| Business |

The Scorecard: Apple, Dell, Google and Microsoft

Written by Hamid Shojaee

Last week I attended MacWorld for the very first time. I was the only attendee running Windows Vista on a Dell notebook. I had to avoid Jobs just so I didn’t get kicked out of the event. If he’s quick to tell a fan how rude they are for requesting a picture, imagine what he would have told me if he would have seen me with a Dell!

The Jobs Keynote was absolutely awesome. One of my favorite announcements was the major upgrade to Apple TV with HD Movie rentals. To me, this completely eliminates the need for either HD-DVD or Blu-Ray. The MacBook Air was also a phenomenal product. Unbelievably thin!

But the MacWorld event was far from perfect. In fact, when compared to Microsoft events it was the worst event I had ever attended. I have been to quite a few Microsoft events including PDC, TechNet, Mix, WWPC and several internal events and I had never seen anything as poorly organized as the MacWorld event. Everything from the MacWorld web site, to event guides, schedules, registration, food and staff was the worst I had ever seen. Considering how insanely great Apple products are, I was expecting an Apple-like quality to the event, which did not exist. The event was so amateur in flow and feel that a typical Microsoft event attendee would have guessed this was the first event of its kind. Even then, it would have been inexcusable.

That triggered me to think about a scorecard for four of the main tech companies in our industry: Apple, Microsoft, Dell and Google. Each of these companies is exceptional at something, but none of them are great at all. Without any scientific data to back my claims, here is how I would personally rate the best company in each category:

Operating Systems – Apple’s Tiger and Leopard both outshine Vista for a number of reasons: performance, overall system responsiveness, included user apps, system stability and better search. As an operating system, Apple’s OS X is clearly better than Vista.

Notebooks – If Apple’s notebook designs, magnetic power cords, slot load DVDs, weight or ultra small size had not won you over, the fact that each of Apple’s notebooks outperform the others in their class should get you to notice. The MacBook Pro was named the fastest Windows notebook reviewed by PC Magazine! There’s no question Apple makes the best Notebooks.

Desktops – Although Apple’s desktop offerings are somewhat limited with the iMac, Mac Mini and Mac Pro, there aren’t comparable systems that come close in packaging, size and performance in any of the categories. Dell’s XPS All-in-one is a blatant copy of the iMac. It’s too little too late.

Servers – Dell’s server line still outshines Apple in filling the variety of needs as well as beating Apple on price and the badly needed services for high-availability.

Hardware Variety – Dell is the hands down winner in providing the largest variety of hardware. Ironically, this could be a double-edged sword for them making it much more difficult to improve a product line that contains hundreds of products vs. just dozens.

Hardware Configurability – Again, Dell comes out ahead of Apple on configurability, but once again, this is a double edged sword. While it’s great that Dell offers 10 different video cards, the lack of focus ensures a hit or miss when it comes to drivers.

Product Aesthetics – I don’t need to comment on this one. Most companies couldn’t spell Aesthetics until Jobs came back to Apple.

Web Applications – Google is the clear winner when it comes to web applications for a variety of reasons: super fast pages, no clutter, ads that you don’t mind, always available and free. Microsoft’s MSN and other web offerings have always fallen short on all of those criteria.

Developer Tools – There’s no question that Microsoft takes the cake on this one. The Visual Studio product line has been a slam dunk winner with developers, thanks in large part to Scott Guthrie. Scott is one of the only remaining executives at Microsoft who gets it, but the rest of the world is catching up fast and Scott is fighting an uphill battle with the rest of gang at Microsoft.

Developer/Partner Programs – Microsoft again clearly has the better developer and partner programs with Empower ISV, Certified and Gold partnerships. They also have a longer history of being relatively nice to partners when compared with Apple (or even Oracle). Even Steve Jobs admitted that Microsoft has always been better at partnering that Apple. The shaky iTunes partnerships are a great example of Apple failing to keep even large partners happy.

Conferences & Events – If you’ve ever been to a Microsoft event, you know that registration is fast, organization of class schedules and web site management of individual schedules rocks and the abundance of food, drinks and snacks are nearly overboard. By contrast, I have nothing good to say about the MacWorld logistics and with the exception of the MacWorld keynote, the rest of the contents are on par.

Innovation – Apple is the most innovative large company in existence today. They are the only company that doesn’t shy away from building everything that goes into their products, both hardware and software. Google and Microsoft have stuck with software while Dell has stuck with hardware and even with the focus, none of them have done a great job.

Customer Service – This was a tough one. Microsoft and Google are clear losers in this regard. For me, the race was between Apple and Dell. On the consumer side, Apple wins hands down because Dell has outsourced its support to an incompetent company. On the business side, if you have the right account, Dell win beats Apple, but since Dell only wins IF you happen to be a valued customer, I had to give it to Apple.

Customer Comes First – Microsoft is the only company that puts customers first at all cost. They clearly listen to their customers and they react fast. None of the other companies come even close. Google and Apple are too closed from the outside to put customers first and in Apple’s case, they have clearly shown they don’t mind slapping a few customers here and there. Dell does a decent job as witnessed from the variety of computer lines they offer.

Return Policy – Dell takes the prize on return policies. No hassle, 30 day returns. In contrast, if you take a brand new computer back to an Apple store that you bought earlier that day, they’ll want to charge you a 10% restocking fee. Not cool.

Warranty Policy – Again, Dell’s warranty is significantly better and they actually send you replacement parts to fix your computer. Apple expects customers to send back their machines. Please!

Corporate Transparency – Microsoft is by far the most transparent of the companies with the most employee bloggers and for the most part, they are free to say what they want. Microsoft even has dedicated staff that participate in user forums, help user groups and other communities around their products. None of the others come even remotely close.

Employee Accessibility – Again, Microsoft’s employees are the most accessible. They are the most likely to return an email, escalate an issue or even take your phone call.

Passion – The measure for a company’s passion has to come from the users of their products. Clearly Apple has the most passionate users who often would be willing to part with a limb than with their Apple products.

Environment – This was a tough call. With Google actively promoting green technologies, using solar power for 30% of their electrical needs and subsidizing the purchase of hybrid cars for their employees, I could have easily called it a tie with Apple. However, I decided Apple has a much more difficult job of being environmentally friendly and they have taken a very proactive approach to the issue with their products, designs, packaging and even an environmental activist on their board (Al Gore).

Overall – If I could just own 1 product from any of the above companies, my decision would only be amongst Apple products. Nobody else would even get a consideration. It’s an easy choice to pick Apple as the overall winner amongst tech companies who are doing [most] things right.

So if you’re wondering why I still walk around with a Dell notebook, the answer is I was waiting for MacWorld to make sure I purchase the right product. My MacBook Pro is on its way.