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By Dan Kaufman
July 3, 2004

Looking like a frightened mouse perched upon a high chair, Bill Gates launched into his technical media briefing, held earlier this week in Sydney, by explaining Microsoft’s history. It didn’t become more eventful after that. No new products, services or open-ended visions were announced. No scathing or interesting observations. Unlike his last visit, he didn’t even criticise Australia’s slow broadband roll-out.

Instead, he said that software is more important than hardware, that security wouldn’t be a problem for Microsoft customers if they simply updated their systems more often, and that computing’s future would include speech and handwriting recognition – all comments he’d made several years ago.

Old news, and perhaps an indicator of a larger problem. As sales of smart devices such as mobile phones, hand-held PCs and MP3 players outstrip PCs, consumers expect their technology to behave more like Apple’s iPod: sexy and simple to use. Not many people say that of Microsoft’s offerings.

Its Windows XP operating system is widely regarded as being harder to use than Apple Mac OS X. And many of the features expected to be included in XP’s successor, codenamed Longhorn, are already in OS X, such as advanced search features and 3D graphic effects on the desktop.

Does Microsoft have an image problem? Gates wouldn’t provide a straight response when the Herald posed this question. “You’re a Mac user, aren’t you?” he said, before explaining that Apple accounts for only a small amount of market share, while avoiding the question of whether there is an image problem.

Oh, and as the microphone was pulled away before I could say anything else, no, Bill, I’m not a Mac user.