The Scorecard: Apple, Dell, Google and Microsoft

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:

Apple, Dell, Google and Microsoft

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.

  • Aayush Arya

    Hello! :)

    Though I disagree with you on the developer tools front, the rest of the article is pretty much spot on. I think you have yet to see Xcode, Dashcode, Interface Builder and the rest of the set. If you agree that Mac OS X generally has the best third party applications, and you will once you’ve had a chance to use Mac OS X extensively, you sort of realise that the reason is that the developers get the best tools for the job.

    It is very well written. I did find something that you have a different opinion on than the rest of the world seems to have. Macworld is generally known for being well organised and a great event. I happen to have some contacts within IDG Corp., the company behind the Expo (it’s not organised by Apple), and I’ve forwarded your complaint to them.

    I am a proud and happy MacBook Pro owner and hope that you’ll enjoy your Mac as much as I do. Welcome to the Mac family!

    Enjoy! :)

  • David

    Its important to note that Apple does not run Macworld Expo, I think the WWDC would be a better gauge on how Apple runs conferences.

  • AConferenceAttendee

    MacWorld Expo is run by MacWorld (and IGN) not Apple.

  • Another Attendee

    Here’s what sucked about MacWorld:

    – There was a huge (outdoor) line to get registered.

    – There was another huge (outdoor) line to see Steve Jobs’ keynote.

    – No breakfast was served.

    – The food was overpriced (even with the $15/day lunch ticket — which you could only use once, as no change was offered) and there weren’t fresh snacks between sessions. At Microsoft Sessions, there are way more food stands set up, so you can get your lunch faster — and everything is offered free.

    – Sessions times from one track conflicted with others, making it more difficult to hop around between verticals.

    – the mymacworld site didn’t carry over session information from the registration process, nor was the schedule accurate, and room numbers weren’t even listed!

    So, yeah, there was plenty of room for improvement in my opinion, too. While this isn’t technically an Apple event, it’s definitely “endorsed” by apple. They should make sure IDG has their stuff together.

  • Viral Tarpara

    I was there with my Dell and Vista machine :) I completely agree with your assessment of MacWorld. The scale of the even was so amateur especially in the consumer technology exhibit. Apple, Adobe, Microsoft and few others has some amazing booths but there was no cohesive agenda at the event. It was a free for all of people trying to extract information rather than the companies putting out solid activities around solutions. I have a little bias, but I think Microsoft’s training day “Day at the Office” was great but could’ve have even more of a wow factors. Other sessions were lackluster at best. Interestingly the few customers I met who were in enterprise didn’t even bother going to any of the mainstream stuff, they all had special hotel sessions with the key companies. MacWorld is more fun and exciting to read about on Engadget than it is to attend in person.

  • Michael “PDF boy” Jahn

    you wrote;

    “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.”

    I saw at least like 20 PCs – and as someone who goes every year (since like 1999 or so) well, this one was more organized than others, but far from perfect – and as other people have commented, you ignorance the fact that Apple does not run MacWorld compelled me to offer this advice;

    — If you must write/report – take a journalism class – you reporting was suspect in the very first paragraphs as you OBVIOUSLY did not CHECK THE FACTS – and makes you sound like an idiot – which clearly you are not.

  • Vance

    Aren’t you comparing apples to oranges (no pun intended) in that table? You’re either making the statement that Google is good at nothing other than web apps, or it shouldn’t be in the table at all because it’s not easily comparable to the other companies.

  • Barry Barry Quite Contrary

    I believe Dell has done a better job on the environment than Apple as they are the only computer company that’s pledged to be carbon neutral by the end of the year. They also offer free recycling on all products they sell, and have agree to participate in the Carbon Disclosure Project.

  • Hamid Shojaee

    a) Apple obviously has a lot of pull on MacWorld. They’ve putt their name on it. Anybody who thinks Apple is off the hook for not making sure MacWorld is well run is mistaken.

    b) Vance, what else besides Web apps is Google good at?

    c) Barry, have you bought a Dell lately? Even if you just compare packaging, a Dell doesn’t even come close to an Apple on environmental friendliness.

  • scottiag

    So when will OnTime work with Safari =) How about Opera?

  • Graham

    >> four of the main tech companies in our industry

    What industry? How can you compare a hardware company with an O/S company, apps company and search engine specialist? I don’t get the comparisons.


  • Jonathan D’haene


    I’m so happy you wrote this blog!
    Knowing you once worked for Microsoft, it must be said, the future will be Apple.
    You’ll see 😉


  • http://na Chin

    My friend, I like your assessment of these companies and the platforms and services that they offer. You really have to get your hands on the OS X and knowing you and your coding skills, you will find a new niche in your software endeavor with the Apple System.

    You’ll See 😉