Quote from article on free software

If you can’t beat ’em, pointlessly ape their bricks-and-mortar retail strategy

In print on 30 September 2005

Apple Store Fifth AvenueSo the New York Post reports that Microsoft is scouting for a storefront on Times Square, ‘to play catch-up with arch-rival Apple’. Blimey, you think you’ve made up with someone, then one little iPod patent and it’s arch-rivals all over again.

The whole thing may, of course, be rubbish. Even by the Post’s questionable standards, it was an entertainingly flimsy story. ‘Microsoft officials have been in touch with New York real estate brokers who have worked on transactions in Times Square.’ Sounds a bit vague. Anything else? ‘Microsoft has yet to contact the developers of 1551 Broadway.’ Has yet to? Heck, if that passes for copy we can all be journalists. Winona Ryder Yet To Stalk MacUser Columnist. Elvis Yet To Be Found On Moon. Pulitzer People Yet To Call New York Post.

Perhaps more convincingly, ‘Microsoft has requested information on One Times Square, the building famed as the spot where the New Year’s Eve ball drops, sources said.’ Ignoring for a moment that ‘sources’ could mean anyone from a random wino to Garfield, that does make some kind of sense. This is the company that ignored the Internet, fell off the PDA bandwagon, has launched endless home user products notable only for being lamer and shorter-lived than the last, is plagued hourly by new security and reliability catastrophes, and after four years still can’t announce when it might manage to overhaul its flagship operating system. Dropping balls in public is a speciality.

But the obvious problem with the idea of a Microsoft shop is that Microsoft, as a software company, doesn’t sell many things that you could put in the window. Of all the reasons why Apple has remained a hardware manufacturer, not the least significant is that coveting, buying, carrying home, unwrapping and stroking (you’re a MacUser reader, right?) a physical object engages parts of the brain, and possibly other parts, that just aren’t stimulated by double-clicking an icon. And you’d have to question the wisdom of filling a store with CDs and DVDs at a time when Virgin and HMV are moving to online.

Giving the latest Apple product to a team of trained monkeys isn’t going to work

If Microsoft really is planning a retail outlet, some poor minion in a Redmond cubicle must already have been landed with the task of figuring out what’s going to be in it. And for once, the standard method of giving the latest Apple product to a team of trained monkeys and letting them get on with it just isn’t going to work. (Mind you, I bet they end up with a big glass staircase in the middle.)

For the benefit of this poor minion, Shutdown is pleased to offer the following suggestions for the MicrosoftStore concept.

  1. A gigantic cardboard box. Customers who manage to break the seal to get into it find it’s empty except for two discs, a 100-page licence agreement, and a sticker inviting them to check whether they’re in a genuine MicrosoftStore.
  2. A line-up of impressively powerful PCs… no, hang on, Microsoft doesn’t actually make PCs.
  3. A line-up of PCs with ‘Intel Inside’ stickers and a rolling demo showing how only Microsoft Windows can bring you the benefits of Intel processors… oops, no, Apple uses Intel now.
  4. A line-up of PCs demonstrating Microsoft Windows Vista, the very latest state-of-the-art… What? Not ready for another year? Oh.
  5. A line-up of impressively powerful Macs running the latest Microsoft applications. Make sure you submit a patent application for this before anyone realises it’s the same as the AppleStore.

Oh all right, we all know what’s really going to be in there. A thousand Xbox 360s and a Coke machine. That’s it. Instant success. Queues all down 42nd Street. Those kids won’t have much money to spend, but Microsoft hardly needs money, does it? At least they’ll make the place look busy, and when they tire of shooting each other they can check their Hotmail, just like all the people in the AppleStore. The only question is whether Microsoft, for all its interactive TV ambitions, actually knows anyone who makes TV sets to plug them into.

Coming soon: the GoogleStore. Inside, it’s plain white except for a big logo at the top and a bunch of adverts down one side. You can’t actually buy anything there, but in 0.17 seconds they’ll tell you 625,353 places you can get it.

Adam Banks once went to PC World, but he didn’t inhale.

First published in MacUser, 30 September 2005

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