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Opinion: UK let down by Windows Marketplace

Why can't we buy Windows & Office online?

The fireworks are over; Vista and Microsoft Office 2007 have launched. Those of us who have taken the plunge, and dug deep into our wallets have been able to buy the software in one of two ways - either in person from a retailer like PC World, or by using one of the many online merchants. That's the way it’s always been with Microsoft.

All that looked set to change however, because Microsoft announced in January that the software would be available, twenty-four-hours a day, online. A few clicks of the mouse, and away goes the download. Half an hour later on a good broadband connection and Vista Ultimate, MS Office or whatever else you choose, is nestling in a folder on your hard drive - isn't that great? Well, no, not if you happen to live anywhere other than the United States, because in its wisdom Microsoft hasn’t seen fit to make the service available to those of us who inhabit the rest of the world.

The company has developed a system known as The Windows Marketplace. This is an online retailing service allowing you to buy software and hardware from companies that have partnered with Microsoft in offering their products to those who have registered with what’s called a Microsoft Live ID. It works like this:
Firstly, you visit the Windows Marketplace site and register for your Windows Live ID. This creates what Microsoft calls a 'Digital locker' - a private online storage area, in which your personal details are held securely by Microsoft.

Then, you download and install a Digital locker assistant - a small software tool that sits on your desktop and enables you to download and install purchases, pause and restart downloads, and will even make a backup CD of your software for you, right on your own computer.

Once you've done that, sign into the Windows Marketplace and then browse the software and hardware products available from companies such as HP, Symantec, Sony, Cisco, Intuit and many more, together with a full-range of Microsoft offerings.

You add items to your shopping list in the usual way, and when you're ready, just checkout - your digital locker passes your personal details to the companies concerned via secure Microsoft servers, and in the case of software it’s placed in your locker for download, along with the relevant serial keys. Hardware items are shipped to your home address in the normal way.

At any time in the future you can login to your locker and retrieve software and installation keys, or even add details of software you’ve purchased elsewhere, complete with the address of the supplier’s download page, and all your purchase information, so you have a perfect record of all the software you’ve bought online, held in a secure place.

“What a good idea”, I hear you say, and you’re right, it is. For the first time there’s a way to keep full details of all your online purchases in one safe place – no chance of losing all those precious software installation keys or download locations when you format your hard drive. Everything’s backed up on a Microsoft server, and your privacy is guaranteed. Your credit card details and other personal information will be passed to third-parties by Microsoft only when you consent to that happening – when you buy something from a company which is in the Windows Marketplace scheme. The fly in the ointment is that you can’t use the system unless you live in America, and Microsoft has been unable to tell me when the system will be available to the rest of us. The best I can offer you is this – a statement placed by the company on the Marketplace site:

“The digital locker is currently only available for purchases in countries listed in the dropdown menu. While we are working towards the international expansion of the digital locker, please let us know where you would like to have the digital locker available by sending us your suggestions via our customer feedback page.”

So there you have it; the world’s largest software company finally gets its act together to offer its products online – something most self-respecting businesses have been doing for years – and fails to understand that there are hundreds of millions of us here in Europe who buy software.

If a new concept is worth launching to the American market it’s worth launching globally and, if the feedback we’re getting from our online forum members is anything to go by, Vista is going to have to struggle for its market share. My advice to the Microsoft marketing department is this; stop thinking that the world begins and ends in America, and start realising that a Euro in the bank is every bit as vital to your company’s continued success as a dollar.



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