machines running Windows and those fueled by Mac OS X. Hey, they both use Intel chips, right? It's like saying there's no difference between a Buick and a Bentley because they've both got steering wheels.

PC World's Jeff Bertolucci did some cocktail napkin calculations and decided that a similarly configured Dell laptop would cost roughly $350 less than the Apple equivalent. But he's also missing the point.

It's true: Chip for chip and MIPS for MIPS, people do pay more for Apple products. It's not because Macs are more secure; they aren't, though you're still less likely to get pwned using one. It's because people are willing to pay for a smoother experience with fewer hassles. Call it a frustration-bypass surcharge. Apple Inc. hardly qualifies for sainthood, but there's a reason its customer satisfaction and brand trust consistently rank among the best in any industry.

For example: In February, market researchers ChangeWave surveyed some 3,000 consumers about their PC buying plans and customer satisfaction [PDF]. Apple, Dell, and HP all ranked pretty evenly in terms of what people planned to buy, but 81 percent of Apple owners said they were very satisfied with their machines. Dell managed to satisfy 55 percent of its customers; HP snagged just 52 percent.

Is that worth $500 or even $350? You tell me.

Ballmer should know something about the value of logos, given his apparent role in the "Vista Capable" labeling debacle. Even if Microsoft succeeds in wriggling out of the class action suit, the damage has been done. When your own top executives think your products are barely worth their weight in horse manure, you've got bigger problems.

When it says Apple Apple Apple on the label label label, will you like it like it like it on your table table table? Post your rhyming responses below or e-mail me: cringe (at) infoworld (dot) com.

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