by Amanda Ponzar
I'm jazzed, just returning from the grand opening reception in Tyson's Corner for the first Microsoft Store on the East Coast -- it's the 14th Microsoft Store in the U.S. to date (most are on the West Coast) with 75 more planned in the near future. The stores are hip with shiny wood floors, dazzling bright lights and gadgets galore.
Played with Xbox Kinect (oh yes, I danced) where you really are the controller as little cameras in the Xbox record every body move from head to toes. Took a while to figure out how to wave my arms wildly enough to make it work, but what a blast! Also played with a Microsoft "surface" table computer -- just touch and slide everything around just like they do on TV (think "Minority Report" and some of those crime shows). The latest version of "surface" mounts on the wall (no huge table needed). It's a hit with celebs and apparently costs ~$10-15k so I'm not adding to my Christmas list. Yet.
Microsoft is using the stores not just to push product (world domination, baby!) but to serve as the software giant's "face to the community". Part of that face includes offering the store as free meeting space for nonprofits, plus providing free Microsoft training (I do need a refresher). They even have an incredible 103" screen available for use (movie nights, anyone...or what about a SuperBowl party!?), plus will give away $1 million in free software to area nonprofits this week.
The stores also offer tech assistance (claimed they could make my old PC brand new for $50) and recycle old computers, wiping the hard drives if you want and rewarding customers with store credit for the donation. You better believe I'm digging all my old PCs out of the closet to clean up the clutter and get a store credit. Gets me that much closer to buying that "surface" computer...
Yes, I drank the Kool-Aid (and ate all the delicious hors d'oeuvres...mmm, chicken curry, crab cakes & lobster roll). The employee energy was contagious, and it will be interesting to see how Microsoft's community-focused approach stacks up against their fruity, perhaps less charitable competitor.