Friday, October 23, 2009

Microsoft Opens Its First Store, Launches Windows 7, Aspires To Mac Design

Yesterday, Microsoft opened its first retail store in Scottsdale, Arizona to coincide with the launch of Windows 7. If you read this blog, you'll know I'm a Mac user. Macs are the industry standard in the design world, and like many other designers I wouldn't have it any other way, but I have to give Microsoft some snaps on their two new launches yesterday since I think they both demonstrate some great strides forward, if a little late.

Macs have ruled the world of aesthetically pleasing computer design for some time now and Microsoft is finally taking some cues. In the not-so-distant past, Microsoft has been ridiculed for its sad designs compared to Apple's. Remember that Microsoft redesigns the iPod packaging viral video from a few years ago? Well, Microsoft seems to have taken heed and cleaned up their packaging. The new Windows 7 packaging is nice, clean and colorful.

Similarly, the look of Windows 7 (above—via Microsoft's Windows 7 website) is pretty close to that of OSX Macs (below). They've changed the bar at the bottom of the desktop to look quite a bit more like Mac's Dock and added a Gadgets feature, which seems to be a copycat of Mac's Widgets. I don't think either of these are a bad thing—on the contrary, I think it's a great step forward for Windows since both features are ones I've learned to love on my Mac and I think PC users would like them as well. In terms of aesthetic design, I think better design is just better for everyone, no? Has Microsoft copied a lot of Mac features in this new release? It appears so, but they were good choices. Now it'll just be interesting to see if Microsoft can innovate some features that Macs don't already have—and hope Windows 7 proves to be a more accepted operating system than Vista was.
From what I can tell from videos on the web (like the one below) the new Microsoft Store is, well, pretty darn close to an Apple Store, it just offers different products. It looks very similar, differing only by a little things like extra color on the employees and a video wall that surrounds the upper part of the store. Just like an Apple Store it has a 'help' desk area (aka the Genius Bar in an Apple Store), the ability to schedule appointments online for a personal shopping time in the store and hand held check out devices that allow employees to run credit cards and sell merchandise anywhere in the store. Unlike he Apple store, there's a cool place to play video games and it houses products Apple does not have, like the multi touch coffee table computer that's been talked about for years, but is not really all that available yet. Unfortunately, it still isn't as a Microsoft employee quotes below, 'They're mainly targeted right now towards businesses and the high-end clientele just because the technology is still technically being developed.' So it's really kind of a gimmicky crowd draw, though a very cool one. Similarly, the store houses top technologies from PC manufacturers, including touch screen computers. The video below is a bit long, but gives a very good idea of the launch and what the store inside is like.

Even though a lot of what Microsoft came out with yesterday feels a bit like a copycat of Apple, I think it will be good for their business. Microsoft has a corner on a large chunk of the market because it is the standard for most businesses. I know many friends and some family that would love to get a Mac, but it's impractical since they use PCs at work and often need to run specific programs not available on a Mac. Unfortunately, fixes like Parallels often seem a bit daunting to some potential first time Mac owners, so they stick with PCs they're not so happy with. I can see some of these changes from Microsoft changing that unhappiness and may help Microsoft retain those customers.

I think the stores especially will help since they'll easily be the expert place you go when looking for PCs and Microsoft software. Right now, you may not always feel you're getting really knowledgeable advice from the kid selling computers at Best Buy. Plus a Microsoft version of the Genius Bar could really help their sagging reputation as easily malfunctioning computers. If you're PC has a problem, what do you do? Go to a third party like the Geek Squad to try to fix it? As a Mac user, I simply make an appointment at the Genius Bar in my local Apple Store for free. It's awesome and has worked at as a great selling point for some Apple users.

Overall, I think Microsoft is taking some very good and very needed steps forward. What they need to do next is something outside of Mac's shadow.

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