Microsoft is back: Why the dorky Apple rival is suddenly cool

Virginia Heffernan

By Virginia Heffernan

Oh man that new commercial for Internet Explorer 10 has me dorkily cackling at every pixel in it, and then replaying the ad to laugh again, and harder. OK, maybe you’re too cool for it. But I am not.

Here’s what happens: A trolly commenter dude—he looks like the old groovy Apple kid turned puffier, more caffeinated and housebound—keeps trying to tweet and post about how IE sucks until he’s overwhelmed with the realization that Microsoft’s new browser might be kind of good. The way the brilliant actor’s pupils register his increasing coffee intake and his excitement at his holy mission (typing “IE sucks” at every opportunity) is lovely—a great new archetype for the Internet 2013.

It’s been a long time since a commercial worked so well. The promo does true magic: It sends up IE’s critics, by exposing the OCD fury of the smug hacker pose. The anti-Microsoft type as no longer that neato Apple guy standing with the middle-aged PC nerd, but a shut-in maniac who has long since lost sight of his would-be artsy path. That lil’ hipster, when we last saw him in Apple’s anti-PC campaign, was supposed to be blogging about indie bands. But now he’s rapping out “IE sucks” the way Jack Torrance wrote “All work and no play” in “The Shining.”

Furthermore, the ad sets the stage for a comeback for Microsoft. AdAge gives the “work”—I love how ad people reverently call advertisements “the work”—high-enough marks, though it points out that the troll’s conversion from IE-hater to IE-agnostic pivots on a “very thin plot device.” (This high-handed critical judgment made the ad all the funnier, in my view.) AdAge also files the ad, titled “Do you know this guy?,” in the TV/Video category, though the Web video also directs to a robust website called that really introduces the specs and features of IE 10.

Now I can’t even remember what I used to hate about Internet Explorer. I dimly recall font sizing being chronically off, and developing an entirely superstitious resistance to that “e” logo. Years ago, while I was still using it, someone told me about Firefox—and then Safari—and then Chrome, which I use now. Internet Explorer, down to its lumpy literal name, just became an uncool thing of the past. It, I guess, “sucked.”

Like Microsoft Word. And Microsoft Office. And the whole PC scene, embodied in that middle-aged schmo. But now the Internet is middle-aged, and the Apple/Google war is starting to seem like a more grueling showdown for consumers than whatever happened between Microsoft and the federal government. (What was that again?) And Microsoft is Xbox now, and Seattle seems kind of sleeper-cool again: not drippy Portlandia or cutthroat NorCal. People have always said Microsoft is an amazing place to work, and it won World’s Best Multinational Workplace last year, which does not—to put it conservatively—happen at Apple. Microsoft is greener than most electronics companies, too.

The company got a new logo in August. It has Bing, Xbox, Windows 8, the Surface tablet and that indispensable no-matter-how-you-slice-it Office suite. And now it has a winning new ad campaign. Maybe a comeback really is possible. After a decade of the hip-ification of the Internet, it might be time to root for the squares.