So it looks like the idiots in Microsoft’s marketing department responsible for the laughably inaccurate “IE9 is more awesome than Firefox” list that I deconstructed last year is at it again, this time comparing Windows Live Essentials to iLife ’09.
I’d first like to put aside the absurdity of Microsoft comparing and contrasting the two creativity suites in the first place. The simple fact that this chart exists demonstrates how prevalent the “Macs are better creativity machines” meme is in the marketplace. You just don’t do stuff like this when you’re in a confident leadership position. And you especially do do such a piss-poor job of fact-checking your claims.
Second, this is being written in advance of the WWDC keynote, which could change some of these arguments depending on what Apple decides to announce. This most heavily applies to MobileMe’s pricing, which is rumored to be getting a serious overhaul today. Still, I’ll be going to battle with the facts I have, not the facts I want.
Ultimately though, there is a degree of apples-to-oranges comparing going on, largely because Microsoft considers Apple’s lack of support for Microsoft’s services as dings against Apple, but frequently fails to ding themselves for failing to support MobileMe (ah fairness, wherefore art thou?), but also because Microsoft keeps having to drag other OS X applications into the chart to fully compare the two suites since Essentials includes stuff like an IM client, mail client, and (bizarrely, IMO) parental controls which are built into Mac OS X. But bizarre comparisons aside, how accurate are they? Well… not very, I’m sad (but not surprised) to say. I’ll be tackling this section-by-section, so hang on for a lengthy bitch-fest .
Cost & Multitouch Support
What a bizarre (I know, I keep using that word) category heading. Whatever. I don’t think either of the “cost” columns really accurately portrays the cost of purchasing these two offerings. First, iLife comes free on every new Mac, so the effective cost of the suite itself is effectively nothing for those reading this chart from the Windows side of the fence. However, new Macs start at $599, so on the other hand there’s a hidden cost to be factored in there. From the other side of the fence, buying a new Windows 7 machine (or at least a new Windows 7 license) to run Live Essentials is between $100 and $250, depending on which version you buy and whether you skirt legality with OEM or system-builder licensing (unless you’re a student, in which case you may be able to get it for right cheap).
Ultimately this pricing thing feels like a huge gimmick spun up by marketing to intentionally misrepresent the facts of the situation as they pertain to their target audience. People interested in actually comparing the capabilities of these two suites for the purposes of buying a new computer are likely to be taken in by Microsoft’s implicit claim that in addition to getting that new $600+ machine, they’ll need to spend $79 to do anything “useful” with it, which makes Apple’s offering look even worse in comparison to getting a new Windows machine (which may or may not be cheaper, depending on the user’s needs) and getting a free software bundle on top of it.
Further, Microsoft seems intent on wrapping MobileMe into the iLife suite as well, which is by no means necessary for taking advantage of the capabilities of any of the iLife software. Sure, it allows you to take advantage of additional outlets for sharing, but it’s not like you’re locked into Apple’s platform end-to-end if you go with iLife. But sure, whatever, point to Microsoft for offering their cloud services for free. We’ll see how long this advantage lasts though.
Finally, the multitouch thing just kills me. How many people are going to take this bullet point seriously? First off, Apple doesn’t sell touchscreen devices that will run iLife, so the point of being able to use screen-based multitouch in their software is moot. More importantly though, who the hell cares about this feature in the first place? Are there really that many people with touchscreen computers aching to be able to rotate their photos with their fingers? Ugh. Points for the feature sprawl, Microsoft, but nothing else.
From here out, we get into the nitty-gritty stupid. Let’s leave Adium out as a free downloadable alternative multi-chat client and just stick with Microsoft’s decision to put MSN Messenger and iChat head-to-head.
Okay, MSN Messenger (from here out, MSMM) supports YIM, iChat doesn’t. Fair enough. And shock of shocks, iChat also doesn’t support the arguably arcane and proprietary “Office Communications Server”. Shocking.
Personalization (Scenes/Themes). Wow. Because I always thought MSMM was way more beautiful to look at than iChat. Why is this always such a huge bullet point when all it ever seems to do is make your application even uglier than it is by default? And seriously, games? This is an IM client, not a full-on replacement for fucking Facebook.
And now, the first of many actual inaccuracies (rather than pointless marketing fluff): iChat does indeed support tabbed chat. It’s had it since Leopard came out in 2007. It’s even on Apple’s feature sheet for iChat! I found this in 5 seconds by googling for “ichat tabs” images. Maybe Bing just doesn’t find that result… (oh my god, it really doesn’t!)
Beyond the falsehood of the initial claim that iChat can’t connect to Facebook Chat (yes it can, Facebook Chat uses Jabber, which iChat supports), I’m guessing that the rest of this is accurate, if irrelevant in my opinion. MSNM is a bloated pig of an application (as evidenced by the fact that it has games built into it) that tries desperately to be a social media hub by taking on huge swaths of functionality that are poorly designed (again, in my opinion) and make the application less capable for its original purpose: instant messaging.
A couple of final notes on this section, though… first, is anyone actually using this impossibly vague “Web Activities” feature? And is it just me, or is Microsoft actually working hard to make sure that you’re less productive at your computer by incessantly telling you about what all of your hundreds of Facebook friends are doing right this very instant?
Finally, what the hell kind of email integration is MSMM capable of that iChat isn’t? iChat ties into your address book to pull contacts into your buddy list (which I guess is technically Address Book integration on the Mac)… beyond that, what other aspects of my email would I even need to have integrated? Explain, Microsoft! Vague, unexplained bullet points in a vast sea of feature lists do not a convincing argument make!
Does Microsoft have an MSMM client in the App Store, or are they just proclaiming that since apps in the App Store support MSMM, they have an iPhone client? A search for “MSN Messenger”, “Windows Live”, and a review of apps published by Microsoft in the App Store revealed no first-party Messenger clients, so I’m not sure why they get a check mark here when iChat – which uses chat protocols equally well-supported in the App Store – doesn’t. The rest is fairly tech-y… IM on the web I can see as being marginally useful in out-and-about situations, but “IM Developer Platform”? You’re really pushing that as a client-relevant feature? Also, iChat may not specifically support SMS and mobile chat, but AIM – which iChat integrates with – does. Just because Apple hasn’t poured unnecessary resources into duplicating others’ work in creating mobile AIM clients doesn’t mean you can’t use them.
This whole category feels improperly targeted, to be honest. Microsoft is running their own social network through MSN Messenger on top of the MSN Messenger (sorry, Windows Live Messenger) client application, so they get to claim a ton of ecosystem benefits that iChat can’t, because Apple isn’t running the AIM network. That doesn’t mean iChat is less capable, as is implied, it just means that if you’re tied into the AIM network, you need to use other pieces of software when taking advantage of non-desktop-specific use cases.
Here we go…
Top People: I’m assuming this lists the people who appear most frequently in your photos. In that case, I can’t easily find a way to replicate this feature in iPhoto. Fair enough.
Photo Finder Filters: For quick searches using the search bar, yes, iPhoto only allows one type of filter at a time (name/rating/tags/etc.). However, I’m not above creating a quick, disposable Smart Folder to do a search on multiple criteria. This seems to be something of an Apple-ism: want to find something quickly? Use a general search. Want to find something a bit more involved? Use a Smart Folder.
Batch Face Detection Confirm: Um… iPhoto does this. I’m not at home with my library of face-tagged photos, but I’ve done it before. It’s not hard. I think it’s a tied to a button in the bottom toolbar actually. Fail again, Microsoft.
Microsoft wins this category fair and square with some more advanced photo editing capabilities, especially the content aware fill-like Photo Fuse (which I think is just kinda creepy) and panorama stitching. I’m amused that it took them until Wave 4 to add a retouch feature though.
Publishing & Sharing
Flickr Sharing: It’s like Microsoft doesn’t even bother opening these applications before comparing them to their Windows Live counterparts. Flickr sharing is indeed supported in iPhoto. In fact, again, this is even called out by a huge “Flickr” button in the bottom toolbar!
Share to Windows Live: “for MobileMe”. What? If anything, I guess I should give Microsoft credit for giving iPhoto a check mark here, but I guess the alternative was to add another row for “Share to MobileMe” which Photo Gallery would have failed at.
Plugins: Not really a huge deal for me, and I can’t imaging it being one for many others, but whatever. Point.
Native Sign-in: Again, vague feature is vague. iPhoto features integrated, native sign-in with MobileMe (I just opened iPhoto for the first time on my work machine and all of my MobileMe albums were already accessible), but not Flickr or Facebook. Of course, “publishing partners” under Photo Gallery’s check mark is equally vague, so I can’t say for sure if Photo Gallery automatically signs you into Flickr or Facebook either. In any case, fail for not mentioning the integrated MobileMe sign-in when touting your own product’s Windows Live sign-in.
Video & DVD Apps
A lot of the reasons Movie Maker wins in these feature comparisons is because Apple completely rebooted iMovie a couple of years ago, and has yet to rebuild the feature list in the new product. And to be fair, comparing your release to your competitor’s current release is pretty standard. Still, for those looking for more capabilities without springing for Final Cut Express, iMovie HD is still floating around the Interwebs.
AutoMovie from movies, photos, music: iMovie does a limited version of this, but I don’t have the media at work to test the extent to which this is still true. iMovie HD did a lot better in this arena.
Auto-preview effects, transitions, & animations: Again, the new iMovie doesn’t live preview against your own content, but the non-rebooted version did. I can’t imagine this disparity persisting for many more versions, but Apple does have a bad habit of pushing people into the more expensive solution sometimes unnecessarily, so we’ll have to wait and see. If we’re lucky, Apple getting some competition in the “free” media editing software space should help spur faster development.
Publishing & Sharing
So remember in the Photo Gallery/iPhoto comparison when I said it was a wonder Microsoft gave iPhoto a pass on publishing to Windows Live? Yeah, they reversed course here for no readily apparent reason and split out Windows Live and MobileMe into their own rows. Also, Microsoft continues their Facebook hard-on. Was Facebook video publishing even available when iLife ’09 was released? I expect that if not, it’s something that will be remedied in the next release of iMovie. Apple’s getting better about social networking outside of their own services.
I need to check at home to verify the output resolution claim, but I also don’t really have any 1080p video to work with, so… yeah. Also, I’d much rather have h264 video than WMV. Seriously. Finally, video mail? How important is that to people, or are we just padding the feature list again? Besides, I can do video mail… it’s called a private YouTube video with the link sent via email, or a video uploaded to MobileMe with the link sent via email. Way more efficient, and way less likely to consume the recipient’s entire email quota.
I can’t believe Microsoft is actually tooting Apple’s horn here by promoting Mail.app’s Exchange support. But hey, I did make the point at the beginning of this post that these guys are idiots .
Why is Mail listed as having an attachment file size limit? I’ve never run into an attachment size problem in Mail.app. If that’s a mail provider limitation, then be specific about that, MS. People can use Mail.app with Hotmail, which I’m guessing is where your claim of unlimited file size for photo attachments is coming from. I’d still much rather cloud-source the files than potentially destroy the recipient’s ability to receive more mail by stuffing their inbox… not everyone uses your services, Microsoft!
Point for irrelevant “Slim Cal” feature… can’t say I’ve ever needed or missed the integrated calendar from Outlook after moving to my Mac at work, where I use the calendar a lot more than I do at home.
Conversation threading: again, Microsoft fails at actually knowing what they’re talking about. Mail’s supported threaded conversations since at least Leopard, if not Tiger or before (I came in on Tiger and don’t really use the feature, so I can’t say for certain when it showed up).
I have no idea what “integration with cloud storage” Microsoft is talking about here that Mail doesn’t support. Mail.app can access any web-based mail service that Live Mail can, plus a few more that may support Exchange ActiveSync, which Live Mail doesn’t.
Here again, Microsoft is going for an apples-to-oranges comparison between Writer and iWeb. They serve different purposes and different audiences, but they tried to shoehorn them into a single feature comparison chart. The end result is that neither really looks exceptional in all categories (as would be expected when comparing to products with wildly different aims). Bullet points like “Familiarity with Microsoft Office” just make it look like they’re trying too hard to come up with downsides to ding iWeb for. This whole section doesn’t even deserve a more drawn-out review.
Once more I’m puzzled as to why Microsoft is offloading parental controls into a separate, non-bundled product, but whatever. I’m betting they’re using Family Security to trojan the rest of the Live Essentials platform into the computer by promoting that Live Essentials (through Family Security) can give you more control over how your kids use the machine.
I’m not even sure why most of these check marks are in this list, since they pretty much exclusively apply to Windows Live and Family Safety themselves. About the only thing you could possibly give them credit for is the live website filtering. Everything else is either totally irrelevant to a Mac user, or OS X supports out-of-the-box.
Music Creation Apps
I’m entertained that Microsoft is even choosing to promote the fact that this is something you can’t do with Live Essentials. Aside from that, I’m not sure why they aren’t using the GarageBand icon, or why GarageBand isn’t spelled correctly (there’s no space in “GarageBand”).
To be fair, this list is a bit better than the IE9 vs. Firefox/Chrome/Safari chart they came up with last year. However, there are some pretty incredible and glaring inaccuracies that even a brief usage of the apps in question would reveal. Plus, the majority of the pro-Essentials check marks are relatively obscure features that seem to be there mostly to give Microsoft something to brag about, rather than something that would provide actual utility to the user (particularly in the MSMM/iChat comparison). Between that and the obscure FUD-ness of the pricing at the beginning of the chart, it seems like this was hastily thrown together to meet some new demand from management that they counter the “Macs are better at creative stuff” meme in advance of whatever Steve might say at WWDC today. D-, Microsoft.