Max Smolaks spent a cold night at the midnight Windows 8 launch in London
On Friday, the long-awaited Windows 8 finally appeared in the shops, along with dozens of touchscreen devices running the new OS. For the launch night, New York got a spectacular five-hour event at Pier 57 on the Hudson River. What did the UK get? A midnight queue at PC World on Tottenham Court Road.
Despite the Windows banner, the event was actually run by HP and Currys / PC World. It was a cold, dark and windy night, but this was the first time Windows 8 was presented to customers in the UK. And a few hundred people actually showed up.
The queue report
How many people? “Too cold to count,” one shivering Currys employee told us. Later, they did start counting and issuing tickets, and by midnight, the queue turned out to be 210 long. That’s not a huge number, compared to the launch queues for Apple products. Then again, it was midnight in October, so only the most dedicated Microsoft fans braved the cold.
As a nice bonus, HP promised the first 300 paying customers would also get Beats Solo headphones, so there were enough freebies for everyone.
So what were all these people queueing for? Besides Windows 8, for one night only PC World was offering HP laptops at outrageous prices. For example, HP Envy A6 ultrabook, complete with touchscreen and the new OS, was going for £349, as opposed to its usual price of £499, and the top-of-the-line HP DV7 i7 had a massive £400 (!) off.
As for Windows 8 itself, opinions on the usability of the system were split among the queue-goers. “I want to experience Windows 8. I have been testing the preview for a couple of months, and I really like it, it’s really simple to use. I have already pre-ordered my Surface,” told me Chris, an IT technician.
“I wanted to get a laptop with Windows 8, so I thought I’d come on the first day it was out. And it’s a really good deal,” said Martin, business manager for TFL. Martin spent three hours in the queue, which placed him as number 73.
“I’m not sure it’s an improvement. It looks like a well-designed operating system for a tablet, but I don’t think it was a good idea to get rid of the start button. It feels counter-intuitive,” worried Jacob, a student.
According to user experience design agency Foolproof, even assuming it takes the average user a highly-conservative couple of hours to come to terms with the changes in Windows 8, a switch-over to the new OS could imply the loss of more than 300,000 man-years of productivity worldwide.
To entertain the queue, HP had flown in a US magician and host of TV show Supernaturalist, Daniel White. There was also a competition, with winners getting tickets to see No Doubt in Paris. And which technology enthusiast doesn’t worship Gwen Stefani?
As for the “warming cups of tea and coffee as well as hot comfort food such as doughnuts and sausage rolls” promised by PC World, I didn’t see any.
How to launch an operating system
A few words have to be said about organisation of the event… or lack of it. They told me that post-midnight, everyone will be able to browse the products on offer. Later, it turned out that only the people with queue numbers would get to play with new toys. A stark contrast with last few product launches by Apple, where everyone was able to enter the stores and soak up the atmosphere.
Then, there was the closing time. At first, the plan was to keep the store open until 1:30. After several delays, the closing time was changed to 3:00. I’m sure the PC World staff were ecstatic.
One thing is certain – the organisers actually underestimated the number of people willing to endure the wrath of the elements in the name of computing. Despite some shortcomings, the spirits were high. Someone even tried to start a chant. It was a strange experience to hear people scream “Windows 8, it’s gonna be great!” in the middle of the night.
Microsoft seemed happy with the arrangements. “It was really exciting that Currys PC World wanted to do something special to mark the occasion of Windows 8 going on sale and to see so many people queuing for the midnight launch. The atmosphere was fantastic,” slightly exaggerated a Microsoft spokesperson.
As for the massive change of direction in Windows 8, most people in the queue agreed that change is good. And maybe they are right. Microsoft has been following the same well-established formula for over a decade. Even though it has made the company billions, the market has changed, and today’s consumers have different expectations. Same goes for the enterprise customers. For Microsoft, it was now or never.
This launch is also a sign of how big an influence Apple had on the industry. A few years ago, a midnight launch for a Microsoft operating system would sound as outlandish as having a funeral for a broken printer. Not anymore.
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