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McLuhan Does Windows 7

McLuhan Does Windows 7

February 21st, 2009  |  Published in Reporting commentary  |  6 Comments

When Microsoft released their public Beta of Windows 7 a few weeks ago their servers couldn’t handle the demand. In fact when I went looking a day or so ahead of time to see what would be involved I got server errors. Paul Therrott said in his Windows Weekly podcast No 90 with Leo LaPorte that he thought that Microsoft had supplied insufficient server capacity on purpose so they could point to the huge demand for their product. My son Julian, who does local Internet marketing,  independently told me the same thing.  Certainly, Paul Therrot is a lot closer to the industry and Microsoft than I am, but it doesn’t feel that way to me. I think it is just another example of McLuhan called numbness. In my view, Microsoft is a large company that still thinks like a 20th century industrial company, despite the fact they have been a major player, at least in terms of revenue,  in creating the post industrial environment of the 21st century.

In this case, Microsoft still believes they are in control the way a manufacturer of physical goods is in control and  announced that they would limit downloads of Windows 7 Beta to 2.5 million. That sounds like a lot, but it isn’t when you realize that over 90% of the world’s computers are running on some version of Windows. Keep in mind that they knew that people were unhappy with Vista and that there was high interest in Windows 7. They had spent millions on advertising even hiring Jerry Seinfeld to do commercials with Bill Gates and ran ads showing people liked Vista when they didn’t know what it was. (They keep saying it’s a perception problem. I think they are deluding themselves.).  So in the teeth of all that interest in their new product they stood there like General Motors saying we are only going to release 2.5 million of these things. How did they think thy were going to do that – install a download counter and turn off the tap when it reached 2.5 million? Here is what actually happened. They opened their servers for downloads and some people successfully downloaded Windows 7 Beta. But the servers became overloaded by the unanticipated demand and they took them offline while they arranged for extra server capacity.  In the mean time copies that had been downloaded found their way onto other servers. I grumbled about the delay to my son and he emailed back that a site called lifehacker had it available. Bingo -download complete.  The Internet had routed around Microsoft’s numbness.To Microsoft’s credit they did not try to enforce their limit by controlling the number of license keys they provided or validated. Evidently they finally realized that when people are going crazy for your product it is better not to annoy them.

But couldn’t Microsoft have intended this kind of outcome all along? I really don’t think so for this simple reason – they behave in this utterly numb way all the time. Occam’s Razor tells us that the simplest explanation is usually the simplest one. So is Microsoft playing some complex game of marketing chess with us or are they what they look like -  a company that tries to live in two paradigms simultaneously and constantly make a spectacle of themselves?


  1. Julian Seery Gude says:

    February 21st, 2009at 10:57 pm(#)

    Although I brought up the potential that Microsoft was throttling supply to increase demand I think in the final analysis your assessment is the correct one.

    I believe your point is further supported by the fact that Microsoft has never pulled off a marketing move of this deftness. They are marketing dolts.

    Someday, someone at Microsoft is going to change that but it probably won’t happen until their business starts losing huge amounts of revenue and that loss frees them up to be less risk adverse.

  2. Tom Veitch says:

    February 24th, 2009at 12:15 pm(#)

    Well said, L. Who can forget that Gates predicted in the 1990s that CD-Roms were going to be the next big thing, all the while missing the importance of the internet?!

    I remember haunting the BBS’s in the late 1980s and then learning that the internet was on its way and just salivating at the thought. For me computers were always about communication. For Gates they were (and still are) about top down control, i.e. a pyramid-shaped power trip. Jung identified the disease as ego inflation. That kind of mental mistake will be with us for a long time, I fear.


    PS — not sure if you got my last email a week ago. I know yours keep showing up in the spam box.

  3. admin says:

    February 24th, 2009at 8:07 pm(#)


    Yes, I think you hit the nail on the head with ‘risk adverse’. It is hard to imagine such a large computer company playing out a scenario where they fail to lay on sufficient server capacity working out in their favor.

  4. admin says:

    February 24th, 2009at 8:32 pm(#)

    I have to admit I forgot Gates and the CD Rom thing – gave me a chuckle to remember. Being a Linux fan boy I have always been amazed that MS saw no threat to themselves from the upstart OS until into Balmer’s ascendancy. I hadn’t thought in terms of ego inflation but I agree it is certainly present. I think there is a certain style which industrial age ‘captains of industry’ fall prey to and that Bill Gates (and Balmer for that mater) are typical examples. Compare the control freakery of a Steve Jobs as an example of post industrial ego inflation. ;-)

  5. Tom Veitch says:

    February 25th, 2009at 2:09 am(#)

    Hey, let me tell ya a little story. The time is 1976 and I am attending a little “computer faire” in Palo Alto, CA.

    A young hippie kid and his buddy are sitting at a table showing their new motherboard, which they call an “Apple Computer.”

    The kid starts working the crowd and eventually buttonholes me. His sales rap and the pressure he applies is just astonishing. “This guy is a great salesman,” I think. “But what is he on?” …I don’t buy, mainly because I don’t have any money and I am there to look. He turns away with a look of disgust on his face.

    Leaving the place (I believe it was a Holiday Inn) I hear loud twittering. I look up and a little bird on a branch is looking straight at me and chirping like crazy.

    “This is some kind of message,” I think, laughing.


  6. admin says:

    February 25th, 2009at 11:47 am(#)

    Well, George Soros treats his back aches as market tips. Right now I have a big fat black Aussie raven hanging about saying Awwwwwwwwwwww – like he’s complaining he has been on the dole all his life.

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