Apple vs. Microsoft – A Website Usability Study

Today we’re going to compare the websites of two monumental companies: Apple and Microsoft.

The two giants pride themselves for producing cutting edge consumer and business products, and are leading the developments in software and hardware.

But what about their websites? How do they both compare, and more important, which one is better and more usable?

Well, in this article we’ll take a look at both websites for closer examination from a usability point of view.

One important thing to note before we proceed to compare these two websites is that each company’s business revolves around different markets.

Microsoft primarily makes its profits from business to business, which mainly consists of selling licenses to its operating system to computer manufacturers and office suites for enterprises.

That’s not to say that they don’t sell to consumers — they do, and they have consumer only product lines as well, such as the Xbox gaming console, and of course home users also buy Windows and Office. This means that their business targets pretty much everyone, from home computer owners to developers and enterprises; which in turn stretches the purpose of their website to try and serve everyone.

On the other hand, Apple is primarily a consumer company, and makes most of its profit selling hardware, like its iPod music players and Mac computers. This makes the target of Apple’s site much clearer — marketing, selling and providing support for its products to consumers.

They don’t have to worry about selling licenses to manufacturers because they’re the only manufacturer, so the key purpose of the website would be to advertise and promote their multiple product lines, as well as selling them through their online store.

 

1. Homepage

The homepage is one of the most important pages of the whole site because it’s the first, and in many cases the only chance you get to impress the visitor enough to keep them browsing. You’ve got a few seconds to convince them that the site has enough value for them to keep using it, because if it doesn’t, the visitors will leave.

Apple’s approach to the homepage has been consistent throughout all the years that the site has been running. They use this page as a kind of advertising board that always shows a big ad of their latest product, followed by 3 other ads to another 3 products or news that is important at the moment.

If you’re not interested in any of the 4 suggested items, you can use the large navigation bar at the top, which is split into their core businesses: Mac, iPod and iPhone, followed by a couple of other important links, such as the online store and support pages. The navigation bar also incorporates a search field.

Apple homepage


The interesting thing here is that the main ad at the top is huge — indeed it almost covers the entire page. If this doesn’t grab your attention then nothing will. Apple knows the importance of getting the customer’s attention using good marketing, so they’re not afraid to really go for it.

One other thing to note is the lack of content. You’re not distracted by sidebars, notices or extra navigation items — there are only a few items on the page, focusing your attention and making the decision of where to go next easier.

Microsoft has a different approach to their homepage. Firstly, they feature a similar style of ad at the top, designed to be attention grabbing. These are large images, but only one out of 3 ads is shown at a time — you have to hover over the other two to expand them. This focuses attention, but may potentially weaken the effectiveness of the two hidden ads since the visitor has to work to see them. Right at the top of the page is the navigation, together with search.

Microsoft homepage


What’s below the main ads is more interesting though. As I mentioned previously, Microsoft’s business operates in many markets, including both business to business and business to consumer.

The space below acts as a set of highlights and news for these various areas of the business. One big problem with the content featured here is that it’s fairly boring and overwhelming, with a lot of information packed into a very small space, without anything try to make it scannable.

Sure, it’s broken down into bullet points, but the font is small and there are hardly any images to differentiate between the items. As it stands, there is little to attract me to make me want to read through this content because it’s just, well… boring.

 

2. Flow

What I mean by flow is this: is the site structured and laid out in such a way that I can easily find items to focus on? Do I know what to read after I focus on those items — is the site design directing me across the page with less effort on my part, or do I have to work to try and navigate around the content to find what I need?

Here’s the MobileMe section on Apple.com:

Apple flow


I think Apple has done a great job at structuring all of their pages. Here, the first thing you focus on is probably the picture on the right and then the large headline on the left.

After you’ve read the headline you can proceed to read the marketing blurb below, which leads nicely into a call to action signup button for the free trial. If you’re not interested in the trial, there are more features below to persuade you, each one ending with a “Learn more” link to a more detailed feature page. This leaves no dead ends and keeps the user browsing.

Microsoft seems hit and miss in this department. Here’s the SharePoint section:

Microsoft flow


Yes, there is a focal point at the top that grabs your attention — the large quote and the image of a server — but what’s next?

All of the content below is extremely monotonous, especially the “Learn More” box with a list of 8 links. The dry presentation gives the user less incentive to click around. Some Microsoft sites use better layout to direct the flow of attention, but they generally all suffer from the same illness: too much content.

When you present the user with too many choices, you make them work — they have to think about what they want and they have to process more information. By reducing choice, Apple directs the users through a more carefully designed funnel, which generally delivers a better experience.

 

3. Navigation

Apple’s website has a large navigation bar at the top, which remains there consistently whichever section of the site you go to.

The options available show the main sections split by its lines of business as well as a couple of essentials, such as support and the store. The bar also integrates search and branding as the home button displays the Apple logo instead of a label.

Any extra sub-navigation is located on individual site pages and is placed within the context of that page, whether on a sidebar, or as a horizontal bar at the top.

Apple navigation

Microsoft has a similar navigation bar on the homepage, but that navigation bar is not consistent across the site. Actually, all of the sub-pages tend to use their own navigation bar, in style and in content. The homepage navigation thus acts as a site map to the rest of the Microsoft website sections.

In a lot of the navigation bars, including the one on the homepage, Microsoft uses drop-down menus — unlike Apple. They don’t just use drop-down menus — they use huge drop-down menus. In some cases, the menu even has a scrollbar (in Firefox):

Microsoft navigation


Is this good or bad? In a recent Alertbox entry, Jakob Nielsen, a well known usability guru, has written that mega drop-down menus can work.

They work because they present a lot of choices in groups, so they allow for easier scanning as you can jump to the group that you want and scan the items inside them. You have to get certain things right though, like the order of the groups and only mentioning each element once, for them to work well.

In this case, I think it makes sense for Microsoft to go the route of the drop-down menus, but I feel that they may have gone a little too far. For example, some options point to the same thing, like the ‘Office’ drop down and ‘Office’ option in the ‘All Products’ drop down.

The drop-down also blocks the content below, so if you accidentally moused over the menu, you have to mouse off from it again to get to the content below — all the while being careful not to hover over other items.

There are also a lot of options under each group — sometimes showing about 13 items, which makes processing the options much more difficult. Also, the inconsistency of navigation across the different sections makes it much harder to jump from one area of the site to another, e.g from the Office site to the Xbox site.

 

4. Readability

Because most of the content on the sites is text, it’s vital to ensure that everything is readable and legible. Here are the main things to consider when working on readability of your site’s content:

  • Make the text large enough so that it’s easy to see and read.
  • Ensure that there is enough contrast between the text and background.
  • Provide enough white space around the text to keep other content and graphics from distracting the reader.
  • Provide plenty of headings or highlighted/bold text to allow users to quickly scan the content for key information.
  • Add images and icons to make it easier to focus on individual sections of the text, i.e. product or feature descriptions.
  • Keep the text short and to the point.

Let’s see how Microsoft and Apple fare in this area. Here’s a typical page on the Apple.com website:

Apple text


Apple does a great job of keeping everything easy to read. The text is generally small, but never too small so as to be a problem. Headings are set in heavier type and stand out, allowing you to quickly get the gist of each section.

Apple also makes heavy use of white space to separate everything apart and adds images to make each text blurb more interesting.

Here’s a typical page from Microsoft.com from the Windows section:

Microsoft text


It follows the general usability guidelines by breaking things down into small bite size pieces of text that are easy to digest. It looks a lot busier than the Apple site because there is more content on one page and there are many different treatments for headings and highlighted words.

Too much variety causes visual chaos on the page, with each different colored or bold item competing for your attention. In this case, the page really needs to be simplified to make it easier for the viewer to process.

Here’s another page, this time from the Microsoft security section:

Microsoft text


The text on this page is probably a little too small to be comfortable to read, and the site needs more white space around the content to separate the text. Let’s see what a really busy page on Apple’s site looks like:

Apple text

This is the Apple store. Really busy with lots of products and category links everywhere. Fonts get pretty small to allow more content to fit in, although good use of white space ensures things are still usable.

 

5. Search

Apple’s search is integrated into the navigation bar. When you type something in the search box you actually get live search results with AJAX, by way of a little box which pops up, showing you the results as you type.

It’s very well done — there is no lag when typing, the results are grouped in categories and are fetched very quickly, usually before you finish typing your full query. Here’s what it looks like:

Apple search

If you want to see more results you can just hit Enter when you’ve finished typing and you’ll be taken to the standard search results page. It’s very clean and organized by categories.

You can drill the results further down by category, selectable from the menu on the right. It’s functional and clean, and works well when you’re trying to find any products that they sell.

Apple search


Microsoft has a more familiar search results page that looks a lot like Google (or any other search engine these days).

That’s because it uses Microsoft’s own Live search engine. It’s certainly good at finding what you’re looking for and got the results that I wanted. The format of the results is one big list, which makes sense for Microsoft because of the nature of their business, with a lot of sub-pages and different content to search through.

It’s functional, but the look and feel is different to the other pages, which makes it look like you’re browsing a different website.

Microsoft search

 

6. Aesthetics

Apple’s website aesthetics closely mirrors that of its product line. The navigation bar looks like it’s crafted out of aluminum and features gentle gradients and indented text.

There are also plenty of reflections and minimalist design elements. Apple has always worked on unifying the look and feel of its interface across its entire product line, from the hardware to software, and their website is no exception.

Apple aesthetics


Do aesthetics have anything to do with usability? Actually, they do. Research shows that people perceive better looking interfaces as more usable.

Attractive interfaces will set better first impressions and may even make their users more tolerable to problems. So how does Microsoft fare in the aesthetics department? Here’s the Internet Explorer 8 page:

Microsoft aesthetics


The site follows a faint Windows theme with the light blue clouds, but there is little else to say that this is a page for Internet Explorer or Windows.

The look and feel is very generic and doesn’t do enough to differentiate itself or build a coherent brand. Here’s another page; this is the Download Center:

Microsoft aesthetics


Again, we have a completely different design, although the light blue color is used here too for the backgrounds. If there was no title on the page, could you tell that this is a Microsoft or Windows page? Probably not.

The designs are overall pretty good, but pretty good just isn’t enough. There are plenty of inconsistencies and a lack of polish, which puts Apple ahead in this area.

 

7. Consistency

Consistency is important because it allows you to develop usage patterns. This basically means that if your site has a consistent interface throughout, your visitors will quickly learn how it works and will be able to use this knowledge in any of the new pages that they visit, since they’ll all be using the same, or very similar, interface.

Apple does a great job of keeping the interface consistent. All of the product pages feature very similar aesthetics and are structured in the same way.

The whole site looks and feels the same throughout and the global navigation bar at the top is always there, on every page. This means that the entire experience is very unified and coherent — you know you’re on the same website wherever you go.

Here’s a Microsoft page for the Azure platform:

Microsoft flow


Could you tell that this is a Microsoft page if you took away their logo? Custom graphics, styles and color palettes across all the Microsoft sections help little to maintain a coherent brand image on the web.

Microsoft really struggles here. There are many different sections across Microsoft.com and they all feature their own look and feel, including their own navigation.

So once you go to a section on their site, be it the Microsoft store, the Office site, or the Security pages, they will all look and feel like separate websites.

What’s worse, the global navigation bar is also gone, meaning that you have to go back to the homepage, or the site map, to see an overview of all of their sites. It’s really an ecosystem of websites hosted under the same domain and therefore it doesn’t get the benefit of consistency that Apple has. The brand image is also terribly fragmented making it impossible to define what a Microsoft site looks like.

 

Conclusion

Which site is the winner? If you’re looking at usability alone, Apple comes out ahead. They have a better designed homepage that offers less choice, which means the user needs to think less.

They have consistent navigation across all of their pages. They use a lot of white space and sub-headings to make everything more readable, yet they keep things simple by not overusing too many different text treatments.

The Apple site is generally more user friendly and offers a much better experience to consumers who use it to check out Apple’s latest products.

Having said this, the Apple website is much smaller in scale than Microsoft’s site. Unlike Apple, Microsoft hosts many different sites and sections under the Microsoft.com brand, creating a whole ecosystem of sub-sites. Each site is packed with information and the Live powered search that Microsoft offers tends to yield good results. The biggest problem for Microsoft is consistency.

Microsoft just doesn’t have a consistent, coherent and unified brand. Every section looks and feels different. There is no global navigation and there are not many visual clues that tell the user that this is a Microsoft site — unlike Apple, where the whole site shares one unique aesthetic that mirrors that of their hardware and software, thus creating a powerful brand.

For these reasons, I think Apple is the clear winner here.


Written exclusively for WDD by Dmitry Fadeyev. He runs a blog on usability called Usability Post.

What do you think? Have we got it right? We’d love to read your thoughts and comments, so go ahead and leave us a comment below…



  • http://macbookwatch.com Nicholas

    Great article. Most of the time the debate over Apple vs Microsoft has to do with the OS. Also PC vs Mac (which doesn’t make sense since because Microsoft is a software company).

    Keep up the good work!

    • http://skillz-community.net Shurandy

      Very nice analysis. For me, Apple is one of the best companies that keeps usability up and top on all their products. I mean look at the iPods and stuff. Look at iTunes. Very very nice work done by them. I like the article a lot and i refer to it on my blog too. I am also into usability, for me there’s no good experience without good usability. Nice post!

  • http://www.metropoliscreative.com Michael Flint

    It’s no secret that Apple is more user-friendly, offers a better user experience, and has a stronger brand than Microsoft. But what you’ve done so well is prove it here. This is an excellent study on branding – partially due to the fact that you’ve chosen two well-known, very interesting brands.

    I have a fun blog post that talks about how well super-villains brand themselves. And I think we all know who the super-villain is in the above article…

    • http://www.andrewcurrie.ca AC

      “And I think we all know who the super-villain is in the above article…”

      Apple?

      Both companies try their hardest lock their users into proprietary software, so pretty websites aside I don’t really see much difference between the two…

  • http://www.kwitt.be Wittevrongel

    Have a look at Apple’s source code and markup and compare it with Microsoft. Usability review, done! ;)

    • Jonn

      err wouldn’t that be a development review, not a usability review??

    • http://emsenn.com emsenn

      …How? Both are notoriously wrapped in a citadel of patents and software licenses that prevent the things that make Apple, well, Apple, and Microsoft Windows, Windows, from even being looked at. Sure you might be able to look at some of the API stuff, but then Apple has to try much harder to get people to use their API – Microsoft knows you’ll use it, since you use Windows, they don’t have to make it pretty.

      If you want to see what real source code looks like, check out the Linux kernel. And if you want to see some mindbogglingly-well written and marked up source, look at Plan 9 from Bell Labs.

  • Michele

    Wittevrongel: They condensed it so the files would be smaller. But still, so massive, so ugly.

  • Andrew

    An excellent read and some interesting points made on branding.

  • vimal

    Why is apple using html 4.01 as their dtd? Shouldn’t they be using xhtml1.0 strict? Please help

    • http://www.jozefbenko.sk Jozef Benko

      And why? Because there is that “X” in DTD? :)

      Apple developers know that XHTML in the way that world’s using it nowadays has practically no difference comparing to HTML. Plus in a short time, HTML5 will become an industry standard so there is really no need for XHTML.

      Please realize that XHTML, as we know it today, is just a weekend thing that will die in short time to give a space to more progressive (and still backward compatible) standards like HTML5.

      • vimal

        Thanks a lot for the info. It is really an eye opener for me. I was misinformed, I was in love with the “X” in the DTD. ;)

    • STL

      HTML 4.01 is as valid as xHTML 1.0 Strict. In fact, even though their code is somewhat similar, they are two different languages.

      As Internet Explorer does not recognize xHTML served as XML (as it should be), you must serve your xHTML as text/html (which is then parsed as “tag soup” by the browser instead of well-formed xHTML). Maybe Apple chose HTML 4.01 over xHTML 1.0 because Internet Explorer was the most used browser at the time (it still is, even though alternative browsers gain market share) ?

      FWIW, I use xHTML 1.0 Strict myself, but it’s strictly a personal choice.

      • vimal

        Thanks for the reply. From now on I am going to stick with XHTML 1.0 Strict for my personal website(till I am confident with HTML5) and HTML 4.01 for my clients. Cheers! :)

  • http://www.knockoutdesigns.com.au Damir

    “ecosystem of websites hosted under the same domain” that statement right there sums it up for me.

    It feels like Microsoft has a department for every sub-page. The department very rarely talks to the other departments and the people in charge of designing, styling and unifying the entire site are either absent or not given enough power within the organisation.

    To Microsoft’s credit, it is surely difficult to unify the look and feel of such a large and diverse company and they have certainly progressed in terms of design. But realistically, if it wasn’t for Apple, Microsoft would still be using tables and frames for the layout on their site.

  • http://www.stucel.com Felix

    I can’t more agree with this. Great stuff!

  • http://www.spencersy.com/ Spencer

    Good review and very informative in terms of user interface functionality. Also Apple never used any kind of flash and just javascripts. They know their standards. Thanks for the review and effort.

  • http://www.orphicpixel.com orphicpixel

    microsoft’s website is too complicated, too much product and navigations

  • http://nuprata.com/ Nuprata

    At first I was afraid this article will be a one-sided (subjective) in terms of website usability. Glad you described the reasoning and facts (target market wise) of the two companies. Very informative indeed.

  • http://feedit.iblogger.org/ hadi060

    excelente comparison! Me too I think Apple website is better. Thnaks for this very interesting article.

  • http://www.gbwebdesign.nl/ Gert van den Brink

    Nice review.

    It’s a sure thing that the Apple website is the winner here, even that Microsoft’s website has improved a lot in de last years, it still isn’t really client/visitor friendly.

  • http://www.devexp.eu Kenneth van Rumste

    Apple’s website is indeed cleaner and has a smaller menu but don’t forget that the content that Microsoft needs to show is 100 times bigger.

    I don’t think that they are comparable, the only thing they have in common is that it’s about IT.

    Microsoft has software for a million things, Apple only has a few hardware products and a handful of software apps.

    It might be better to compare IBM with Microsoft.

    But don’t get me wrong, the study does give a good comparison.
    Greets K.

    • Afex

      Totally agree. To tell you the truth, I’m disappointed with the usability of Apple’s site given the amount of content they’re tasked with displaying.

      Take software, for example (considering software is the only product “manufactured” by Apple). I find it difficult to find, partcularly given the top nav I’m introduced to and stuck with throughout. If I’m coming to the site to find Logic, I just want a link to software is all.

      That being said, similar comments about Microsoft’s site could fill a novel the size of War and Peace.

      So given what each company is tasked with, Microsoft still gets the F overall, and Apple a C+. But as a company known for its usability, Apple should take a close look at their site and step it up a notch.

    • Jack Repenning

      If Microsoft has 100 times as much info to convey, their web site has 100 times as much need to be effective. Most of the actual critiques of this article would help Microsoft convey all that information: consistent branding and navigation, common layouts, universal menu bars, even live search results. The single most prominent difference between the two sites is that, page after page, Apple.com is willing to decide which details are important enough to feature, while Microsoft.com punts on the priorities and drags out the fire hose. It’s not “empowering the reader,” not even “leading,” only “overwhelming.”

    • http://www.sensitivedesigns.com Sensitive Designs

      A GOOD UI DOESNT MEAN LESS CONTENT.. A GOOD UI IS THE CLEVEREST WAY OF REPRESENTING VISUALLY EXTRACTED DATAS FROM DATABASE AND POSTING TO THE VISITORS IN THE WAY THAT THEY CAN UNDERSTAND EASILY THE RELATION BETWEEN THOSE EXTRACTED DATAS.

      ALSO yeh Microsoft is trying to improve thier UI for last couple of years i believe. i can feel the changes and its getting better day by day.. but apple already did it in a finest way as they can :)

      Also Apple Website is not only great in UI approach but also in Visually too.. If we are in a page of thier website we can easily predict that in which we are browsing by looking at thier big splash image or banner image placed in a creative way.. also they have a consistant design throughout the website unlike microsoft..

      And regrading IBM Website, i cannot say that its that much bad but its not that much good too :) only thing is its neat design with no clusters for the eye with no icons or visual representations used.. only texts .. DID YOU CALL IT A CREATIVE DESIGN :)

      Anyways nice article..

  • x

    Microsoft is dead.

  • Srikanth

    Great insights into usability and branding. Apple has set standards for most designs. Really appreciate the efforts.

  • http://www.aledesign.it aledesign.it

    For me Apple is a little better…But microsoft respect the last years have a good innovation. Vote for me: Apple 8 – Microsoft 6,5 ok? :)

  • http://www.sunshine-design.co.uk Jon

    Apple are every bit the super villain too. They just market themselves better. Both companies are out to do exactly the same thing. You’d have to be a complete fool or a fanboi not to realise that.

    I find some of the comparisons in this article a little suspect – can’t help but think they’ve been picked to fulfill an already decided opinion. For instance, the section on Flow. Comparing a product that is fun and marketablee to one which is dull and then pointing out that the content for the dull item is monotonous is hardly fair. Who would expect the copy on a page about servers to be interesting? Of course there’s more copy there, servers are obviously vastly more complex than Apple’s Mobile Me service. Surely comparisons are worth much more when you’re comparing how websites display similar content?

    However, I do agree with the overall conclusion of the article. The Microsoft website is frustrating to use at every step. Didn’t seem like a particularly fair trial though.

    • David

      http://www.apple.com/server/

      There, better?

      As for the article, I feel that it was very informative and though perhaps it does seem a bit favored to Apple, they do have the constant uniform look down though which is really nice.

  • http://blog.callumchapman.com/ Callum Chapman

    Great article! Apple sites wins for me, I’ve always found it hard finding what I want to find using Microsofts site… That’s why I try my hardest to stay away from it! I’m on the Apple site every other day dreaming of a new Macbook or Macbook Pro (I don’t what one to get)!

  • http://www.crearedesign.co.uk Adam

    Apple has been a leader of usability for a number of years, that’s the reason why it’s products such as the iPod and iTunes are preferred for their ease of use despite being more expensive in many ways.

    I don’t think Microsoft’s lack of consistency is it’s biggest problem – it is such a diverse company with many subdivisions that a completely unified look would not differentiate the brands enough. Apple designs everything to look the same, so it kinda gets away with it.

  • http://james.padolsey.com James

    “there are not many visual clues that tell the user that this is a Microsoft site”

    How about the Microsoft logo?

    “you know you’re on the same website wherever you go”

    Well, with Apple you usually are on the same website, but with Microsoft they don’t just have “sub-sites”; they have an entire collection of entirely separate websites each targeting specific product lines. Each website of theirs tends to reflect the corresponding product line. Apple don’t have this problem; they’re a much smaller corporation, targeting a couple of specific niches.

    The fact is, Microsoft is much bigger than Apple!

    Putting down Microsoft because they have inconsistently designed sites is like saying that apple.com is not the same as me.com and then saying that this is a bad thing.

    “There is no global navigation and there are not many visual clues that tell the user that this is a Microsoft site”

    Again, what about the Microsoft logo? And I’ll vouch for their consistency – When I’m on one of Microsoft’s websites, I know it! Global navigation, like Apple’s, would be entirely useless and would probably harm the usability of each of Microsoft’s websites. Like I said, Microsoft is massive and has far more products to take care of than Apple.

    I’m not being argumentative for the sake of it but I am quite sick of meaningless comparisons like this. I would much rather read a review one of Microsoft’s or Apple’s products.

    I could have just read it and left but I like sharing my opinions!

    • Jutta Holzhaus

      Totally agree with you James. They’re comparing Apple with oranges :)

      Look everybody, a site for web designers (who luv Apple and hate IE 6) present “evidence” that Apple’s site is better than Microsoft’s in EVERY SINGLE CATEGORY.

      No bias there.

    • Alex

      Did you even read the article:

      “Having said this, the Apple website is much smaller in scale than Microsoft’s site. Unlike Apple, Microsoft hosts many different sites and sections under the Microsoft.com brand, creating a whole ecosystem of sub-sites. Each site is packed with information and the Live powered search that Microsoft offers tends to yield good results. The biggest problem for Microsoft is consistency.”

      Now stop trolling

  • http://www.traxor-designs.com/ Luke Jones

    All you’ve done here is provided readers with a biased, subjective report on what you think both sites are like. Whilst I do prefer Apple’s site, there are some aspects of Microsoft’s which you’ve said aren’t as good, and more cluttered, when it’s literally the other way round.

    • http://justinatwork.com Justin

      I completely agree!

  • Manko10

    @vimal: no, they shouldn’t prefer XHTML 1.0 to HTML 4.01, both are the same, XHTML only has a few more slashs. Instead they should make use of a Strict Doctype. Unfortunately they use HTML 4.01 Transitional but it should be either HTML 4.01 Strict oder XHTML 1.0 Strict.

    • vimal

      Thanks for the reply. I code in XHtML 1.0 transitional and I think its high time for me to get back to html 4.01.

  • Matthew Patterson

    I think within comparisons like these, that its important to also look at ‘site intent’. It seems that the apple site, is far more focused on branding/advertising/selling, where the Microsoft site seems to be aimed far more at supporting the users.

    Another point to consider, is the different in size and content. I’d say the Microsoft site, has a far greater size and variety of content than the apple site, making it more difficult to show horn in there.

    I do absolutely agree with the main article here however. Microsoft clearly fail to portray a unified brand to the world, presenting themselves as a ‘cluster of departments’ rather than a single entity.

  • http://www.pixelstudioworks.com/ Pixel Studio Works™

    It is really a good article.
    Thanks for providing such a wonderful article, more over you have differentiated
    well about Apple and Microsoft companies and their business.

    Thank again for providing Informational article which is very much needed,

    And finally we hope more articles like this.

  • http://www.whatwasithinking.co.uk Alex

    Very good review! The problem really is that Microsoft is trying very hard (perhaps too hard) with showing their company’s whole portfolio, products, services, their own technology (live search or silverlight), msdn, etc under one site, which is going to be a major problem, considering certain aspects of the site are updated more regularly than others (or certain aspects of the site are being looked after with more time and effort than others) without the overall consensus of the designers and developers saying “Hang on, let’s take a step back here and look at the overall look and feel of the site and start from scratch!” I really wished they would do that sometime soon!

  • http://josemota.net José Mota

    This article shows how much Microsoft does bad work. People are stuck with Windows a lot because they’re forced to it when buying a computer. If they were given a choice, free of any concept, they’d use Apple. No wonder why the iPod sells so much, it was a revolutionary product and people actually kept picking it because it’s so good.

    @Vamil: HTML 4 is as valid as XHTML 1 :) The main difference is that XHTML is XML and has strict rules. It won’t stop you from crafting beautiful markup :D Perhaps this http://mezzoblue.com/archives/2009/04/20/switched/ should help you clear your thoughts.

    • vimal

      Thanks a lot for the link. I really changed my view on “XHTML 1.0″.

      • vimal

        *typo above… It really changed my view about XHTML 1.0. My apologies to the author for spamming the comment section.

  • Wassim

    I once had a really bad experience with a CMS comparison article posted here in WebDesignerDepotDotcom, since the author instead of comparing was choosing wich CMS is the best; based on HIS personal experience. Today I noticed the title of your post and I decided not to read it since Mac people are always here to do comments on how Apple is superior to Microsoft!

    But.. I’ve managed to read it anyway, and it’s really how posts with the “VS” word in their title should be: A “almost” fair and rationally argumented comparison.

    Congrats and keep up the good job.

    I have a comment though ;-) I thinks Apple and Microsoft are not tow companies belonging to the same category. Apple has a consistent “personality” that has to keep with time, the Microsoft way of presenting things depends “absolutely” on markets and trends; Microsoft has no skins to keep, and adding that to the fact that Microsoft is a galaxy compared to planet Apple; I think that should explain the difficulty of creating consistency to Microsoft’s web presence.

    • cazyius

      I must say that your opinion on comparing Apple wit Microsoft is the best I’ve ever read! I would rather refer to Apple as a solar system, but this way of seeing things has just opened up a whole new world to me.
      What you just said was something I’ve been thinking for so long but couldn’t but words to it but you’ve seriously shed light on a grudge I’ve had for so long.
      I work with IT people daily, speaking to nearly a hundred different companies a week. Many of these wish to compare Apple and MS, and from now on I’m using this way of explaining it! Thank you!

  • http://www.sfaranda.com Murid Rahhal

    I think in both cases the website reflects perfectly the product. Look at Apple products: iPod, iPhone, Mac OS X… Simple, Clean and powerful, like the website. Have a look at Windows now: Overcharged of useless stuff, useless steps (Accept or Deny – Accept or Deny… LOL) and full of bugs. Their website? Same thing…

  • Peter

    I find it very short-sighted to compare a relatively small website, like Apple’s with a huge portal like Microsoft’s site. Microsoft can’t “unify” their brand simply because the front-end Windows home users have different requirements then the professional market using the large server stuff. Apple only aims at home users and can therefore use the same specs for everything.

    • pbe

      That’s the typical comment an IT-manager would say. Tons of those “clueless” IT-managers that are in charge of IT purchasing, actually “think” that uncluttered sites like Apple’s are indeed for consumers/kids and rather browse to sites that look more “nerdy” like Microsoft’s site. So indeed… Apple is very very stupid to make such a “childish” website.

      A bit off-topic and said by others too, the cluttered and user-unfriendliness of websites is in fact a reflection of the same problem that exists in a lot of (professional) software packages for ages now. And this persists because “short-sighted” IT-managers don’t want software that is custom-made, uncluttered and user-friendly. It doesn’t occur to them that it actually would improve speed, productivity and profits if software is custom-made for their company-needs. No… they rather buy the cheap “standard” package with hours of (indian) telephone support and wonder who to fire to cut costs.

  • http://www.sanchosrancho.com sanchosrancho

    Someone doubted? Great article.

  • Stacy Spear

    I agree that the Apple branding is good across their entire site. I disagree that this makes there site better. Apple is targeting consumers 100%, which makes branding easier for them. Microsoft has a larger target market and each of those markets have differing views on what’s acceptable.

    When I’m at Apple, I expect it to be pretty. But, when I’m on the Microsoft security page and others (as an enterprise IT guy), I expect to see all there latest patches and hot things on one page, not many.

    My opinion is that they both excel in reaching their target audiences.

    • http://orangeaura.com Tri Nguyen

      I completely agree with you on these points.

  • Chris

    Initially you mention that “each company’s business revolves around different markets.”, but take no consideration of this when analysing the pages.

    A completely biased review, but im sure it will get you lots of cred from all the apple fan boys out there.

  • Sheena

    Great article, it was an awesome read to start off my morning.

    I agree that Microsoft’s page is more jumbled than Apple’s. Its difficult to find exactly what you’re looking for right away. Apple’s presence across all media is consistent in color and theme. From a consumer perspective, it’s oddly comforting to know exactly what to expect, and to be able to easily recognize them.

  • http://www.eskis.ca fred

    Good article! Usability is key in many cases. Apple wins bigtime. Microsoft support is MUCH BETTER than Apple’s though.

  • http://www.fuelmediaworks.com Leroy Fernandes

    One more PC vs Mac kind of article, but this one was useful :)

    “Don’t make the user work” basically sums up what Apple is doing right and Windows is doing wrong.

    But you have to give it to Windows. They have a really large number of products and an even larger set of users and visitors and people looking for different stuff.

    I wonder how Windows could apply the Apple design philosophy to its own website. Maybe someone could dissect that in another article. I would love to see that.

    Thanks for this really great article.


    Leroy Fernandes
    http://www.fuelmediaworks.com
    ==========================

  • http://www.thecreativeoutfit.com Patrick

    It’s nice to see a design article of worth pop up in my RSS feed every once in a while. Thanks for using your powers of observation and critical thinking to disseminate some valuable branding and user experience knowledge. This article has helped me remember things I need to consider when designing for clients.

    Great work.

  • http://www.chrispierre.com Chris Pierre

    It is clearly evident that Apple’s website is more User Friendly . There Website clearly represents there products in all ways. This was such a great article that helped me gain more knowledge on branding and user interface.

    Thanks Again!

  • http://www.cancelbubble.com cancel bubble

    “Do aesthetics have anything to do with usability? Actually, they do. Research shows that people perceive better looking interfaces as more usable.”

    A link to this research would have been nice, like what you did with Jakob Nielsen’s Mega Menu/Alertbox link.

  • http://labs.dariux.com Dario Gutierrez

    Definitely Apple is much better than microsoft in everything: website, applications, design, user interface. Good review.

  • Rusty

    While i agree with most of the points made, I only had to look at the websites header to know who the clear winner would be.

  • devi

    So Apple good, MS bad. What a surprise. Microsoft’s site has a slightly few more products and services to discuss, so yeah it may be a bit more cluttered. This is fanboy worship disguised as authentic analysis.

    • Simon

      So, you disagree. Having more products and services is a pathetic excuse. I’d argue that Amazon and eBay are much bigger sites, and they manage to keep to a unified brand. So do Google and the BBC. What this comparison highlights is Microsoft’s biggest failing – no department within the business is pulling in the same direction. The website just highlights this lack of consistency. It’s funny how you Microsoft fans accuse everyone who disagree or say that Microsoft aren’t the best are fanbois, the only fanboi I can see here is you…

    • Alex

      You’re obviously not a web designer or anyone that knows what they’re talking about for that matter…

      It’s just basic design, usability, and aesthetics being compared here. It’s not a matter of opinion. MS fails 90 percent of the time, in all three areas, on most of it’s website.

  • http://www.tomkordys.net/blog Tom

    It’s one of those topics ppl are gonna get wind up about.
    Looking at Dario’s post it’s obvious that no matter how crap the site is going to be it will be better for him anyways. So, along with a comment you should also state if you are a mac or a pc user :) I am a pc.
    To be honest Apple’s site is much nicer but it is also much smaller.
    Microsoft offers way way way more on their website, because they have way more products, technologies and services. Like you said Microsoft’s site is a eco system on websites not just a website. I would treat it more as a portal to Microsoft and actually comparing those two is a bit pointless.

  • John

    Apple’s site would be far more difficult to use if it has as much a scope as MS’s. And why are we comparing 2 companies that have little in common other than their OS’s? The comparison just isn’t fair.

    … and who else is just so tired of Apple’s brushed metal look and rounded everything?

    • Wassim

      True.

  • http://www.interactivellama.com/blog/ Stephen James

    Do people buy Microsoft products from their website? Is it an e-commerce site? I doubt it–if they did I’d think they put more thought into it. I would say that the majority of Apple products are sold on their website.

  • http://www.spoiledtechie.com Scott

    OMG, This is such a biased article that it makes complete sense. I imagine the author is just trying to get hits on his website for apple technology. Wow, You know what Apple net profit is? around 4 billion, only going up because of the Ipod.

    You know what MSofts net profit is? around 11 billion…

    The difference? MSoft is a MUCH bigger company. Thats it. You can’t have one web design team for all of MSofts products, but you can for Apple.

    Such a biased article just to try and say Apple is better. You could have not said anything and still would have found the same commenters saying they love Apple.

    Next time, think about your user community which is most likely made up of 90% apple users.

    You remember who Apple first used for their OS? MSoft.
    You remember who Apple first used for their mouse technology? MSoft.

    You remember who is the current leader in almost all markets Apple is in except for the Ipod? MSoft.

    Stop being so biased. Do it right or don’t do it at all.

    • http://theundecided.t03.us Matt Rider

      I couldn’t agree more with you Scott! and How many more products does Microsoft have that apple doesn’t have to worry about?

      I think that apple and lets say Dell would been better comparrison

    • Robert Simpson

      Ummm, Apple never used MS for their operating system, they both used tech which Xerox invented. MS were originally designing apps for Apple before they released Windows.

    • historian

      Um. Apple never used Microsoft for their OS. Apple DOS was written by Woz and a few others.
      And Bill Gates went crazy trying to figure out how Apple was doing the Macintosh mouse in software, without special hardware. It was at least a year before Microsoft had it figured out.
      http://www.folklore.org/StoryView.py?project=Macintosh&story=Shut_Up.txt

      Get it right, or don’t write at all…. ;->

  • Kevin

    Wow, this is an incredibly biased review. Apple fan-boy?

  • http://www.sfaranda.com Murid Rahhal

    So, I’ve seen that many users are sending comments saying: Apple and Microsoft cannot be compared. Well, when Apple does the “Hello I’m a Mac, and I’m a PC” videos they do it against PC (Microsoft and Windows), not any other company… think about it.

    Also, for those who say Apple is a small site, well, you’re wrong. You’re so wrong, you have no idea. I’ve been making a study on the Apple website last year, page by page, it took me months! Apple is a huge website, don’t only see the Mac and the iPhone, they have a huge range of products including servers, softwares, accessories… and for each one they have more than 6 pages of reviews + presentations, videos. Then they have a huge range of downloads, phone services, support and documentation for everything, they also have a section only for movie trailers… etc.
    If the website looks small, is because they’re so good that they can make something huge look small so it is easy to use and you don’t get confused.

    Big is not an excuse for being messy and ugly. You can run the biggest website in the world but if it is well designed and consistent it will look just great!

    • Peter

      Murid – the website looks small because it is.

      There’s no OEM section for Apple because they don’t need one.

      I’ve never seen Apple offer server consulting support either – and to be honest, it took me three days to find whether they offer independent software vendors any sort of support. In the end, I assume they don’t.

      Finally, I can’t find anything about Apple as a company, press releases, share information, or future plans.

      To be honest, as much as I love developing for the Mac and iPhone, I wish they could provide even half the developer experience that I see when building for a MS platform.

      You may have completed your study on Apple’s site, but you haven’t scratched the surface of Microsofts.

  • http://www.usabilitypost.com Dmitry

    Thanks for the comments everyone! :)

    James: Thanks for the comment. When I talked about Microsoft lacking distinctive clues to its brand I was talking more about the general look and feel of the site: i.e. using a consistent color palette, using consistent graphics, using consistent style etc, but the truth is, each Microsoft site is very different, so what you in the end is no coherent look and feel — nothing to tell me “this is a Microsoft” site — the logo is left as the only clue :) That’s not a terrible thing by itself, but when comparing it to Apple, who maintain an exceptionally coherent brand across the whole product line, that issue just highlights itself much more.

    Several people have pointed out that the article is biased. Sure. It’s written by one author, myself, and so of course it will be limited by my experience and subjective to my views, and there is no going around it. What I did aim to do in the post was give a little bit more value to the reader by providing some recommendations in each of the sections as to what you should strive for to achieve good usability in each area, so while my assessment is inevitably subjective, I hope that the readers would nevertheless find the comparison interesting and walk away with something new.

    cancel bubble: Regarding the perceived usability effect: There was a study conducted by Masaaki Kurosu and Kaori Kashimura a while back that reported these findings (http://portal.acm.org/citation.cfm?id=223680)

  • http://www.blogfullbliss.com/ Adrian

    Can you even really compare the two? They are totally different websites. Microsoft is much more than just one brand…..where Apple is not….its a mac.

    pointless.

  • http://www.joshclarkdesign.com Josh

    I’m always amazed at the lack of good usability design when I encounter Microsoft. One would assume that a company like Microsoft, with as much financial power as they have, would be able to hire the right usability design professionals in order to get the job done right.

    Great article and thorough review. It’s nice to have most of the facts rounded up in one place.

  • http://angelicaflorine.com/log Angelica

    I prefer Microsoft’s products because it feels like home. I think that most of the users saying this is a well thought out article are biased and I think maybe even the author of the post is as well. I don’t mean to spark anything, I’m just saying my two cents. I like Microsoft because it is what I know. Just the same as people who love Apple because that is what they know. I would not object to learning Apple, I just may be a little discombobulated.

    • Robert Simpson

      I’d give OS X a try (if you can afford to spend the cash), I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised with it. Grass is always greener etc.

  • http://angelicaflorine.com/log Angelica

    ^^ Wow… I should have read that before posting!

  • http://home.comcast.net/~daguy James

    Great article. Apple’s website is fantastic – their designers definitely understand the principle of “less is more.” Even on pages with lots of content, they organize things very well and keep things “breathable” with gratuitous use of white space. I never find myself having to struggle to find the content I want.

    Microsoft’s site tends to cram too much information into too small of a space, which makes things hard to read. A lot of their pages have huge, generic-looking lists of links that my eyes tend to just glaze over, because they look more like text ads than real content. And the lack of coherent, consistent navigation is maddening – I’m always hitting my back button 100 times because I have no idea how to navigate back to the top of whatever section I’m in.

    Now, to be fair, Microsoft is a much larger company than Apple – they don’t have the luxury of Apple’s laser-like focus on a few core products (Mac, iPod/iTunes, iPhone).

    I’d be interested to see how the designers of Apple’s site would approach Microsoft’s, if given the opportunity to redo it.

  • http://novatvmedia.com Anthony Alexander

    Thank you Scott. Coincidentally, I just wrote my first web site competitive analysis and this study is complete garbage. Just like web 2.0, its filled with big pictures and very little substance.

    What’s 4+5?

  • http://www.seqana.com Odelón

    Muy bueno la lectura…

  • http://www.nerdstalker.tv adolfo foronda

    Thank you for putting all that work into your evaluation of the ui/ux from these 2 companies website(s). I must admit this does not appear to be the most objective observation though. Although these two companies overlap on some fronts, Microsoft’s business does reach much further into other sectors, products, and solutions. That said it’s a bit like comparing apples to oranges in that there are two different objectives or goals for these companies (actually many more for microsoft).

    The questions for microsoft are how does a holding company market/design it’s army of sub companies? Is unification the answer? Or does image autonomy make sense? Then go from there.

    That all being said thanks for a very interesting read.

  • http://www.itmentality.com.au IT Mentality

    Incredibly thorough, and insightful piece. Congrats. I’ll look forward to reading future articles.

  • fractalfrog

    Slow down there Scott. Your mouth is starting to foam… ;-P
    I would just like to take this opportuniaty and proper thank you for a very informative and fact filled comment that had absolutely nothing to do with the actual article.
    It’s a rare and indeed a remarkable occasion to come across someone, who not only possesses a wealth of knowledge but also an even greater sense of humor.
    Brilliant how you are asking the author of the article to not be biased…

    (Hmmm… What was that about Stones and Glass Houses? I can’t remember at the moment. Oh well! English isn’t my first language after all ;-)

  • fractalfrog

    Sure, I know that I already stated the obvious that I’m not a native English speaker but… opportuniaty??????
    C’mon! Even a non too bright frog like me should have caught that one before hitting that dreaded and terribly final “Add comment” button.
    So… for all those of you who have no clue what “opportuniaty” is I would like to hereby clarify that I what I really meant were “opportunity”.
    (Except on the first Wednesday in March, during the year which follows two years after a Leap Year, when “opportuniaty” instead is the name of a small, insignificant fish living in a pond, just a couple of miles outside Islington, England.)

  • andy

    I agree that this article is outrageously biased. I was hoping for a usability review and I got bland opinions. For example, while checking in to see how Microsoft does in the “aesthetics department” Dmitry offers this summary: “The site follows a faint Windows theme with the light blue clouds, but there is little else to say that this is a page for Internet Explorer or Windows.
    The look and feel is very generic and doesn’t do enough to differentiate itself or build a coherent brand.”

    Newsflash: Apple is better at branding than Microsoft, but did he address either the aesthetics or usability of this page? There is not argument here, just an assertion that the page is generic.

    I was also annoyed by the search comments. I am loyal Apple user, and a Microsoft user out of necessity only – so I’m not usually rushing to M$FTs defense. I’ve used search on both sites many, many times. I even used to work at a search company. Apple’s search does not consistently return good results. Microsoft’s is much better. Claiming that Apple’s search helps you find all of their products is thoroughly unimpressive. How many total SKUs do they have? Maybe 300 not counting software? Maybe 50 that they make themselves? The forum, support, downloads and iTunes searches always seem like they return artificially limited results sets. There is no way to refine results within those further. There are no dates on any of the articles… it is an inadequate experience all around. Microsoft owns some of the most advanced search technology (Live, Bing, FAST, PowerSet) on the planet. Apple is trying to hack something custom together and it shows.

    Bah. Do more with your linkbait.

  • Cynthia

    In my opinion the article is right. Microsoft could do the same thing-but they don’t. Apple has a well developed brand. Microsoft hides under it’s behemoth size to provide mediocre communications with customers. Microsoft does not understand design or brand-never has.

  • http://neal.grosskopf.name Neal G

    It’s a bit unfair to compare Microsoft’s sub-pages to Apple’s sub-pages. The MS home page is really just a portal to all their other sites, why Apple’s entire site more or less one website. It’d be like comparing Yahoo’s sub-pages to Apple’s sub-pages.

    I will agree that the MS sub-pages suck a lot and are in need of attention. MSDN is probably the most used site of MS anyway.

    One thing to mention is MS recently redesign their home page, which I think looks worse than the design about a year ago.

  • nafis

    this is so bias!!

  • http://www.visual-blade.com Daquan Wright

    Apple’s website is cleaner, leaner, and overall a little more web “greener.” My little rhyme aside, Microsoft is a software juggernaut and it’s not a surprise to see that the websites look different. I do agree that there should be more consistency, because it will be less thinking for the user.

    Naturally Apple is a smaller and more tight knit company, the global navigation is not just genius but it works for them. Maybe we shouldn’t expect Microsoft to have the same navigation on every website because it is that big to and warrant design “inconsistencies,” but to instead vouch for a consistent logo placement and certainly more white space. Even the “average” user should be able to see a MS logo and know that only Microsoft websites would have a MS logo on it which is logical.

    It’s true that Apple is leaner in every way and MS is busier, but with a company that big the content has to go somewhere.

  • http://9lessons.blogspot.com Srinivas Tamada

    Impressive ….

  • http://www.seo-digitalmarketing.com/search-engine-optimizations-london.aspx website promotion services

    always see here the adventures and creative designs, thanks to web designer depot to show and share the design in one place,

    Thanks

  • http://spaze.info rado

    apple.com is really a masterpiece in web design and is exhilarating for a designer to look at

  • http://www.embed-design.com/ Oliver

    Wow, great article. I loved the in depth analysis of the sites. Definitely some useful helpers for my own site. :)

    Also, I do agree with the writers judgment, I don’t think Ive ever gone to the Microsoft site just to look around or even had any enjoyment on it. The Mac site however, is the complete opposite, The PC vs. Mac videos are hilarious and easy to navigate. So yer, Mac is a clear winner for me. Anyway, just my 2 cents :D

  • Kayzah

    Can’t believe the author is criticising Microsoft’s page so reserved…

    It’s so simple:
    Microsoft’s site is a prime example for bullshit.
    Apple’s website sets standards and in Webdesigner’s perspective one of the best that exsists. Period.

    • http://www.irritatedvowel.com/blog Pete

      Wow, that was insightful. Thanks!

      I think Apple’s site is decent, but I don’t believe it is so amazing as to set the standard for other web designers.

      Sometimes I think Apple could put a turd in a plain white box and folks would praise it up and down, and wait in line for half a day to get one. They truly are wonderful at branding and building a fan base.

      Pete

  • Greg

    Why would you compare the MobileMe website to the Sharepoint website? It’s almost as if you went hunting for the “ugliest” part of Microsoft’s website just so you could annihilate it in your review. A more adequate comparison would be between the MobileMe page and the Windows Live Mobile (http://home.mobile.live.com/Home.mvc) website, because they are very similar software aimed at a very similar market! Oh wait.. would you look at that, it’s actually a halfway decent looking website.

    And as almost everyone else has said, the websites are much different in size. Go to any subpage of Apple and look at the footer. That sitemap covers their WHOLE website. There as many links as that in just one of the many dropdown menus on the homepage of Microsoft. And each subsection on the Microsoft website has much more information about the product than Apple’s does, because a bulk of Microsoft’s products aren’t aimed at the consumer (like you said) but instead businesses and IT professionals. Would IT pros want all of their information simplified and shortened just so that the website is more legible? I doubt it.

    The problem with this article is that you initially consider this difference in markets, but you seem to forget about it when you start “studying” the usability. You really should just have compared relevant portions of the Microsoft website to the Apple website. Why would you throw in Sharepoint Server in comparison to MobileMe? The Apple store to the Security section of Microsoft? Why not the Windows Live Mobile website? or the Microsoft Store (http://store.microsoft.com/home.aspx)?

    This could have been a good article if you at least tried to conserve some of your bias and be a little more objective with both the comparison and selection of the websites that you want to compare. Consider the target audience throughout the article, not just at the beginning and the end.

  • http://cdpradeep.com Pradeep CD

    I think I’m the only web designer who likes Microsoft (Windows).

    This comparison is like between ant and elephant.

    Apple does not have much products, as Microsoft.

  • http://www.usabilitypost.com Dmitry

    Thanks for the comments everyone.

    Murid: Definitely. There’s a few comments here saying that Microsoft spans many more markets than Apple, and Apple just makes the Mac. That’s like saying that all Microsoft makes is Windows :) It’s just plain wrong because it’s the other way round — Apple operates in just as many markets, if not more, than Microsoft, though their product ranges are much smaller and consolidated.

    Here’s some of the markets they operate in: music (iPhone + iTunes), phones (iPhone), personal computers (Mac + OS X), computer peripherals (Time Capsule, Airport Express, displays etc.), professional editing software (Logic Pro, Final Cut Pro), office software (iWork), servers (XServe, OS X Server). These are just markets, not products — Apple’s product range is quite large.

    Apple has really consolidated the product ranges though into nice little pockets and have organized it all very neatly on their site so it appears simple and coherent. I think it’s a great achievement from Apple’s designers rather than anything to do with being smaller than Microsoft. If Microsoft wanted to, they could do the same with their product ranges (windows, office/collaboration, server software, music, gaming, peripherals)

    andy: Thanks for your comment. I did find Microsoft’s search better though — indeed, I even pointed out the bad search results than Apple returned. Apple’s search is perfect for locating any of their products and services — it works faster due to its live nature and the thumbnails that help you scan the results, but the engine that powers it is obviously not comparable with Microsoft’s, so no arguments there.

  • http://www.ehsan.pk Ehsan

    You can spin it anyway and it proves you are apple fan…..honestly a big huge ad on the frontpage is cool and a minimal navigation with less clutter thats becuase they havent got anything to offer except that ou pay them to look cool ! their products are user friendly year right i didnt even knew my iphones headphones had a button to pause and play music without actually opening the iphone truth is they cant really show anything good about their products on their site so all they do is put shiny images on their site and spend loads of their money to campaign against rival and much better products to make them look uncool !

    • http://noelhurtley.com Noel Hurtley

      Ehsan: Are you honestly claiming the only reason that people purchase Apple products is to “look cool”? If you are, that is an absolutely ludicrous claim.

  • http://www.merlinvicki.in merlinvicki

    The comparision isnt fair. M$ is a huge site compared to Apple. Though I agree that M$ suffers from lack of consistency across its sub-sites. And also agree that on the usability front Apple provides a much better user experience.

    • http://www.irritatedvowel.com/blog Pete

      Why do all you fanbois insist on typing “M$”.

      – Apple just got everyone to pay $30 for a service pack : MSFT gives those away for free.
      – Apple gets 30% of revenue for apps you write for their device. With MSFT, you can write any app you want and the only person who has to approve it is the person who wants to buy it.
      – Apple products are far from inexpensive.

      I suggest that blog comments fields in the future all have a built-in auto-replace of “M$” to “(btw, I am an uninformed fanboi with low self-esteem trying to impress the cool people.)” I think that will help us all out.

  • suso

    Great Arcticle,Hope MSers to read and improve their website’s usability

  • caffery

    I would reeeally like Dmitry to comment on gregs recent post (#70) as he got some valid points.

  • Don Vice

    Usability for the essential parts is somewhat quite different, where do you find security updates for mac programs? That’s SIX clicks from the startpage, but on the other hand…

    Being a OS X user – you are in coma when it comes to settings in the system.
    Being a MS XP/Vista/7 user – it feels like you are in a wheelchair when it comes to settings in the systems.
    Being a *nix user, you are in control.

  • http://www.kommufaktur.de Curt Simon Harlinghausen

    True. True. It’s not just a matter of product philosophy.
    It is more a business philosophy. To focus what is important
    for the consumer and visitors.

    Really great article. I love it.

  • http://jpc-design.com James

    Apple does indeed win on usability. And yes they are two different companies with slightly different (but not so different as they used to be) markets. However, Just quickly visiting the home pages of both sites is interesting.

    On apple, yes it’s pretty, but most of all everything works and lets me get on with browsing the site.

    On ms, the first thing that happens (because I’m using FF) is that I get an overlay/popup asking me to upgrade to IE* But as I’m on a Mac, this is somewhat difficult to do!!! I’m using the standard FF/mac user agent, so if they’re browser sniffing, you’d think they could work out that I’m on a Mac, thus unable to get IE8! Then when I close that, the main ‘content’ block uses silverlight. Granted I’m a geek and thus have all the media wotnots I can and so can see it, but it does make me wonder how many innocent visitors to MS can’t see the page properly because they need a MS plugin to view the MS site…

    That’s nothing to do with size of company/markets, that’s just plain old usability!

  • Tim Assink

    Design should not depend on the size of the company behind it. Period.

    Lots of huge companies have great websites that are very usable. For example: IBM has a much better looking site than Microsoft, if you ask me. The look throughout the site is far more consistent, and information is easier to find because it is divided into smaller chunks.

    And what about Ikea? I’d say they have a lot of products, but I find their site a lot easier to use than Microsofts’.

    I agree that Apple has far less products and services than Microsoft, but even if they were equally big, i seriously doubt Apples’ website would be a mess…

    By the way: i recently switched from Windows to Mac. The reason? Usability, both online and offline.

  • http://www.mynewfavoritewebsite.com dfwrbrett

    I think you have a lot of valid conclusions here. I also think Apple’s site is better for the consumer. But all this is overshadowed by the whole debate.

    I posted a review on Apple.com from a Microsoft user’s POV a while back. http://mynewfavoritewebsite.com/2009/04/18/is-apple-really-that-great/

    I’m seeing two biases here: you’re an Apple lover (hey! you’re a designer, why not?) and you also have a design bias. Here’s an example of both biases at work:

    You criticize MS for too much content when it’s necessary. When MS cuts back, like on the “Learn More” box, you criticize them as boring. As a content strategist and copywriter, I see designers ask for more graphics when they’re not what the user needs. Apple’s “MobileMe” page has a lot of content and I think, while clever, it’s too proud of itself. The reader has to guess that the content is an explanation of the features and has to read it all to find what feature is important to him/her.

    Your section on readability has inspired me to blog on usability from a content perspective. It’s all about the visual aspect of the content- the designer bias- not how meaningful it is to the user based on where he is or what he’s doing.

    Another poster (Jon) made a valid argument about the comparisons. This goes back to the Apple bias. You make the point that Microsoft has a larger business focus and then you blame them for it. The comparisons cross the consumer and business product lines and that abates some of the thunder from your article.

    In spite of my nitpickiness, I think you have a lot of important observations and some good points. You just have to cover the tracks of those biases better ;-)

  • http://c187.org C. Hall

    I have to agree with most of the points of this article. It’s such a pain in the butt to find anything on Microsoft, and the lack of a global style really hurts. Like when I go to a home consumer page it’s sometimes over simplistic but easy to read. But when I head to a page meant for a developer it has too much information all crammed, and is hard to read. Although the fact that the style changes does indicate to me how complex the content might be. The only problem with that is lets say a home user needs some information to fix a problem, and they start at a ‘consumer’ page then head over to something else. The change of layout, navigation, and so on might turn then off.

    Oh, and I hate the search. It never comes up with anything that you need.

  • Sondra Padalecki

    I think your points are somewhat biased. First and as you pointed out, Apple is designed for the consumer market, therefore, the expectations are that the site is going to sell me something. I go there looking to buy or research a very specific set of products.

    Microsoft, has a very different, technologically advanced target demographic. i.e the “Business user and the TechnoGeek” While the Microsoft site has some consumer marketing at the top of the page, the site is essentially designed to help the “Business user or TechnoGeek” find the information they came to the site to find. So what might be “Clutter or confusing” for you, the consumer, it has the important information the Business user or TechnoGeek is looking to find and gives us multiple choices of information streams.

    I think if you want to truly do a usability study of the two sites, then stop thinking there is only 1 market out there. I think the article lost the true focus of the title and presented a very narrow view from a consumer only standpoint. While there was some obvious research of the two sites, I think you really missed a good opportunity to show usability.

  • http://twitter.com/b_allenstein designiac

    totally agree with you! nice article.

  • http://dzine-studios.com Dan

    They should have done what Sony did with their Playstation line- http://www.us.playstation.com/PS3, which is having the same design and structure all throughout, but using color to differentiate the products.

  • http://www.niczoushadz.com Nik M Azreen

    Nice article! Thanks. Though, at first it’s being said that they are two different focused businesses, somehow some points are given on one view, which wins Apple mostly.

  • Gareth

    The things you have discussed aren’t just “usability”, they are “user experience design”, of which usability is one part.

  • http://stevenblack.com Steven Black

    If there is any merit to Jakob Nielsen’s classic article URL as UI ( http://www.useit.com/alertbox/990321.html ) then Apple wins in this category too.

    MS’ long cryptic URL’s just stink of volatility, and that’s definitely the case when trying to lookup old bookmarks.

  • http://www.heroofchaos.com Oscar Manxz

    This is absolutely brilliant. I mean, we all knew Apple website was better designed but this just brings it out to light even more.

  • Andrew

    Dear Microsoft

    Make an intro page linking to the various sites (Categorised by services) that your company has to provide.

    That is all

  • http://www.iknowthe.net Emma Kane

    Microsoft really doesn’t get UI design. Even after all these years. Truly amazing.

  • http://tinybigstudio.com Pablo

    Uhhh,

    I think doing this was pretty easy…

    praising Apple and comparing it to microsoft.

    Btw i´m sure microsoft has far more drivers and utilities, comparing just usability it´s very easy to have a winner in apple.

  • http://twitter.com/tommythewolfboy Tom

    To second Stacy Spear’s comment, the microsoft site does indeed suffer from a lack of consistency, but as she points out, this does not ALWAYS mean it is a bad thing. I love a seamless web experience as much as the next person and Apple is clearly the out and out winner in that respect, but given the size and scope of Microsoft’s offerings there may actually be genuine reasons why they present certain sections differently as each may have very different target markets and aims … That said, maybe there isn’t any rationale on microsoft’s and they may of course have just have lost creative control over all of their disparate microsites and portals! ;)

  • http://www.23psd.com Martin Majling

    Great post :-)

  • http://www.shahin.co.nr Shahin – Rolam Shahin Designs

    Great post! I couldn’t agree more. I’ve been doing a somewhat similar series on my blog, but this post really gave me some ideas on how I should/could categorize my points and opinions. Thanks once again!

    I’ve been getting quite tired of reading the monotonous inspirational and resource list type of posts all over the net, and after a long time, this just felt like the coolest breeze! Keep it up!! :)

  • Jutta Holzhaus

    Comparing Apple.com to Microsoft.com on this website is like PETA comparing Govinda’s Vegetarian Buffet to Black Angus Steakhouse.

    BTW, Microsoft.com loads much faster than Apple.com, at least on my system.

  • Sarah

    Overall this is more of a DESIGN comparison than a usability comparison. The emphasis seems to be about what the sites look like rather than how easy they make it for users to find things. A true usability study would have multiple people try out similar tasks on both websites.
    It’s no surprise that Apple would win a design comparison over Microsoft, since Apple focuses their effort on creating hardware and software for designers, and Microsoft focuses on creating business applications.

    • http://jamesmansfield.id.au James Mansfield

      I completely agree. A “usability study” should start with tasks and then the assessment is the ability of each site to help users in achieving those tasks. This is not a “study” at all but an opinion.

      • Jan

        Agree

  • http://10steps.sg Johnson Koh

    I agree on “The biggest problem for Microsoft is consistency.”
    Excellent article!

  • http://jamesmansfield.id.au James Mansfield

    I agree with all those comments that this is not a usability study but a design review. A usability study would involve users and tasks with both quantitative and qualitative findings. This is one persons design opinion that is not even based on the ability to achieve tasks. I don’t disagree with the views in here but I just don’t think it’s a fair comparison.

  • http://www.icon-pm.com Bilal Çınarlı

    For me apple sells electronics and microsoft sells software, their products are different, their customers are different, so, comparing these sites are not very meaning full imo.

  • http://tylercordaro.com Tyler C

    I totally disagree with you and most of your commentators. You can not compare these two sites. Microsoft has about 50 times more products and services then Apple. Its like comparing a grocery store to a 7-11.

  • http://www.webdesignerdepot.com Walter

    Yes, it’s true Microsoft is much larger than Apple. But is that an excuse for their lack of consistency for example?

    I think Dmitry did a great job at keeping things as objective as possible with this article, however, I can appreciate all the different points of view.

  • http://aurorx.blogspot.com angelblade

    Uhmm ok. Apple win this battle, but and Apple vs IBM???

  • http://graphicleftovers.com/recent/page/55 Graphic Leftovers

    I switched from Windows to Mac a few years ago because Microsoft has usability design issues, which are obviously pointed out in this article. They should pay attention to Apple and fans like web designer depot on usability tips for their websites and products. If not, they will continue losing money on ventures like bing.com

  • Devi

    After posting a comment a few days ago, I’ve been following this thread, and I have to comment again. Ultimately Dmitry is right that Apple’s site has a cleaner design, and its usability has probably been given more thought. However I stick to my original point that MS has a far larger array of products and services to discuss, and their site is closer to a portal than a purely marketing site.

    However, I’m back to comment on the ridiculous hyperbole some people resort to in their criticisms of Microsoft. I’ve read comments like ‘Microsoft is dead’, ‘Microsoft is losing money’ etc. Regardless of your opinions of Microsoft as a company, they are certainly NOT dead. In fact they are better situated now then they have been in quite some time. Windows 7 will be a success this fall, Windows Mobile is currently the most popular mobile OS, Xbox360 is about to release Project Natal which stands be a Wii killer, Xbox is becoming a full media platform, ZUNE HD is coming out with intergration to the Xbox, Microsoft’s enterprise software including Server software, Dynamics, and Office continue to fuel the corporate world – the list goes on, and on.

    Hate Microsoft? Fine. Don’t use their products. But don’t be so deluded as to think they’re going anywhere. I predict in 5 years browsers will be our operating systems. If that’s true, who’s in a better place to compete? If Apple’s main product is OSX, then they computing division is in trouble no? The coming wars will be MS vs Google, and MS vs Sony. As usual Apple will control a very particular, very niche, and very well designed market.

  • emil

    what about code? just run both pages through w3c’s validator. yep, microsoft.com really is that crappy

  • http://www.jacob-north.com Metajake

    My Favorite Part was the part about “Usage Patterns”. THats dope. Thank you for mentioning that. It reminds me of when I used to get really good at video games because I knew how to build my own Usage Pattern really quick. Nice!..

  • Sebas

    Pointless “study”.

  • http://bibakis.com VangelisB

    I don’t think there is a point to compare these two sites. Microsoft has more than 20 times the content of the apple website. It would be great comparing two similar sized sites instead.

  • http://www.webcoursesbangkok.com Carl – Web Courses Bangkok

    I think Apple is a constant inspiration to us all :)

  • http://admixweb.com teylorfeliz

    What can we say, if Microsoft it is inconsistent even with IE.

  • http://www.lostinlogic.com Marc

    As a Microsoft developer, I’d be very frustrated if the Microsoft web site looked like Apple’s. I’ve already bought the kit, so stop trying to sell me new stuff on every page(!)
    I would note that Apple does have large product comparison charts too, and their support pages don’t look as nice. You could have picked better Microsoft examples, e.g. the Silverlight web site or the Vista web site.

  • http://www.manattweb.com/business Steve Manatt

    Interesting that you picked Apple vs. Microsoft – a indication of the bias and the kind of blatant “Apple is better” rhetoric that is very common with Mac users. It would serve you better just to relax and use the tool you like best without trying to convince everyone else that they should be toting MacBooks and iPhones.

    As a designer, I agree with the conclusions re: apple.com; however, Apple has been the gold standard for website design for almost as long as websites have been around. Any website could have been picked and come up way short. It is interesting that you chose a company that produces almost exclusively software for B-to-B to go up against a company that produces hardware and is B-to-C. Even more evidence behind the motivation for this article. Not very apples to apples… :)

    Dell or HP or Lenovo would have been more appropriate. If you wanted to take the software slant, go up against Adobe, but don’t pick Microsoft just to promote your bias and fuel the needless debate over tool choice. There is absolutely nothing that can be done a Mac that can’t be done on a PC (and vice versa) from a design perspective.

    It is time to quiet this senseless argument over platform. Neither the web nor your customers care what you used to write your HTML – just that it works!

  • jissseees

    Give Apple all of the MS information/documentation and ask them to do a clean web, doh

    • Roc

      That’s the point!

  • http://www.pixys-design.com pixys

    A pretty clever analysis ! I used to do the same with my college students 3/4 years ago – Microsoft’s site was much worse ! I did comment live, and there was so many different things to tell at each time… I never took time to formalise those comments : you did it wonderfully !
    @Wittevrongel, @Spencer, @Murid Rahhal > totally agree with U guys

  • Rosali

    Please be aware: Apple’s site is clearer and more consistent and offers less, because they DECIDED to be like this. When I decided to buy a mac back in 1991 I was happy that there were just a few apps per kind and that I did not have to evaluate and chose from hundreds of apps. They did it for me. And already then, one of their major usability advantages was that between the apps the menus were the same! This was much easier and faster to handle. And it takes a lot of thinking, structure and time to get to this reduction. Though it looks so simple.

  • http://www.templateslord.com Marko

    Everybody on Earth can tell Apple has better website than Microsoft, after one look on both of them. Still, cool explanation why is it so.

  • Roc

    A perfect example of inappropirate comparison. Full page of biased personal sentimental prejudice. The 2 websites are not comparable at all; they target at different groups of users as Apple and Microsoft are two completely different type of companies. The websites are not in the same level, in terms of design, size and content. And of course, you are an Apple fan. And the fact is, the MS website hosts a LOT MORE things that are quite beyond the regular consumers in whose eyes a personal computer is no more than a normal piece of home appliance or tool for work.

  • William Lee

    I’m a corp IT person. on MS.com I can easily find what I want, TechNet, MSDN, and that’s what I care. But on Apple.com, it is not so easy to find the tech info on the products and services.
    Does that mean apple is worse than ms? No, they are targeting different AUDIENCE. For consumers, what they looking for is the simple product, then a big picture with simple intorduction make sense. But for tech person, MS.COM has great tech info and can help them on their job. The information is categorized nicely and easy to find. Look at IBM, Oracle, SUN(no more sunshine, sorry), you need to open your eyes. For example, SharePoint has so many features and governace stuff to consider, deployment, management, security, HA, DR… it’s not simple like a “click and go” ipod. So the apple style is BAD for such content. If you call yourself a web designer you should understand the difference, otherwise you are just a loser.

    • Steve Manatt

      Well said note up until you resort to name calling at the end. Nobody is a loser and we are all entitled to our opinions. Leave that crap out and you’ll be taken more seriously.

    • http://www.irritatedvowel.com/blog Pete

      I was totally with you until the “otherwise you are just a loser” bit. :(

  • http://www.lostinlogic.com Marc

    It’s true, Apple is more a PR company than anything else. Unlike Microsoft, they live and die on the hype factor.

    The web site is much better than Microsoft’s at SELLING you a product. Microsoft’s web site is more of a portal for those who’ve already made the purchase (hell they can assume that, it’s like 95% of all computer users!).
    Any advertisements are usually aimed at businesses, or knowledgeable, tech savvy IT admins, and so need to be more subtle. A better comparison would be Microsoft to Sun or Oracle’s web site, and Apple to Sony’s or Toshiba’s web site.

  • Limbo

    Apple’s site is a huge ad.
    M$’s site is a portal to get all sorts of info and very useful.
    IMO its easier to design Apple’s site.

  • http://www.demogeek.com DemoGeek

    As you’ve pointed out both companies target different segments for their code product portfolio. Also, Apple’s more of hardware show on their website whereas Microsoft is more of a software’ish. I don’t think a huge picture of the software box would be any attractive.

    Of course, there are can be huge improvements that can be done to MS site but it has come along towards the better side lately. An area MS always failed was to get a hold of bunch of good designers.

  • Bunky

    Completely biased… if you had compared the ‘consumer’ sub-sites of Microsoft with Apple you could almost certainly have still made the same points and been above reproach but it seems that you lazilly selected pages that were not appropriate for comparison just because they fit you preconceptions. Anyone spot the Mac users by any chance?

    Don’t get me wrong though… The ‘consumer’ sites by Microsoft are far from perfect and the ‘corporate’ side is a sprawling mess that is a nightmare to navigate.

    Their biggest problems though are with content replication and segregation (even with a search engine or familiarity with a sub-site you struggle to find what you want), in comparison to this their writing style, design, and page layout issues are barely an issue (you’re just glad when you find the answer). This navigation issue isn’t however evidence of poor page design but, rather, a poor site map (the arrangment, not a file representing it) as they cannot possibly provide navigation that is both simple to follow and comprehensive and yet doesn’t offer a bewildering array of choices at any one view with the current distribution of their content.

    Still… a grain of truth does not an ubiased article make and if this were the only article I had seen here I doubt I’d be in a hurry to take the time to read more.

  • http://www.jonjamora.com Jon2

    i totally agree with this article. it sounds biased but it’s actually true for me. but actually, every people has his own opinion. it’s just a matter of “TASTE”. some people may find it true and some dont. but the topic here is web usability and not the scope or number of products you are selling. its a matter of how it’s being layed out.. some developers may not agree with this article. but hey, please check on the site. it’s “webdesigner”depot!

  • http://thinkofmac.com Adrian

    Apple is the best, compare to Microsoft. The secret for this is simplicity.

  • Nick

    this is one of the most subjective articles i have read today…

    1. Homepage, apples home page has a bunch of fruity pictures, because truthfully thats all mac users care about, that everything looks good…Microsoft on the other hand has a nice simple interface uptop and some more information underneath it…

    2. the flow, apart from the obvious ridiculousness of comparing Windows SERVERS to something as light as mobile me from apple; microsoft does the same thing for its own websites for the zune or any other products for lay users.

    3. Navigation, apple and microsoft take the same approach but microsoft has HUNDREDS of products it supports while macs have a grand total of around 20… clearly it’ll have to be more streamlined…

    4. readability—both websites have small font, some people just don’t notice apples font next to the pictures, in fact apples may even be smaller, check out the website comparison…

    5. Search– yeah i agree, microsoft search does blow…(see i am unbiased!)

    6. Aesthetics, sure apple doesn’t use the same awesome color scheme of GRAY in all its pages!! wow thats such a great color choice…because its done by Apple///Microsoft must be crazy for trying to use different color schemes to represent completely different products!

    7. Microsoft may not have consistency over all its websites but that maybe because it has different divisions working on COMPLETELY different products for DIFFERENT demographics…

    gawd dang

  • http://find.brentshepherd.com Brent Shepherd

    Thanks for a great article!

    I’d also love to see a similar comparison between Gmail and Hotmail. I’m constantly amazed at some of the things Microsoft do with Hotmail to confuse the user and make it difficult to do the easiest of tasks. Especially compared with Gmail, were it seems like you can effortlessly do everything you want.

  • XS

    This article is a great, objective look at the design elements going into each of the websites. I’ll have to admit, I was hoping that the Microsoft site would have at least one section where it wins out over Apple’s, but you did a good job of nailing down the one biggest killer for MS.com, which is the lack of consistency.

    This is something you see across the various product lines (being improved upon dramatically), and its interesting to see this also reflected in the website representing each of them.

    Thanks again for the article, it provides a lot of what-to-do, and what-not-to-do when dealing with large corporate websites.

  • XS

    FYI, I don’t get why the readership is bringing up such MS vs Apple comments. The purpose of this post was clearly outlined, comparing the usability of the sites, and not the products or the company itself. The post seemed “fair” enough to me, and reveals many valid criticisms and areas of improvement for both sites.

  • Sammy

    Nice review on the 2 rivals

  • Alexander

    Very subjective, opinion based article. reads like its proving a point you already hold. Not sure you can fairly call is a “usability study” without actually studying end users, or at the very least referring to established princples.

    You do point out that the two homepages are for different audiences, so maybe it’d be a better comparison to put Zune homepage against iPod…?

  • http://www.twitter.com/thomasmburu thomasmburu

    The guys for Microsoft are IT gurus and designers both. Apple guys including the author are just designers (Self-taught). Am basing this from your views. The only good point you’ve is use of white space. When you talk ’bout Navigation, I kindly ask you to do your homework well, MS wins. Ask the users and not the designers. Please listen to all guys for MS, their arguments were just valid. I repeat the Apple guys talked like designers and NOT as the common user. My question to you author is why for crissake were you comparing Apple Vs Ms? you could have eliminated this biases if you compared Apple Vs HP. Don’t you think? As a matter of fact MAC should be compared with HP pavilions.To the WDD, I think it’s wise if posts like this is done by two authors or more instead of one to avoid generating heats.
    Something out of topic. My PC is a hp dx7900 and I’ve compared it with i mac. Believe it or not my PC is much faster when loading Adobe Master Collection CS3. The thing is you guys (Designer) wants to convince every wannabe designer that Apple family is the way to go. Very true. Remember this post “The Workstations of Popular Websites _ Webdesigner Depot.htm”. The only thing which make me gives thumb up to Apple is VIRUS ISSUES. just that.

  • http://ccpmultimedia.com Connor Crosby

    Great review! I love Apple’s site, it is much cleaner and has the same layout throughout the site. But, Microsoft is much larger and has a lot of products. I don’t think their sites should look the same for each product since they are basically companies inside a company. Like disney owns ESPN but they have different sites. So, this really isn’t a great comparison. Maybe if you chose windows vs apple, then that would be good. But, this one isn’t. If I had to choose a winner, it would be Apple.

  • Mike

    As a software developer, the vast majority of people who call themselves web designers is a joke. Just because you know some HTML or picked up Flash, doesn’t make you an expert. Only many years of experience.
    I have designed too many screens to count, and find that with careful planning, ease of use, consisitency and easy navigation the experience for the end user will be a positive one.
    That is why Apple’s wins hands down.
    Those who don’t agree are biased or don’t have the necessary experience and knowledge to undertsnad good from bad. I suggest that these people refraim from making comments as it hogs up useful server space.
    So much anti-Apple propaganda in these comments, MS is larger blah blah, so it is allowed to create rubbish, really !
    How is MS larger, what hardware do they make ? XBox and Zune, wow 2 pieces of garbage, how many own a zune ?
    I see they make IE, they simply bought a product called Spy and renamed it to IE, that is what they do, buy and re-brand, and use unfair and inmoral practices to push what are clearly below standard products to people too lazy to care, or too scared to try something new.
    Its amazing how many MS fanbois have NEVER even turned on a Mac and used one, yet are experts. The same cannot be said of the majority of Mac users who unfortunately MUST use MS crap at work.
    So people (you know who you are), clear your minds of bias and try and understand what the article is about.

    • Steve Manatt

      Mike – what this article is about is supposed to be about is usability comparison, but it failed completely in achieving that goal. Because usability is tied to audience, that factor is completely relevant and therefore requires that the comparison be made between similar companies with similar audiences. Otherwise only the most basic conclusions can be drawn, which are largely useless.

      Apple fanbois create their own strife with their irrational hatred of anyone else. Macs are good tools, the iPhone is a great phone, but they aren’t for everyone and don’t solve all problems and it doesn’t take experience with a Mac to understand that.

      Maybe you are the one that needs to chill…

    • Jackie

      Are you damm serious that ur software developer. Really…you are designer not developer. Any idea about writing sofware on java, VB, C#.net or C++ or 370 Assembler.. dude just because you know some software to design couple of website does not make u software developer..a apple fanboy..may be

  • http://www,stookstudio.com Erwin Heiser

    Anyone who calls apple.com a “small” website clearly hasn’t navigated the entire breadth and width of it…
    To all those deluded commenters above, Apple’s website is a success on so many levels (design, useability) that Microsoft’s site pales in comparison. There’s just no contest here…

  • David

    Bogus review

    So, one of the factors that make Apple come ahead is that the site is less simple with less options? MS has many more products than Apple. Apple is essentially a HW company and MS is a SW *AND* HW company.

    The conclusion is that, if MS wants its site to come ahead, they have to offer less products which will allow them to have a simpler website.

    Ridiculous.

  • Robert Simpson

    David I think you’re getting a bit mixed up here. MS is not a hardware company and it’s flagship software product is inferior to Apple’s own flagship product, all the while Apple are also designing their own hardware to put it on.

    Let’s face it, Windows really is a pile of crap and always has been. Mac OS WAS a pile of crap until they bucked up their ideas and produced OS X and it’s only ever got better (unlike Windows which in it’s Vista iteration actually became worse).

    The Zune is a pile of crap, so much so that the original Zune was BROWN.

    What this all comes down to is end user experience and from my perspective MS is far too interested in maintaining it’s monopoly on the operating system market (which it obtained not through popularity but by lining the pockets of OEM manufacturers) and fleecing all the poor bastards who’re effectively locked into their “software” due to an inability to even contemplate trying another system because they’re far too lazy to spend all of the 10 minutes it’ll take to find their way around OS X (this is why we’re still stuck writing CSS hacks for IE6 by the way).

    Apple is all about the user experience, and making things easy to use is their primary objective, the classic “it just works”. I have never had an MS product which “just worked” and that includes trying to find things on their website, I don’t have that problem with Apple’s site, it just works.

    It’s been a long day and I really needed a rant :D

    I no doubt comes across as an Apple “fanboi” but then when the main competition’s best offering is so weak in comparison (and their own fanbois really need to realize this, if they ever stop playing DOOM) it’s very difficult to justify buying a generic box which will run Windows for any reason at all other than price.

    Cheers,
    Robert

    • Jackie

      Yes..ur a apple fanboy no doubt..well let me see why i will buy PC. Because damm mac is expensive peice of junk. If I have develop life saving healthcare software what I will use, a mac, I dont think so and never saw any one using mac to devloping open end healthcare software on mac platform. This high price mac is good only for designers who really dont understand technology…..

      By the way good article on comparision but not fair one. Mac does not have so many product unlike MS. MS is software company not hardware.

      • Robert Simpson

        Expensive piece of junk that doesn’t crash? Expensive piece of junk that will also run Windows if you REALLY have to because some software developer was too lazy to produce a version which would run on an operating system that was built for people as opposed to built for accountants and stereotypical nerds who sit there coding in BASIC.

        Now, while I am a designer a know numerous people who aren’t and also own Macs. These are people who realise that their “expensive” Mac will more than likely last twice as long as the equivalent spec cheapo generic Windows box, the reason being that Microsoft decided to build something into Windows which Apple decided wasn’t for them and MS could keep it, it’s called WINDOWS ROT (if you haven’t owned a Windows machine long enough to know what this is, it’s basically the simple fact as long as Windows is installed the machine will gradually appear to get slower until you decide to completely reformat and reinstall the OS, cheap option? I don’t think so).

        Oh and just so you know, I do understand technology (and by technology I’m sure you mean computers as even rubbing sticks together to produce fire qualifies as technology), so much so that I can recognise that an OS which is based in BSD UNIX is ultimately going to be much more reliable than an OS based in Microsoft’s own NT OS.

        Just because you can’t afford that nice car you see in the window of the showroom on your way to your shitty VB coding job, doesn’t mean that your hunk of crap Lada ;)

        Cheers,
        Robert

    • http://www.irritatedvowel.com/blog Pete

      Ding Ding Ding! We have a winner for biggest douche comment for the post. You can all put your iPencils down now, the contest is over.

      The Zune is actually a really REALLY good piece of hardware. It’s no more or less aesthetically pleasing than anyone else’s offering; it’s just as different. The only thing the Zune suffers from is its lack of popularity. That’s not because it’s an inferior device or is too expensive, or has a worse catalog/store/subscription plan, it’s beause Apple got there first, and Apple is absolutely awesome at selling an experience. They are marketing geniuses.

      It also helps that Apple has created/bought/manufactured a great ecosystem of accessories for the iEverythings

      Oh, and I was wrong. Your post #139 below managed to top this one in douchiness. Wow.

      • Robert Simpson

        So really what you’re saying is that Microsoft copied something someone else had done and put it in a brown package?

        At the end of the day, for a company as large as Microsoft they really do know how to start late in the race, they appear to be lagging behind with each new product they release. The problem I have with them is that not only are they slow in introducing useful new features they always seem to be poorly executed (the ribbon is Office anyone?)

        You can sling personal insults all you want, it’ll make no difference to me, but it doesn’t change the fact that Apple have produced a product which allows you to take advantage of the best of both worlds, which in the case of being able to run Windows under OS X means that you can use that application which hasn’t been ported over to OS X yet.

        When it comes to products besides the operating systems, Microsoft’s strategy appears to be “Look at what this other company has done, how cool is that? Let’s copy that idea, put it in a horrible interface/crap plastic box and sell it at half the price!” They appear to think that their share of the personal computer market and selling at rock bottom prices means that every product they release will be a success because of the size of their brand and the number of installed users who have been forced into using Windows by their company’s IT budget.

        If they continue to produce cheap garbage (this includes the likes of bloated code) their market share will eventually fall, just look at Internet Exploder and it’s dwindling userbase, the only thing keeping it afloat is the fact it comes pre-installed on Windows and a lot of users don’t even know what a browser is, they just think that the blue E is “the internet”.

        From what I can see this whole debate really comes to down to who can afford what and many of the people who can’t afford to buy a Mac and are forced to run an inferior OS because they either don’t know how to build a Hackintosh or they aren’t clued up enough to run Linux or BSD (I think the lack of applications issue comes in here a lot too) on their cheapo beige boxes are just plain frustrated at what they have to work with and are in denial about what the better solution is, I know I was for a long time before I actually saved up the cash and bought the Mac I’m currently making this comment from. For those of you who actually believe Microsoft’s products are superior, it’s probably a case of “better the devil you know”.

        Now, I’m going to unsubscribe from this post because as I should’ve realised before even making my first comment, it’s like banging your head against a brick wall trying to make people see that Microsoft’s offerings aren’t upto much in the face of the competition and that marketshare isn’t a measure of popularity when the company has paid OEM manufacturers to pre-install their software on cheap hardware, they are the poor man’s choice, just like a poor man will buy a Lada instead of a Bentley.

        I’m now going to go and enjoy the user experience of my Mac, you can go and enjoy finding that driver you’ve been hunting for ;)

        Cheers,
        Robert

        PS. Is douchiness even a word? Not according to my spell checker ;)

  • Robert Simpson

    Hehehe, got distracted for a second there. That last line should have read something like this: Just because you can’t afford that nice car you see in the window of the showroom on your way to your shitty VB coding job, doesn’t mean that your hunk of crap Lada is better. ;)

    Cheers,
    Robert

  • Steve Manatt

    Robert – your tone and choice of words shows just how ill qualified you are to speak on anything objectively. We get it, you like Macs – the Mac OS and all things Apple, but they aren’t for everyone as evidenced by one thing that can’t be ignored – market share.

    So, take the emotion out and save it for whatever it is that you do to make a living. And take the hostility and bullying out and you will be taken seriously. I totally discredited you and your opinion when you resorted to name calling and cheap put-downs.

    Grow up or shut up – either way this discussion will be improved.

    • Robert Simpson

      To be completely fair, my emotional response was in reply to being told that because I used Macs I know nothing about technology and that I’m “just” a designer and from my experience with people who use Windows (and I know a lot of them, I used to be one myself) is that the general population of computer users know extremely little about computers on the whole. In fact I know a number people who have used computers for over 10 years and don’t know that you aren’t supposed to forward chain emails because they’re designed to crash mail servers or that the blue E on the desktop isn’t called “the Internet”.

      Being told that Mac users don’t know anything about technology is somewhat like saying people who live in California don’t know how to drive. It’s a horrible generalisation and I’m sure if someone looked at you or discovered something about you and made an assumption based on that you wouldn’t exactly be pleased.

      People use computers for a vast array of different activities and in my opinion (as well as the millions of other people who own Macs, and those who soon will, and that includes a friend of mine who was so far up MS’s rectal orifice it was a bit ridiculous until he used a new MacBook Pro and realised what he was missing) Apple’s OS X and it’s user experience if far superior to anything MS has released. Add to that the simple fact that if you absolutely must install Windows in order to do something which can only be done on Windows (debug a website for IE for example) then you can do so without any complaining from anyone. Quite simply you can have the best of both worlds, if you can afford the short term cost.

      And just before I go, who are you to tell anyone to grow up or shut up? The last time I checked my father’s name was not Steve Manatt. So please, bite me Steve ;) (just so you know, that little smilie there means that the comment previous to it was in jest.)

      Cheers,
      Robert

      PS. The point about market share, like I said in my previous post, this is not due to popularity and then in turn familiarity. MS lined the pockets of OEM manufacturers and before you know it they’d cornered the market, still, that doesn’t make their product any better ;) perhaps being taken down a peg or 2 off their monopoly pedestal will make them improve their less than perfect offerings.

      • Steve Manatt

        I thank you for further making my point about the complete uselessness of the opinions that Mac zealots like yourself decide to post in public. Your cause has just taken several steps back due to your unwillingness to put two coherent, on-topic, objective thoughts together.

        As for the article – usability is a subjective way of looking at a site with a few objective metrics (number of clicks it takes to find something, search accuracy, etc.) thrown in to add credibility. Add in a bias toward one side or the other and you can make a case either way.

      • Robert Simpson

        Heheheh, you sound like a (very old, set in his ways) politician mate.

        Forget the usability study. I invite you to go to your nearest Mac store (ignore the emo kids who tend to hang around in them) and get to know a Mac, understand that it can do EVERYTHING that your Windows box can do and no doubt more and after a few minutes you’ll probably find yourself enjoying it.

        The point I’m making here is that a Mac is a PC too, it just so happens to be the Mercedes PC to the generic Ford hatchback PC. Buy the right one and it’ll be much more of a pleasure to drive and when Snow Leopard is released, will go much faster than a Windows box with the same hardware due to not being so bloated (and no Windows rot).

        The likelyness of me convincing you that OS X is the way forward is unlikely so we can agree to disagree and that’s fine, but of course I’ll always have been right ;) (and if you don’t recognise that joke you need to get off your arse, away from your Windozer and get out more!)

        Lighten up!

        Cheers,
        Robert

      • Steve Manatt

        Here’s a very interesting point Robert – you are simply assuming that I’m not a Mac user because I’m challenging you. I’ve never said that I wasn’t and for all you know I could own 10 Macs.

        I’ve used and been around Macs for the better part of 10 years. My very first computer was a IIc. I think their hardware design is out of this world – unrivaled. I think they have worked very hard to make their user interfaces intuitive and I applaud and salute that effort as I know how hard it is to do.

        But it isn’t for everyone…and that’s where you and I differ, which is OK. All I’m asking is that you act civil and respect differing opinions. I currently use Windows XP & Vista and think both are fantastic and better suited for what I do.

        I’m not set in my ways, I just can’t stand a useless antagonistic diatribe over hardware. If you like it and it works for you – I’m elated. It doesn’t for me, but Windows running on my hardware does…and for about half the cost.

  • http://blogs.msdn.com/msmossyblog Scott Barnes

    I think there is a lot of lessons in this post for us as a company. There are points in which I have seen actual end user data to refute the “assumptions” around the User Experience, but at the same time there are points that essentially pin us well. When you have a lot of product groups all having thier own vision for how the web ethos is to work inside a company of around 80,000+ employees, situations like this arise.

    How does one resolve this then?

    It’s important to know that this topic is and has been an ongoing debate within the company, and the more feedback like this helps remove the “i think” and turns it more into “i know” discussions. As the more data we can collect, the more we can has a collective sub-group begin to impact change and reform our approach to presenting our brand in a way that lessons friction associated with cognitive load imposed on end users.

    Mistakes happen, minimize them, fix them and move on.


    Scott Barnes
    Rich Platforms Product Manager
    Microsoft.

  • Somebody

    Those of you who say Apple has less products and less content than Microsoft, haven’t really made a comparison in the products both companies offer. Apple’s hardware repertoire is more extensive (iMac, Mac Pro, Macbooks, iPhone, different flavors of iPods, AppleTV, Servers, Airport, etc.) against Microsoft (X-Box, Zune). On software both Apple and Microsoft offer OS (Windows, OS X), Web Browser (Safari, Explorer), office suite (Office, iWork), Web services (MSN, MobileMe), Media platforms (Quicktime, Silverlight). And let’s not forget Apple suites of user software, like iLife and pro software like the Final Cut and Logic Pro Studios. Like Microsoft, Apple site is the hub of everything Mac related. Apple has a online store, retail stores, iTunes store, not to mention user support, Quicktime’s Web site is one of the largest hubs for movie trailers. I can keep going on and on, but certainly, the amount of products and audience they reach is as diverse as Microsoft’s. Just because their market is smaller, doesn’t mean they have little to sell.

  • http://www.john-ahrens.com John Ahrens

    Having used MSDN and Apple’s developer documentation, along with a few others (man anybody?), I have to say, when I need to find specific details, I can never find it on MSDN, but find it easier on Apple Developer Connection (whether Mac or iPhone). Google is still the best way to get a quick answer to a question, however.

  • http://www.timacheson.com/ Tim Acheson

    I suspect that the author of this article is primarily a Mac user – but do correct me if I am wrong about this. To me this is a standard Apple fanboy article. This is a web site about design, and of course many designers use Macs.

    The article raises valid points, but comparing the Apple and Microsoft is a fallacy. These companies and their primary web sites are too different. We might as well compare Nokia with Wallmart. Microsoft has a much wider and more complex set of products and services to deliver, which explains why their main corporate website is less bold and simple. However, Microsoft customers, users and especially developers generally don’t go directly to Microsoft.com, because MS has very good dedicated web sites for different areas of the business, e.g. silverlight.net, technet.microsoft.com, msdn.microsoft.com, etc.

  • http://blogs.msdn.com/msmossyblog Scott Barnes

    Tim,

    I disagree that the two sites are like apples and oranges. I think the author has raised some valid points and ones that we should take stock of.

    Apple and Microsoft are very similiar in execution and produce services, and it’s always good to see how the competition executes on such tasks vs us, as it in turn can produce innovation as either party rises to the occassion and trys to out pace the other.

    I found this post to be a healthy dose of reality and I hope others echo their voices around what we should be doing next. As we don’t know what we don’t know, and its feedback like this that can help change things within Microsoft.

    Scott Barnes
    Rich Platforms Product Manager
    Microsoft.

  • Ryan Jacobs

    Scott,

    I agree with you entirely, our site is significantly easier to use and navigate, just as our products are significantly easier to use than yours. I really admire your honesty and forthcoming attitude. Keep up the good work! :)

    Ryan Jacobs
    Senior Software Engineer
    Apple

  • Irayya

    Great work! Apple is UI awesome nice work, microsft has learn from this.

  • http://www.ravi.uxdsign.com Ravikumar V.

    I love Microsoft and I always support them for their products.

  • http://www.AccessFirefox.org Ken Saunders

    Fantastic article and spot on. However, for a site or page to be usable, it has to first be accessible to as many people as possible with different abilities and both sites fail at that.

    One of the most basic accessibility issues that can be very easily overcome by a person with a visual disability is a site with small text content but only if the developer(s) of the site code their pages properly and realize that one size doesn’t fit all.
    But the ability to enlarge the text on a page isn’t a necessity for persons with visual impairments only. There is also the elderly, the aging baby boomers, and others without a perfect visual acuity to consider.

    Apple.com uses images to display some of its (main) textual content (which is a horrible practice) and cannot be enlarged when using text zoom only, and the main navigation menu bar text cannot be enlarged using text zoom only either. It is a single image (sprite).
    http://images.apple.com/global/nav/images/globalnavbg.png
    On apple.com/mac if you enlarge the text (only) on that page you start to lose the textual content in the “Where to Buy” section at a zoom factor of just 133%. There are other examples like this sprinkled throughout the site, but Apple is well known anyway for ignoring people’s accessibility needs feeling that there aren’t enough Apple users with disabilities to justify the need for developing pages and apps with others in mind.

    There is a remedy (but not a good one) for the issues mentioned above (and some on Microsoft’s site) which is to use full page zoom which is the default setting in IE8 and Firefox 3 (and higher), but using full page zoom can generate a whole lot of horizontal scrolling for users using a 1024×768 setting (the most commonly used on the Internet) which we all know is very cumbersome especially when having to scroll vertically as well because a user has to do that to locate the view point that they started from before zooming so a lot of people simply use Text Zoom Only in Firefox, and in IE, the zooming options and capabilities are more limited (ok, they suck).

    Now on microsoft.com, the text scales just fine but try doing the same on microsoft.com/windows/windows-vista. At just 133%, the page becomes a mess and unusable. That’s in Firefox 3.5.3. How about IE8? You tell me. View > Text Size > Largest, Larger, Medium, Smaller, Smallest. Which choice is most effective in enlarging the text on that page? Did you say none of the above? If you did, then you’d be correct and fresh baked cookies are on the way.
    So Microsoft fails at both the site and software levels for one, not making their site(s) accessible (thus unusable), and two, not equipping users of their software with tools to overcome the most basic failure in web site accessibility.

    For the record.
    I am legally blind (U.S. definition) from a congenital condition (Ocular Albinism) ( not related to the genitals :) ) with a documented acuity of 20/400 (left) and 20/200 (right) and 20/600 (middle) (JK), but an accurate and precise visual acuity determination cannot be made due to Nystagmus (often associated with Ocular Albinism) and so aside from learning braille and using a screen reader, I rely on the tools provided by my browser to be able to view and interact with the Internet, and only Firefox has been able to meet my needs with both its built-in accessibility features, and available add-ons.
    We’ll never see a day when all people follow Web standards and consider accessibility when they develop their sites so I’m glad that Firefox is around to compensate for that and I do my best to give back to Mozilla for all that I get out of using Firefox.

    As for Apple, well, I’d love to own a Mac as would millions of others but Apple is apparently only for a certain class of people who can afford one. I can buy 3 PCs for the same price as one Mac and so even Apple can’t be surprised by the their 4.87% market share compared to Windows 93.06%.
    And Windows? Well, I’ll be dumping it and installing Fedora as soon as I can find the nerve to cut the (umbilical) cord that has been attached to me from MS since 1995.

  • http://blogs.msdn.com/msmossyblog Scott Barnes

    Ken Saunders,

    Ping me offline, as i’d like to work with you more on changing this. I’m doing Silverlight’s website at the moment, and I’d love to hear your thoughts (positive/neutral/negative) on what we are doing at the moment and things you find frustrating

    My email is scbarnes {_at_} microsoft.com

  • http://www.timacheson.com/ Tim Acheson

    To clarify the apparent misunderstanding about my previous comment, I did acknowledge that the original post is making useful observations:-

    “The article raises valid points”

    But the fact remains that there are fundamental differences between these web sites and what they are trying to achieve. The original post acknowledges that the two web sites are very different.

    User experience design is a complex and sophisticated art. This article starts out from UED assumptions which are more in keeping with Apple’s web site, so of course Apple looks better against these indicators. That doesn’t mean there isn’t room for improvement on Microsoft’s main web site. There’s room for improvement on Apple’s main web site too. The two web sites are not trying to achieve exactly the same thing, and to compare them is largely academic. Microsoft has many other web sites, but these are not included.

    The title says “Apple vs Microsoft” and the original article says:

    “Today we’re going to compare the websites of two monumental companies: Apple and Microsoft. … what about their websites? How do they both compare … in this article we’ll take a look at both websites for closer examination from a usability point of view.”

    But in fact the article does not compare the two companies, it compares one of Microsoft’s web sites with one of Apple’s web site. It happens to compare the web sites whose domain names are the brand name, with the .com suffix. But Microsoft has a great many more web sites which this study entirely overlooks.

    So I hope we can all take this article in its proper context. This is a purely academic comparison of two web sites, which is interesting in this context, but nothing more.

  • Markian

    Ken Saunders.

    To be fair, I haven’t had the opportunity to discover equivalent functionality in Windows. Also, I concede your points about images, and text zoom etc. It’s completely unusable. However, are you aware that on a mac you can zoom in using the system, regardless of application etc. Given anti-aliased fonts etc, in many cases the quality is quite good. I realize this is not the same thing as resolution-independent resizing as a web page, but how does it work for you? Or does it? I wonder if apple doesn’t focus on the aspects of their site that you mention because they think the functionality of their OS supersedes it? (Not a good idea, given that they want people from other platforms to be impressed.) Does anyone do a really good job of what you want/need?

  • Markian

    Jon wrote, “Apple are every bit the super villain too. They just market themselves better. Both companies are out to do exactly the same thing.”

    So, you may well be right. Apple may be (or turn out to be) a super villain. And they certainly market themselves better! But I disagree that both companies are out to do the same thing. I think the distinction is thus:

    Apple is out to make money by making amazing products. I can’t decide whether to add, “that everyone wants to buy,” or not.

    Microsoft is out to make money by selling their products to everyone.

    My observation, even if Apple is evil, is that they are trying to make you buy their stuff because it’s really good stuff. This may be even more evil, as the good stuff may distract you from noticing that they’re evil; that would make them insidious too!

    Microsoft, on the other hand, does not seem to care nearly so much about what the product is, or whether it’s good, or adequate, or best in class, or worst, than they care about selling that product to customers. Once they’ve got a product, they’re going to sell it with whatever spin necessary make those sales. I’m pretty sure we can all come up with examples.

    Yes? No? Am I totally off?

  • cazyius

    A whole lot of you are writing a lot about that Apple is just a small company only doing one specific category while Microsoft is taking care of such a big area of IT. Well, first of all i want to say that i agree with this article being bias and that it’s pretty obvious that the author mac above pc any day of the week.
    But a thought is tickling my curiosity though. What would apples website look like if Apple was covering the same amount of products as Microsoft is doing. I actually think that Apple would do a fantastic job on a very user friendly website. To be honest, Microsoft web page is seriously a big problem and they realy need to sit down and remake the whole thing to one unified system.
    Personally i don’t think that will ever happen due to the amount of information they have…i don’t think that many people understand how big the Microsoft domain is…

  • http://www.timacheson.com/ Tim Acheson

    The suggestion that Microsoft doesn’t seek to “make amazing products” is pure rhetoric.

    Apple specialises in designer brands. Some people do interpret designer labels as an indicator of quality, but this is subjective, not a rational scientific conclusion.

    Technology professionals increasingly refer to Apple as “evil” and this trend has nothing to do with the perceived quality of products labelled with Apple’s designer brands:-

    http://www.timacheson.com/Blog/2009/aug/apple_transition_from_good_to_evil

    • Markian

      Tim, your point is fair. While I’ve never heard Microsoft say they’re out to make amazing products, I may just not have been listening in the right places. In contrast, I do hear steve jobs say it all the time; but clearly I’m listening in the right places in that case!

      Nevertheless, I’ve never seen evidence that microsoft goes to the extreme to make a really great product; so I’m not just talking about corporate agenda, but perception. I have to use a lot of MS products in my job. In fact, I’m the analyst supporting them all. Using Windows, for example, it seems to me that the attention to detail is not there. It works adequately (mostly), and gets the job done. I extrapolate that they’re about providing a product that works well enough for most cases that they can sell lots of it, and I think this goes back into the history of the company when Gates made his first deal with IBM. It started by selling them something, and then working to see that it worked ok. AFAIK, Gates never went to IBM and said, “we have the best OS ever; it’s going to change the world.” Rather, he said (paraphrasing), “we can provide X, and it’ll allow you to do Y, and in compensation we want Z.” When Jobs hired Scully, incontrast, he said, “do you want to sell sugar water for the rest of your life, or do you want to change the world. It is my observation that these initial philosophies have remained deeply entrenched in the corporate culture of each company. But, I’m open to counter-examples!

  • http://www.benrakozy.com Ben Rakozy

    Today was the first day I have ever visited Microsoft’s website… I pray it is my last.

  • http://www.dotnetoutsource.com Caven

    Excellent article!
    I have learned a lot about websites’ usability from this article, thank you.

  • Israel

    Thanks!
    una cosa mas,
    si no hubieran virus para windows y no hubiera problemas con los drivers, Windows seria un Sistema Operativo Excelente?

    • Markian

      No, it would not. Windows is poorly designed overall. Even if by “no viruses” you somehow mean that all the underlying security issues could be fixed, there would still be various other windows “technologies” that remain flawed. Examples are the registry, the unintuitive, inconsistent user interface, the completely broken Multiple Document Interface paradigm, and the utter lack of proper filesystem permissions.

      To name a few.

  • Trent

    I agree with the exception of finding an answer. While ugly, I find the error I’m looking for. Apple is far to intent on selling new things and makes finding a answer for something. And they take down easy to access support for iPod A as soon as iPod B that has a bigger hard drive comes out.

    • Markian

      Apple Knowledge base articles rarely go away, and there’s the support forums too (over which they sometimes exercise draconian measures). So, I suspect you may be looking in the wrong place if you think they take down support docs, ’cause they practically never do. Go to support.apple.com and enter your product’s serial number.

      That said, if you couldn’t find this, it does speak of a design issue on the site.

  • thany

    This is probably the most predictable usability case study in the history of mankind :)

    Doesn’t everyone know that Microsoft’s site resembles a maze in much too many ways? Apple is also not too clear about its navigation, but as pointed out: at least it’s consistent.

  • Sean

    But consider the Microsoft Knowledge Base. I think it functions very well, w/ great search engine, search results, and helpfully-written & structured articles. (And, btw, yesterday, on the first search & first search result read, the MSKB solved an increasingly-serious problem w/ malfunctioning CD/DVD drives. A simple but very obscure registry edit was all that was needed. It was fixed in well under 5 minutes total, including MSKB search, reboot, etc. And before anyone comments on Windows being plagued w/ problems, this problem began after I did an overly-ambitious uninstall of a CD-writing demo program I wished to rerun after it expired. Had I done the normal uninstall & nothing more, no problem would’ve resulted. End of my aside.)

  • Christopher

    Ohhhh…. my good!!!!

    How would to try to compare both site if you already had said that apple and microsoft have different bussiness? I accept and know that apple develops great products, but please, when you want to critize, leave a ur mac loving apart for a while! I swear you, that the first time I visited apple’s web site, i felt lost on where to find what a looking for. I also know that microsoft products are not perfection and are full of inconcistency like anyother software, but once again, please stop doing this type of comparison, using only the goods things of apple to mid other ones.

    bye

    • http://www.manattweb.com Steve

      Usability can be objectively measured for website that have very different business goals. Now, the original article doesn’t achieve this, but it can be done. Usability is a measurement gleaned from many factors and business objectives aren’t on the list.

  • Robert Baird

    I don’t know about Microsoft but I know that the Apple website design team was under guidance by Neville Brody, who is one of the most respected geniuses in graphical design. So whose website is it really? Brody’s or Apple’s? Microsoft does all of their stuff by themselves, their own designs and innovations, which I think deserves credit.

    • Alex

      No one is stopping MS from hiring someone to help them with their website.

      It doesn’t matter who made the site or who was directing them at the time. Your comment makes no sense…

      A website is a website. It doesn’t matter who was working on it or how it came to be. All that matters is how successful it is at selling your product and keeping consumers coming back for more. That is all that is being discussed here.

  • Frank

    With my experiences (and maybe because I have AppleCare), I get free email responses within 48 hours from Apple regarding the problem. I once had like, a 20 email conversation to figure out my iTouch, and they were very helpful.

  • 上海SEO

    google apple site seo

  • http://ricardocezar.webs.com Ricard

    Absolutely great article. I have had browed this before but just today I had some more time to read it.
    I agree with your theory and totally agree that Apple website, as well as everything behind it makes any other website look primary.

  • Alex

    I am always confused if I see the M$ Website.
    The only thing I want to do on it – CLOSE IT.

    But on the other Hand, the Apple Website, I love it :)
    I always browse it if I have nothing to do. Always something new to discover ;)

  • http://premiumthemeclub.com/ Premium Theme Club

    One should not forget that everyone has learn basic of computers from Microsoft’s OS and that Apple has also taken some words form the Microsoft OS.

  • Rob

    This comparison is like comparing a advertising leaflet with a newspaper…

  • Dan

    This wasn’t a fun/informative read, you’ve just spent 2 hours of your life preparing an article with the sole purpose of bashing microsoft and kissing-up to apple.

    This was entirely biased, and therefore not an effective usability study.

    Provide an impartial view next time.

    Dan

  • Dennis

    This totaly makes no sense like said above me only thing you are doing here is kissing the ass of apple.

    Hmm i wonder why there is so much text on a page about servers? oh yeah servers are complex :) compared to a simple syncing app like mobileme.

    Sorry but this was a waste of your time…

    • Alex

      A good designer knows how to simplify the complex.

      MS obviously is lacking in that department.

      There is ALWAYS a better solution.

      No matter how dry, complex, or overwhelming a product or piece of software might be…

  • http://swager123.blogspot.com/ jason

    Apple so much better.

  • http://behance.net/mottevalois Ricardo Cezar

    I kept this post in my subscription and once in a while I receive updates about it, so yet again I’m back into it.

    I am a Microsoft Certified I.T specialist, a Systems Administrator and a Cisco certified newly graduated student. Ok, so what?

    In my studies, we learned the picks and the pack about Microsoft and all sorts of things one can think of when it comes to PCS. Now the question is: Have you ever heard of an Apple Technicial? Anyways.

    Now, reading about the comments here, I found one that really speaks out the true about this all, in a very simple way> Angelica said”I use windows because it’s what I know, and most people use it because it’s what the know, same way around”.

    Now lets be really honest here: A question for all those Windows people commenting here: have you actually used a mac before or you are simply saying what you have heard? Are you simply passing away an information without checking out or do you really know the difference?

    From a professional in this area I can assure you all out there. I really dont mean to be rude or tend to any side, just being realistic:

    1. Mac (unfortunately) are at least 10 years in the future.
    2. Windows are cheap and nasty products, lets compare to cars: whuch can you (the majority of working class) afford: a Ferrari or a twenty something thousand dollar family car? Yep, that’s what I thought…the second choice. Why? Because that is what YOU CAN AFFORD.

    3. Have you ever used a Mac before? Have you tried to produce professional things out of it? If yes, you will know what I mean, if no, sorry, go and try it first, then get back to this post.

    4. What sort of computers do you reckon big industries use to produce 99% of the graphics and movies you see on TV all the time? Well, sorry PCs, but Yes, it~s all mac behind the scenes.

    5. How many times do you think a personal needs assistance with a broken ;failing MAC? I have had Macs for over ten years, and man, that is a real Ferrari of computers, while the cheap and nasty stuff I FIX, are, ops, Mr Gates’ invations. Sorry, but that is the reality out there.

    I could come up with a thousand points here, but since most people have their minds made for some realon or another, there’s not much I can say bt please, dont try to tell the world an old beatle can run as fast as a Formula 1 car, because that is daydreaming. And please, go and try a Mac first and then express what you think. I have come across manypeople who hate macs and love windows pcs, but when you ask them, they havent got a clue to what a Mac looks / feels like. So taht explains a lot.

    As a professional in the I.T. industry ans as a person who knows a lot about what goes behind the scenes, I can tell: Macs are better, more durable, more well designed, and obviously less admired because is less common to the big working class.

    The website itself is just as well constructed as the computers and ipods. Ops, sorry, how many of you prefer the garbage MP3s to a good ipod now iPhones)?….

    Ask how many I.T. people pay a visit to Microsoft websites? (aka “the Hell on earth”) answer is almost zero. So you can think for yourself now.

    • http://www.manattweb.com Steve

      Nice diatribe there pal, but this isn’t about whether or not one platform is better than the other. Rather, it is about the website usability between Microsoft and Apple. Stay on topic or don’t comment.

      Remember, it isn’t the keyboard that makes the difference, it’s the person behind it. These days, industry preferences are what determine platform choice rather than true hardware performance since Apple started using Intel and Unix.

      Finally, please re-read your posts before submitting them. Your spelling and grammar is very “unprofessional” for the professional you claim to be.

  • http://MexiChriS.com MexiChriS

    Old post… But nicely done, really great article, hitting every point/target needed to draw points & attention to a specific reason behind it. Plus, it killed me some time & I found some new ‘coding’ to learn from the site features on Apple.

    Can’t believe after all these years though, Microsoft still hasn’t taking a damn brain implant and realized, they need a better web site for users to navigate & enjoy/love, not some piece of crap site that looks like others with ‘doable-get-by-work’.

    Obviously, Apple is the best, none can compare to there work! From designs, websites, usability & products. Anyways, thanks for the post, amazing!

    – MexiChriS

  • Dro

    Website userability, I give it to apple. But as far as comparing OS and machines, people need to remember that they are different and target a somewhat different market. Microsoft is software, apple is hardware, always have been. Also, i want to dispell one common misconception….If it weren’t for microsoft, apple would not be here. Please do the research, microsoft helped revive apple over a decade ago, which is why jobbs utilizes windows software on macs and the Iphone.

  • http://www.lyonssolutions.co.uk Web Design from Lyons Solutions

    Microsoft’s website is far to complicated and I often give up with all the unnecessary links

  • http://www.smashingshare.com Smashing Share

    Excellent article. Very informative to know different design aspects.

  • http://ammar.blog.com ammar hassan

    It was really a nice article, i like it very much….It will help me too for creating gud web design, also i wana add that after just clicking ENter in Address bar, we feel a peace when it comes to Apple… but in case of Microsoft, our mind get very active…. where where to go?

  • BrettS

    Good article and yes apple has the much better looking website from a usability point. But there is a big flaw as you go deeper. I have been developing software for both platforms for a number of years now and to be honest, Microsoft’s MSDN sit has much better navigation and content that the Apple Developer Network does.

    From a view of selling your product to the consumer Apple comes out tops, but where it comes to developers who will be spending more of software/hardware than your average consumer apple has a lot to learn from Microsoft.

    That is just my opinions and observations, your views and opinions may differ

  • http://www.twitter.com/geezi geezi

    The most important part of making a website like apple would be to strip the content to a point where it only has what is ‘must’ and no more. Apple content managers seems to have mastered this. The design then just makes sure the content is displayed in its best form.

  • BizarreRod

    yeah… usability is great, but if i was microsoft i would worry about every single download from an official microsoft site not working… it’s extremely annoying…

  • http://bersama.gw.lt el7cosmos

    surely…apple is the winner!!

  • http://www.theossi.com Felipe Theossi

    APPLE APPLE APPLE….the best

  • dee

    What about the average user who isn’t a fanboy/girl of either company doing a review? I had the opportunity to try to locate things on both sites for different reasons. I was looking for education discount on Apple’s site for a Macbook. Then I was on Microsoft’s site looking for the free download of Sharepoint Designer. I found issues with the ease of locating things on BOTH sites. It’s true that Apple has the “cooler” vibe, but they target different audiences, and both are simply corporations out to make money. I didn’t find either site more preferable to look at and use over the other.

    • http://kimedgardmonzon.site90.com kim

      I agree with you on that. Microsoft site helps me with assignments before when I was on my college.

  • http://blog.almacenplantillasweb.es jlopezto

    Gran artículo. Tan ameno de leer como interesante. lo incluimos como referencia en nuestro blog.

  • http://dentry.ru Dentry Software

    great article. apple is the best for sure

  • zaphod

    Now, the huge majority of the comments agree Apple wins it all over the MS. So do I in fact.
    I can recognize a few more facts though:
    MS actually struggles to deliver to the whole majority of the users out there, there is a saying that says that the bigger the target auditory the harder to justify the wider range of expectations.
    So look at the current situation this way, it is most of the times true that we perceive situations as either improbable (where they are quite probable) or very much probable (whey they are not that probable).

    So lets see, we are at this site quite likely people that are valuing the design higher enough (so do I apparently) so no wandering why we all like that much better the Apple’s. If we join here what is to be more like the general representation of the whole, thing will start getting a bit more “liquid” I am sure.

    So, what I am saying – clearly apples design is far more appealing. But it is much more so in terms of creating impression and making your way easier through. Not so much though when you got past that point, things get a bit more detailed then, and the ability to scope them in a simple zen way goes down, which is a real challenge for both Apple and MS – one on the one side of the problem, and the other on the opposite one.

  • MD

    As this guy said inside the report. Microsoft is really business to business so its irrelevant if we think their website is pretty. Which obviously it isn’t. If Microsoft’s primary distribution was to consumers alone I think the website would be a lot different. The other thing to say as well is that apple like their operating systems leave out things that should be on their website :P.

  • http://beam.to/bunga77 andjoh

    Wow, almost 10 months later and I thought I’ll put a bit into this topic and see if the discussion continues over a year or more. Great read, not just the article, but the feed backs as well. Mac V’s Pc in a subtle way and forever going.

    Firstly, simply ask a ten year old to compare the sites, then ask a ninety year old, wonder which percent would be higher? 1% Microsoft – 99% Apple at a guess.

    Just to dig into the navigation part from my view. The original article (if you want to scroll all the way back up (or just use the Home Key)) stating that he didn’t feel like he was on a Microsoft web page or not and visitors here arguing back that there are lots of departments in Microsoft blah blah blah…

    Well a smaller market, HUGE in Australia, bigpond.com which is an Australian Internet Provider (ISP) who is managed by telstra.com, Australia’s leading telecommunication company. They have this simple icon to let the users know you are on one of their sites. As bigpond has monthly download limit and once you have used it you will be slowed down to dial-up speed but re-set to broadband speed on the specific day of the month you signed up on. How ever, on your monthly limit if you are on a site where you see this specific icon it is not counted in your download. Simple, easy to follow, I know I am on one of their pages so I can download all those’s mp3 or watch those videos without worrying about using up my limit.

    Why doesn’t Microsoft have their logo on every page so the viewer knows they are viewing their web site? So simple.

    Apples Navigation, not original but fantastic, lets us know we are on an Apple page and the Home button is always there as with bigpond and Telstra. Microsoft rushed the job to get it out and worry about the little bits later, as long as it’s out, that’s Ok. (Hmm, some reason VISTA came to mind then) ;)

    Well thanks for the fine reading folks, I’ll be back in a year and check the progress…

  • Matthijs Rouw

    Very nice, and very good article to this site. I am having a great time reading all the comments, especially those by non-mac users being replied upon. ;)

    Many of these ‘designers’ commenting are USERS of the mac and NOT users of the MS site. Mind you, a graphic designer is totally a different job as an interaction designer or usability specialist let alone an IT guy .. OF COURSE there is always stuff that can be pointed out to be improved in ANY site. Yes, even the mac site! ;)

    However, for some reason, design decisions are made which may never be clear to those who are not part of the target users .. The author of this article is clearly not part of MS’s target user group site .. Therefore he could never properly write about it, if you ask me .. Whenever someone asks me as an interaction designer to say something about the usability of a product I generally start off with some kind of disclaimer beforehand, where I tell that I can not look into the target user’s world, product goals, budget, deadline and other important decision-influencing variables

    As said by some other people in here, it’s like comparing apples and oranges .. Different content, different products, different target audience .. No one in here knows the exact goals of both of the sites (or sub-sites) and can therefore never tell if these goals are reached.. Maybe there are some parts of the MS site that actually do a good job? :) And maybe a mac web-page might look good but might not answer the visitor’s question where she thinks she’d find the answer?

    Only way to compare these two is to ask all the sites’ ‘native users’ in a qualitative research about what they think: what to they need more, less, different, etc .. Because, just maybe those IT guys do not care about the same things as those mac users .. ??

    just 2c from a ‘MS user of who everyone thinks he’s a “mac kind of guy”‘ ;)

  • http://www.ps3consoles.indo buy ps3

    very interesting site never thought to compare their websites, funny i just go to microsoft site to inquire about my xbox. On another level i learned a lot about marketing just by examing both sites, great post

  • http://momshopping.blogspot.com Jack

    Interesting and usefull post, thanks

  • http://luissalvador.net Luís Salvador

    Apple wins!

  • http://www.twitter.com/codephase Codephase

    it’s so true that Microsoft website is a mess and Apple’s website is the best design I’ve ever seen. One minor problem though for Apple’s website. The search box is barely visible!

  • http://www.zevera.com/ zevera

    Apple got very exiting websites as compared to the Microsoft, but the choices differ if we analyze in the eye of professional apple got slight edge then the Microsoft. Nice post!

  • Chris J.

    I really like Apple’s website, it is very consistent with its design and layout on every page. The big marketing pictures of Apple always struck my attention as soon as I open a page. They really put a lot of thought on their website, no wonder they got a lot of customers.

    On Microsoft’s website, it’s terrible. There’s a huge chunk of info’s everywhere that I can’t easily find what I am looking for. I feel like they would like you to be diverted to other stuff than what you really are looking for.

    Nice post, had a great time reading it.

  • http://www.shawnish.com Shawn L.

    1. For those of you saying that Microsoft targets a different audience. Albert Einstein said “If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough.”. It’s wrong to assume that just because it targets so called business users, it doesn’t have to look as good as if you were to present it to consumers. Business people are people too, and I’m sure they would appreciate a clean and easy to use design.

    2. Apple’s website is no doubt smaller, but Microsoft is not that much bigger either. Consistency, as mentioned in the article, could be kept constant if they tried to do so. A unified color scheme, coupled with constant navigation helps.

    3. Microsoft’s site is too cluttered. It presents too much information up front, and makes it difficult to actually get information. They could easily group their sites into a consumer and corporate sections (a huge majority of Windows users are consumers). Or they could group their products into themes, which really helps navigation.

    • http://www.sensitivedesigns.com Sensitive Designs

      Your right..

      Microsoft is less cared about UI than Apple

  • eturnl

    I don’t think I have seen so many offended cry babies in my life. From a CUSTOMER stand point the MS site is a nightmare! It’s almost as bad as looking at a page of code.
    Usability has to do with the EASE of navigation and interest it peaks visually.
    Stew has a lot of ingredients but looks like diarrhea most of the time. You have to really dig through it to find what all is in it. Apple has made it look like a 9 course meal. I think a lot of the “whine” is from the fact that Apple has managed to win more users to their products over from Microsoft in the past 5 years than ever in history.
    As someone said above, he has switched to Apple because of the usability across all lines. Calling someone a fanboy is a compliment now. You are just making the point even stronger that there is a reason to be proud of what Apple has done and continues to do.
    Geeks are not the majority of computer buyers, and Apple knows this. That is THE single bit of wisdom that has guided Steve Jobs in one of the most successful comebacks in business history. The normal user experience does not consist of getting your jollies off on how smart you are because you could get through a website! The point of proper nav is to have it feel natural and easy, and enjoyable. Not too many MS user’s can say they experience that with any honesty. Seriously.
    I am a designer and it is my business to know what the user or customer wants so that I can help a client appeal to the much needed approval of any potential customer.
    In other words, I know what really pisses off the user or customer and try to avoid those things at all costs. MS could care less and has made it a point over the years to say,”We don’t give rats patootie” about the customer, we are the defunct choice and nobody else is a valid threat to us. Well, so they thought.
    Microsoft has brought more customers to Apple than Apple had as existing customers prior to the return of Steve Jobs. That is quite damning don’t you think?
    Speaking of numbers, I suck at math but I can’t get over the glaring discrepancy of the numbers I saw posted above. @scott said that Apple’s net profit is at 4 billion. He then said that MS’ net profit is at 11 billion. Well, if MS has 100 times the product offerings as Apple shouldn’t their profit be substantially higher than this? You do the math.
    So many blah, blah points have been thrown out there in this particular posting that it’s embarrassing. This article was written by a DESIGNER for DESIGNERS. Did you think the author was going to write about the depth of geekdom? C’mon folks, those of us that work in the real world and have to be creative and appeal to customers and set trends or follow, (which ever applies for you), and stake our reputations on our abilities to fulfill the needs of clients know what works and what doesn’t for the most part. When I work I want to be up 100% of the time at 100% production. You would be a bald faced liar if you said you had that on a Windows machine. By the looks of their site they have followed suit with that same record of failure.
    It’s diarrhea. Chunky and nasty.

  • http://www.securityking.com Craig

    Fantastic article, useability is the key, and navigation helps a great deal with this, Thanks.

  • http://www.jasonbobich.com Jason

    Microsoft’s website has so many damn sections and pages with completely different looks, I never know where the heck I am.

  • laxman shivashankar

    Nice Article ! let me admit that first.
    MS should have an option of finding the user’s interest first and allow him or direct him to jump into that area, since it is vast.

    Here both have a different set of audience. Apple is truly public.
    They have something ‘physically’ to show, mainly the products which we can feel it.
    Where as Microsoft deals with software which demands more content (Technical) and target audience are more of computer savvy .

    I feel you cannot compare which is the best ! but few points like consistency in look and feel and few more make sense.

    • http://www.broadeninghorizons.co.uk Marty

      I wouldn’t wholly agree with that one. Apple are both hardware and software, granted not to the extremes of Microsoft’s software development, but there is a wealth of information available for iOS development, widgets and add ons for their main OS and all presented in the same consistent style with easy navigation from page to page. As a web user you always know where you are and how to get around.

  • http://www.broadeninghorizons.co.uk Marty

    “I’m a PC” but I used to be seriously pro Mac and still love their products.

    In terms of usability though, from time to time I often check Apple’s site to see what’s new and have never had a problem finding the information I need. It’s fast, friendly and well presented.

    On the microsoft site(s) however, after a few minutes searching around I haven’t got a clue where I am or what the heck it was I went on there to search for in the first place.

  • http://www.cluboholic.com kyriakos

    I think a lot of people fail to realize how much more information Microsoft offers on their websites and the fact that it is being targeted to different groups of people with different expectations and backgrounds. Whereas Apple is primarily a consumer product company.

    • http://www.sensitivedesigns.com Sensitive Designs

      Is more information means more complication? I bet atleast 60% of Microsoft Website visitors are in not sure whether they are in right page or not!!! i always felt like so.. so i usually do is give a search in google and get in that page mostly..

      Why cant they come forward and have a dicussion on this topic? They are really less cared and the they did it in the way how a Developer do designs :)

      Let Designers Do the Designs not the Developers :)

    • http://www.sensitivedesigns.com Sensitive Designs

      Btw i visited your website.. :|