By Rebecca Greenfield | Mar 27, 2012
While Apple and Google are busy getting bad press for their privacy issues, labor practices and general big-evil-company wrongdoings, Microsoft has done some brand regeneration, making it look like the hippest tech company on the block these days. As Apple and Google captured a younger, cooler demographic, the Windows maker, with its stodgy business oriented PC-compatible operating system and notoriously annoying browser, became synonymous with lameness. Remember all those highly effective ? That PC dork (writer-performer John Hodgman) represented all things Microsoft: Slow, uptight, badly dressed. But as Apple and Google have grown up, they’ve lost their hip sheen. And, Microsoft’s taking advantage. In this era of awesomely bad, it doesn’t look so lame anymore — especially in comparison to the other guys.
We noticed this new-found hipness when we came across the endearing Browser You Love(d) to Hate campaign. With some admirable self-awareness, Microsoft used its own bad reputation to argue that its hated Internet Explorer browser is on the verge of a comeback. Layering on the hipster-irony, Microsoft compares itself to once-passe things like PBR and mustaches, suggesting it’s just another brand that’s so bad, it’s cool again. It also doesn’t hurt that the overall look of the site matches that aesthetic. The Atlantic‘s own mustachio-ed tech man, Alexis Madrigal gave it his approval, calling this accompanying ad "definitely the funniest commercial Microsoft’s ever put out." We agreed, finding the whole thing convincing enough to give our abandoned IE9 a try again. (We still prefer Chrome, by the way.)
But this image comeback isn’t limited to IE. Over the last few days we’ve seen Hotmail ads running on Boing Boing and Jezebel, two blogs that are hip for different reasons. Boing Boing catering to the hippest of Internet lovers and Jezebel reaches a more mainstream but still cool millennial audience. And in general, the overall Microsoft-related press has been kind of good. Windows 8 surprised and excited the tech blogger world, something a Windows browser hasn’t done since Windows 95. The company has some other exciting things going on inside its labs. The other day, It did some Internet good with its Digital Crimes Unit. And, has even designed itself a decent looking logo. Apple’s (maybe) new logo, on the other hand, with its rainbow mish-mash, feels dated.
Which brings us to the other aspect of Microsoft’s renaissance: good timing. The once-hipper than Microsoft foes, Google and Apple haven’t looked so good these days. Google, the once beloved search company, has users uneasy with its Google+ integration, privacy issues and anti-trust concerns. Even Googlers aren’t too sure of Google’s mission, these days. Appl still produces insane-popular gadgets, but no longer wows reviewers like it once did. The new iPad is still the best tablet out there, but it’s not a must-have. Plus, it too has gotten itself into its own privacy messes. It also had the misfortune of acting as the face of the last few months of Foxconn scandal. Though the Foxconn protesters that threatened mass suicide back in January made Microsoft’s XBox, thanks to Mike Daisey and Apple’s financial successes, Apple not Microsoft absorbed most of the bad PR.
Part of this has to do with maturity, we suppose. An early bloomer, Microsoft’s already went through its tech company growing pains. It used to be the evil one, remember? The one accused of monopolistic practices, of buying up the competition, of stifling innovation. But it’s no longer the bully. Google and Apple’s misdeeds have overshadowed the once dominant tech company, and while the other big players make public messes out of