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"Bill Gates, did you or did you not build intrusive little user prompts into ever square inch of Word?"

"Bill Gates, did you or did you not build intrusive little user prompts into every square inch of Word?"

My business partner, Gerry Giambattista, and I both want to be named hanging judges if there is ever an international war crimes tribunal assembled to consider the cumulative havoc that Microsoft has unleashed on the world since its inception. We have a long list of questions for Bill Gates and Steve Ballmer, which we will present as intrusive yellow pop-up panels, not unlike those that used to populate a Word document whenever the masters in Redmond, WA wanted to anticipate which word you were attempting to type, so they could replace it with another. Forget all the people Microsoft employs in all its divisions. Forget all the good that the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has done around the globe. Forget the excellent X-Box gaming platform. This is personal.

Admittedly, we are long-time Apple products users, so we should probably recuse ourselves. However, we have both harbored long-time grudges against the software industry, Microsoft specifically, and would like a chance to settle the score in a Hague-like setting.

We know of no other industry that is allowed to operate so capriciously, integrating itself into the daily operations of essentially every business on the planet, then forcing users to routinely jump through crazy hoop after crazy hoop, because of software incompatibility (often between different versions of the same product), security issues, constant debilitating updates and key feature changes with little logic behind them, all with few other options for workarounds.

My teeth are set grinding every time I hear a commercial on my car radio for the Business Software Alliance targeting employers who run unlicensed copies of software or who pirate programs. How about if the software industry starts policing its own myriad of customer and tech service issues before spending millions to get employees to rat out employers for possible violations. Normally, I appreciate the bravery of whistle blowers — here I envision an entire accusatory industry dressed as Captain Hook. Pot, kettle, black.

This is also an industry that devours its own. Competitors are routinely driven out of business or marginalized, not because they are lackluster, but because they make a better product that is harming the product that the bigger company makes (usually Microsoft). Case in point is Word Perfect, which many eons ago was the preferred word processing software for virtually everyone operating a business. Then, along came Word, which Microsoft bundled as an enticement with Excel, PowerPoint, and Entourage or Outlook as an Office suite. It took many years for Word to resist its urge to interrupt users every other keystroke with “innovative” efficiency-enhancing features. We all had to endure years of that nonsense. Today, Word Perfect is still available from Corel, but it appears to be a niche product for legal professionals.

Anyone remember Netscape Navigator? It was the preferred web browser of many users during the 1990s until Microsoft did everything possible to torpedo it with Internet Explorer.

That brings me to a moment of great personal satisfaction that will have to suffice until that international tribunal is assembled. Advertising Age was good enough to spotlight a parody last week of Microsoft’s self-congratulatory Internet Explorer TV spot. In this case, the parody does a better job of delivering truth.



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Two weird copycat cases in the business world this week. Both are hard to get your head around because each is very different and covers new ground.

In the ad world, Old Navy is running a new commercial starring a Kim Kardashian doppelganger named Melissa Molinaro, then tweeting about it. Kim’s response — sue the retailer for blatantly trading on her appearance and pop culture identity. Lookalike models have been employed for years to sell product. Sometimes in person and sometimes in TV spots. This case is a lot more complicated.

It would have cost Old Navy hefty upfront money to hire the real Kim Kardashian as a spokesperson or performer in their new commercial. So, the retailer staged its own music video spot and used an unknown dead ringer instead. When the double takes started, they could have claimed coincidence about the model’s striking resemblance to Kim. Instead, they went on social media and tried to create additional buzz by getting fans’ reactions to the new ad. One tweet read  “@CBSNEWS reports that Old Navy’s Super CUTE star looks like @kimkardashian. #LOL. What do you think?”

Hard to quantify what the real Kim Kardashian would have delivered to Old Navy; however, she and her attorneys are projecting 15-20 million dollars in lost revenue that Old Navy should have delivered to her. That’s a lot of tees and khakis.

Clearly, the retailer is trading on Kim’s popular persona. So, why not hire the real McCoy? Was Old Navy intentionally trying to save money or to be cheeky (pun intended)? Likely, they were trying to do both. But it may wind up costing them a lot more money in the long run. Even deceased celebrities, whose visages have been resurrected for commerce (Fred Astaire dancing with a vacuum cleaner comes to mind) had their estates compensated through licensing arrangements. It will be interesting to see how this case plays out, but Kim Kardashian has a compelling argument.

TV commercial lookalikes are one thing. How about an entire retailer that has been copied right down to its wholly unique store layout, customer support system, and point-of-purchase branding? Forbes and other major news outlets report that someone is opening computer outlets in a remote part of China that are the spitting images of Apple Stores. Counterfeit retailers selling counterfeit hardware and software.  Shiver me timbers! How can that be anything but a blatant act of piracy?

Apple’s Board of Directors is currently looking at succession plans for when Steve Jobs leaves the company. Perhaps they should worry that he not be kidnapped, then cloned. Originality is still to be admired and protected.

Update: From Reuters comes news that the viral nature of the fake Apple store story has created a point-of-sale frenzy of angry customers confronting belligerent employees. It is still unclear whether the products being sold are genuine Apple products or knockoffs, but it is abundantly clear that the store is not an official Apple retail outlet in China. Caveat emptor. And once again, sunshine is the best disinfectant.

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