Microsoft Corp.'s Windows 95 is in position to take over Apple Computer's stature as the "cool" place in computing, hastening the industry's move to Windows.
And Microsoft is aiming at two other Apple strongholds, education and desktop publishing.
Apple will bring back its fabled hammer-wielding savior of "1984" in a video presentation at a major computer conference late this month. The character, known as Dagney, has traded in her red shorts for a suit to show how she uses Macs today. But while Dagney stopped Big Brother, she'll have a tough time stopping Big Bill.
Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates downplays the battle of Windows, used on more than 80% of PCs, and Mac, with less than 10% of the desktop market.
"We don't think of the Macintosh as a competitor," said Mr. Gates, noting Microsoft has long been the No. 1 marketer of Mac software applications.
Apple's anti-Windows marketing blitz (AA, Aug. 28) shows the feeling isn't mutual.
Apple has every reason to be worried, for Microsoft has appropriated many of Apple's coolest ideas. Win 95 is Mac-like. The Win 95 launch event was Apple-like. Former top people on BBDO Worldwide's Apple account in Los Angeles are doing Win 95 ads at Wieden & Kennedy in Portland, Ore.
"They're aspiring to be us in a way," said Paul Papageorge, Apple manager of worldwide consumer marketing. "The question is whether you can manufacture coolness."
Microsoft is working hard to enter the mass cool of pop culture. Putting the Rolling Stones' music in the Win 95 launch ad created a buzz. Microsoft later this month will begin its first youth campaign on MTV, stealing another Apple idea.
Win 95 is the computer product that non-computer users talk about. It's what "Doonesbury" parodies. Microsoft, meanwhile, has recruited an entertainment PR veteran, Josh Baran, to run corporate PR.
"Cool is the sense of movement," said one veteran computer ad executive. Software developers focus on the technology with the momentum. Buyers want the PC with the best software.
Apple earlier this year refocused marketing on its strengths, scrapping a losing battle to become a mainstream business computer.
Microsoft, meanwhile, wants to be everywhere. That's cocky. But Windows already is standard in business and the home. The marketer has a chance to do the same in education and desktop publishing.
Microsoft isn't subtle. The company for the first time this year sponsored a teacher of the year contest with an education magazine, and Mr. Gates used the high-profile Win 95 launch event to announce the winner.
Said Scott Garner, an analyst with Link Resources in New York: Apple "should definitely worry in the educational market." That's the beginning. If kids don't use Apple in school, parents are less likely to buy an Apple at home.
Microsoft, too, is making headway in desktop publishing, a field Apple helped create in the mid-'80s. Adobe Systems, a longtime marketer of Mac desktop publishing software, says Windows software could easily displace Mac as its No. 1 revenue source over the next year.
Chris Gulker, Apple's business development manager for publishing and media markets, contends Mac has the muscle to continue ruling professional desktop publishing, leaving it the standard in ad agency creative departments and the like.
But Jonathan Seybold, a pioneer in desktop publishing and president of Deer Harbor Group, a consultancy on Orcis Island, Wash., said Windows is poised to displace Apple as the leading desktop publishing technology unless Apple changes its course.
Apple today still charges a premium on high-end computers compared with rival PCs featuring Windows and Intel Corp.'s Pentium chip, Mr. Seybold complains.
Unless Apple develops a strategy to reduce prices on high-end wares and increase the supply of software, Mr. Seybold said, Apple could begin a downward spiral.
"Microsoft," Mr. Seybold said, "is a formidable competitor. Microsoft's goal is world domination." One reason why 1995 won't be like "1984.