April 4, 2014

Microsoft’s Not-so-Holy War

The moment I hoped to avoid had arrived: Around a week ago I needed to install Windows on my Mac for an urgent project. After some help from a kind fella on Twitter, I downloaded VirtualBox and googled buy Windows”: The first result seemed promising and I was seconds away from getting Windows.

Or so I thought.

On Microsoft’s Store, I was offered to buy Windows 8 either through a download or a DVD disc. I don’t know how many laptops still ship with optical drives nowadays; mine didn’t. I chose the download option, and was ready to set myself back 119 US dollars. An appropriate price tag for such an acclaimed operating system.

At this point, I was prompted to create a Microsoft Live account. We can argue if this is really necessary, but let’s skip this step. I filled all the required fields, logged in, and went to the check out page:

Microsoft Store Checkout Page

I stopped for a moment when I saw this. Even though I’ve entered Israel” during sign-up, the country field is preset to United States” and cannot be changed. I double-checked my details and refreshed. Then I logged out and refreshed again. I mean, surely it’s a technical bug or something. Or maybe there are different versions of Windows for each region?

Maybe, but despite the fact that Microsoft does boast a Hebrew-based store, going to the checkout page produces the same result, only a bit more amusing in this instance: A checkout page in Hebrew that Israeli customers cannot use to buy Windows.

So around 25 minutes have gone by since I clicked that first result on Google. I want to give up, but decide to call Microsoft’s support. Surely there must be a way for me to put my hands on a copy of Windows. Surely in its current state Microsoft cannot afford to lose more sales. If I’m downloading Windows over the web, what difference does it make where I’m doing this from?

Here comes the bottom-line: The full version of Windows 8 isn’t available for download, at all. At least not through Microsoft. My best bet, said the support rep, would to buy it from a retailer in Israel. And, surprise surprise, retailers in Israel only sell DVD versions of Windows.

Now, I’m not an analyst or a pundit. If you’ve been following me for a while, you know I cannot be blamed for taking sides in the Apple vs. Microsoft feud. I’m an end-user, a layman, a plain customer. So let’s ignore the many blunt ironies and lack of professionalism on Microsoft’s part and focus on one fact: If you have a modern laptop and reside outside of the United States, not only is pirating1 Windows 8 your cheaper, simpler, and faster option, it’s your only option.

And when I see how easily Microsoft frustrates and then turns away a stubborn customer like me, I can understand what those pundits whom I criticize mean when they say that Microsoft is doomed. I don’t know how many businesses design their store to incentivize (some) customers to steal (some of) their products instead of buying them.

The anecdote above gains more relevance amid the buzz around Steve Jobs’s internal-declaration of a holy war on Google” in 2010, revealed two days ago by Apple itself. It seems that the war against Google and Apple isn’t that holy in Microsoft’s eyes. This is the mid-nineties, after all, and things are looking dandy.

A somewhat-unrelated side note: Did you notice that in his memo, Jobs also called for tying all of [Apple’s] products together so they further lock consumers into [their] ecosystem?” I wonder what creative interpretation Apple writers will give the word lock” here (if they choose to address this line at all). But hey, at least Tim Cook doesn’t care about the bloody ROI!

It’s funny how selectively some depict Apple’s narrative.

  1. Which you shouldn’t do. ↩︎
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