Despite New Tablet Competition, Wide Gulf Separates Microsoft and Apple

Here's what the Surface says about the wide divide between these tech behemoths.

Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer gives his presentation at the launch of Microsoft Windows 8, in New York, Oct. 25, 2012. Windows 8 is the most dramatic overhaul of the personal computer market's dominant operating system in 17 years.
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Microsoft Isn't "Cool" (Not That It Matters)

If Microsoft is revamping its image, it signals that the company's image needed revamping. According to Gillen, Microsoft's long-standing, widespread success did not make the brand hip and coveted in the same way that Apple is.

"I have to say that Microsoft lost the cool factor a while ago, and I think that Apple has successfully absorbed the position as the 'cool' vendor," says Gillen. "In that context Windows 8 has a pretty tall order ahead of it: restore Microsoft's coolness."

Still, being fashionable can only take a company so far, he adds.

"For the vast majority of customers out there, I'd have to argue that cool is not as important as functional."

Business IT departments, for example, care far more about functionality than fashion. Given Microsoft's willingness to let consumers adapt slowly, not to mention the fact that Office Suite is so widely used by schools and businesses, even the learning curve of a new interface might not trump users' broader comfort level with Microsoft's products.

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  • Danielle Kurtzleben is a business and economics reporter for U.S. News & World Report. Connect with her on Twitter @titonka or via E-mail at