Apple vs. Microsoft vs. Linux: Good vs. Evil and Do You Really Care?


If you follow big companies closely, you will find they have moments where they do things that are amazing, and moments where you wonder what rock they crawled out from under.


Apple sucks at PR, but is blessed with one of the best marketing organizations on the planet and a group of fans that attack detractors like rabid dogs.


Microsoft has mixed PR (it uses three firms that are poorly coordinated). I sometimes wonder if it can spell "marketing,"and Microsoft has had the word "evil," as in "evil empire," associated with its name for nearly two decades. Yet it has nearly unmatched positional power in the tech industry.


Linux has no PR to speak of, and the marketing is almost non-existent (makes you wonder how all of us would stay in business if it was a Linux world -- who pays for the ads?). It is championed by fans that have been known to be even more rabid than the Apple fan base, although they have slowed over the years.


But people vote with their wallets. Apple in 2007 had a greater growth rate than Microsoft. Microsoft remained dominant overall, though Apple clearly schooled it in the consumer electronics space where Apple is an unmatched force. Linux got a number of design wins, but feels weaker at the end of 2007 than it did at the beginning. Solaris appears to be resurging. While it is really hard to get good Linux numbers, you can get Solaris numbers, and the implication is that the market may be pulling back from Linux a bit.


While there is a lot of coverage about Microsoft being evil and a surprising amount about Apple being evil, the folks saying Linux is evil basically all shut up in 2007. Yet that was the platform that appeared to take the hit. Weird, huh? (I think Microsoft's decision to stop attacking Linux probably hurt that platform more than anything it has ever done, but we'll leave that for another time.)


Does Evil Matter?


Here in the U.S., as we are ramping up to elections, some candidates appear to be incredibly (and surprisingly) honest and open, and others seem to manage their campaign and opinions based on what will get them votes. Their real opinions appear quite different from what they now present. By doing this, they seem to be moving up in the polls even though it should be obvious to everyone that they are being disingenuous. The voters care more about hearing what they want to hear than whether what they are hearing is truthful. This is true in both parties. Fortunately, none of them are on the list of truly evil people -- it would be nice if someone made the good side, though.


Candidates put up attack ads falsely accusing their opponents of crimes that weren't committed or taking things out of context. The result seems to favor them despite general feedback that we, in the U.S., don't like negative campaigning.


On the tech side, what is the Mac vs. PC campaign but a copy of this negative campaigning applied to products? And, you have to admit, it works. They are a heck of a lot more entertaining than most other ads, and that seems to matter more. We say we don't like attack campaigns, which we see as evil, yet we support both candidates and products that benefit from them.


Evil Doesn't Matter


I doubt most have really thought through what evil is. So far, I've been using it more as a brand than a concept. As a brand, in the context of the generation coming out of college, evil may actually have some positive connotations -- it may imply competitive spirit or a willingness to dispute authority. But, in the context of buying technology, people (both personally and from a corporate standpoint) don't seem to care that much.


Apple, which has Al Gore on its board, was one of the least "green" companies, according to Greenpeace (although this is changing) and put toxic chemicals that cause sterility in children into products that kids use. Yet it had a great year. Linux, which probably owns the alternative energy space as a platform, didn't do as well, and Microsoft's founder going off in a massive effort to save starving children seemed to have zero impact on that company's fortunes one way or the other.


When you buy a consumer electronics product, do you know or care that it was built by underpaid children in sweat shops? And if you did and stopped buying the product, wouldn't those same kids starve? The point is, I'm not sure we can tell what is evil or not. In trying to punish evil, we may actually punish the innocent victims of the evil (assuming we didn't get it wrong in the first place).


In the end, we can only do what we believe to be right and accept that we may be wrong from time to time. Evil is personal, and the only time the word has context is when it applies to something that is done to you. Even in that instance, yours may be a unique opinion.


By the way, if you want to have a little fun, here is a test to see if you are evil. If you test as evil, I hear Google is hiring and may need some balance.