Why can't more tech firms be funny?
7th Apr 2009 | 13:00
Let's see companies put their mouths where their money is
When David Webster, Microsoft's general manager for brand marketing, slagged Apple by telling Newsweek that "not everyone wants a machine that's been washed with unicorn tears", tech journalists around the world rejoiced. At last, somebody in tech has said something funny.
There are some hilarious people working in technology, but in these days of corporate communications and twitchy shareholders they're rarely let off the leash.
When the tape's running they'll toe the company line, responding to questions about rivals with a polite "no comment," but get them off the record - and better still, get them drunk - and they turn into wisecracking joke merchants with hilarious and often libellous things to say about rival products and people.
Not everybody behaves during working hours, though. Take Ex-Seagate boss Bill Watkins, who is definitely our kind of guy. In 2006, he told guests at a Fortune dinner that Seagate wasn't changing the world: "We're building a product that helps people buy more crap and watch porn."
Better still, in a 2008 Venturebeat interview Watkins dismissed the netbook trend: "It's like a shit-eating contest. The only question about a shit-eating contest is you don't know whether it's better to eat more shit or eat less shit. Who wins in the end? Is the winner the guy who eats the most shit?"
Steve Ballmer's description of Linux as "a cancer" was divisive to say the least, but we'd much rather have that kind of plain speaking than weasel words or polite, PR-led platitudes. Same with Steve Jobs, whose interviews are always worthwhile - whether he's describing the OS X Aqua interface and claiming that "we made the buttons on the screen look so good you'll want to lick them" or dismissing focus groups by saying that "people don't know what they want until you show it to them."
We thought Google was getting on board, too: in March, CEO Eric Schmidt called Twitter a "poor man's email system". Just when we were looking forward to similarly dismissive comments about Windows Live Search, however, Schmidt decided to be nice again. Speaking to CNBC, Schmidt said "In context, if you read what I said, I was blah blah blah blah blah bore bore bore bore bore," or words to that effect. Where's the fun in that?
We understand the reasons for bosses keeping schtum: an ill-advised comment can wipe millions off the share price and lead to angry shareholders waving placards.
But come on, tech is supposed to be a fun industry, an industry based not on dull financials but on making cool, awesome or mind-blowing things - so why can't we have tech bosses saying cool, awesome or mind-blowing things, too?
If firms believe their products are the best, let's see them put their mouths where their money is.
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