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November 14, 2011

Microsoft and Apple….The USA and Switzerland

by Anne Paddock
Microsoft and Apple remind me of the United States and Switzerland. Each has their place front and center in the world market yet no two modern companies or countries could be more different in how they operate and what they produce. All four entities tend to evoke strong opinions among admirers and detractors.
Switzerland is a beautiful country with about 8 million residents. Trains are clean, expertly managed, and run on precise schedules that weather rarely impacts.  People don’t litter and drivers follow the rules of the road that dictate they drive in the right lane except to pass in which case, the left lane is used. Meals are served at precise hours. Shopping is done Monday through Saturday with Thursday evening designated for extra shopping hours. Nothing is open on Sunday except the transportation centers.

The Swiss make amazing products: watches, knives, milk, cheese, yogurt, chocolate, clothing, sportswear, and appliances with high prices to match.  The country is also well-known for their banking which is supported by strict Swiss secrecy laws. Swiss homes are constructed to last hundreds of years with reinforced concrete walls, copper flashing, and a small room in every house that is known as the nuclear room (a safe room that stores food and protects residents in the event of a nuclear fallout). Blame the volatile border neighbors for that building code requirement.

When moving to a Swiss town, the person/family must register at the town hall (commune) within eight days of arriving or risk being summoned to the town hall to explain themselves. Mothers are free to work (it is 2011) but if they have child care, they must register the childcare provider with the town hall. The postman will not deliver mail unless notified by the town hall that a new resident “is allowed” to receive mail.  Children cannot be enrolled in public school and cars cannot be purchased, leased or even repaired without proper paperwork.

The Swiss prefer to buy Swiss products believing the quality to be superior (it usually is). Wages are higher (the cashier at the grocery store making 35,000 CHF a year speaks several languages and is efficient) which makes products more expensive. Residency is difficult to obtain (the Swiss prefer the wealthy and issue visas sparingly). Using computer language,Switzerland is a fully integrated closed system that works within its bordersHacking into the country is very difficult even though there are no 30-foot walls at border crossings; the interior operating system keeps undesirables out. Precise, efficient, safe, and rigid accurately describes Switzerland:  one tightly controlled society that reeks of Big Brother. In exchange for safety, cleanliness, punctuality, and a seamless experience, individual liberties are surrendered for the good of the whole and the few. Some people love this way of life; others chafe. But, there is clearly a market for the small group of the world that prefers to live this way.
Sounds like Apple to me. Precise, expensive products that always work.  Innovative, expertly constructed, and a fully integrated closed system to control the experience. Few bugs are ever able to penetrate its walls. Apple owners are notoriously loyal and tend to keep buying Apple products because of reliability, precision, and ease of use. Apple even controls apps the way the Swiss control immigration: apps are submitted for review and approval prior to Apple making them available at their on-line store.  And, no user can operate in Appleville without using a MacIntosh. Talk about controlling the borders.

The United States has 310 million residents and about 12 million illegal immigrants.Compared to Switzerland, the US is the wild west.  There are beautiful areas but there are also places of urban blight. Citizens have the right to bear arms, kids can attend school without proving residency, people drive in whatever lane they want, buy the cheapest instead of the best, throw litter everywhere, live wherever they want, and Amtrak will probably get you there…just not on time. The unionized Amtrak employees don’t seem to care, the trains are dirty, the washrooms atrocious, and the cafe car a joke.  But, you can go anywhere you want, stay as long as you want and it’s none of anyone’s business – that’s the tradeoff.

Except for the American Indian, the US is a country of immigrants that go back a few hundred years. People came for religious freedom and economic opportunity, both of which were widely available. The US has thrived having an open system that allows residents to pursue their dreams because it really doesn’t matter what your last name is, the color of your skin or who your parents are. What matters is intelligence, decision-making and hard workTo operate in a system like this, just like operating in an open Microsoft world there are potholes, lots of them (like our roads) but that’s the price we pay to get where we need to go:  freedom fosters innovation. Think about the innovative companies and products that the world covets and admires…Apple (ironically but fittingly as America is the innovator), Microsoft, Oracle, Amazon, Pixar, Disney, Dreamworks, Facebook, Google, Tumblr, Verizon – all emerged from America.

Microsoft Windows has a market share of about 90% and operates under the fundamental principle that open is better; that it’s operating system can be used on hardware made by many different companies through licensing agreements. The open approach allows users to customize their system to various needs and also make innovations, not unlike life in the United States.

prefer to visit Switzerland,  not live there.  Traveling by train throughout the country is a relaxing way to get around and the food is excellent. I never feel threatened and the outdoor sports are amazing. But, after a while, I start to chafe because sometimes I want to have lunch at 3:00 pm but can’t find a restaurant open. And, if I’m at a hotel staying for more than 10 days, I feel like stopping by the front desk and telling them to knock themselves out as I know they report any hotel stay of 10 days or more to the local town hall (commune).  There’s nothing wrong with staying at a hotel for that length of time; the country just wants to know whose in town so hotels are charged with keeping Big Brother informed.

love my Mac and my IPOD but I don’t want to be tethered to them 24/7.  They work exactly as I need them to which is how I want my tech products to be.  But, I want my life products to be diverse and my choices endless so when my feet hit US soil, there’s no one more appreciative than me, even when Amtrak continues to let me down.

So are you a Swiss apple or an American window? Or a bit of both like the rest of us?

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