Updated October 8: Microsoft and Acer have asked HSN to remove the PCs from sale until the embargo date of October 26. See comments from Microsoft and Acer at end of story.
Windows 8 doesn’t officially go on sale until October 26, but at least one high-volume retailer has jumped the gun on PC sales.
Over the weekend, HSN.com, the online edition of the Home Shopping Network, offered a special on two new Gateway notebook PCs with Windows 8 preinstalled. A search turned up a total of 5 Acer and Gateway machines (Gateway is a division of Acer) available for sale today, with Windows 8 installed. A customer service representative confirmed that all five models are in stock and will ship immediately when ordered.
The details page of this Acer all-in-one PC makes it clear that it comes with Windows 8, not just an option to upgrade in the future.
The specs spell out that this is the 64-bit Windows 8--the base edition, not Windows 8 Pro.
I asked HSN customer service if the five listed PCs were available for immediate shipment and received a reply within minutes: "All 5 computers are in stock and will ship right away when ordered." The offer pages for the Gateway models say customers "should expect delivery within 12 days of their order date."
And there's no question these models were designed to be sold with Windows 8—that’s the new Windows 8 logo on the keyboard of this Gateway notebook, which is powered by a current-generation Core i5 CPU.
The Gateway all-in-one has an identical Windows 8-style logo key on the keyboard and this sticker on the PC itself:
In terms of basic engineering, there are a few small touches to distinguish these models from equivalent Windows 7 PCs. Two of the notebooks appear to have new trackpads that allow swiping from the edges to enable the Charms menu, app switching, and other gesture-based parts of the Windows 8 UI. The Acer notebook and both all-in-ones are equipped with touchscreens.
Unfortunately, the detailed specs also suggest that OEMs are still hooked on crapware. The Acer all-in-one includes this list of programs under the heading “Preinstalled Software”:
The Gateway notebook includes a similar list:
The Acer notebook (with 10-finger touch capabilities) includes a 60-day McAfee trial as well as Office 2010 Starter:
That’s actually a little better than the load of junk I found when I looked at a trip of notebooks a year ago (see “On consumer PCs, crapware is still a performance-sapping nuisance”), but the devil’s in the details. That PowerDVD program is probably the stripped-down version stuffed with upsells, and it’s annoying to see those Wild Tangent games, which are a pain to uninstall.
Both the Gateway and Acer units also toss in something called the “PC Essentials 22A Standard Software DVD,” which is a classic collection of shovelware. The 19 included programs are the very antithesis of what one expects in a modern PC, with a bunch of Corel products (Office, PaintShop Pro X4, and PDF Fusion) and a scrapbooking program and My Perfect Wedding Planner and TurboFloorPlan 3D Home & Landscape Deluxe 16 and a whole lot more. That might be exactly what the HSN audience wants. As long as the contents of that DVD aren’t preinstalled, I’d classify the programs as “mostly harmless.”
The HSN web page does include five interesting videos under the “Watch and Learn” heading, to help educate the shopping masses. They’re made by HSN and hosted by an HSN “technology expert,” not supplied by an OEM. To my eyes, they seemed a bit frantic, but I’m not a regular on any modern shopping channels so maybe that fast-talking, almost breathless presentation is the way these will systems will be sold online as well.
It’s a shame to see all of that junk show up alongside Windows 8. Microsoft is phasing out the Office 2010 Starter edition and removed the OEM installation files back in June. At that time, a Microsoft spokesperson told Mary Jo Foley, “After Windows 8 becomes available, most new PCs shipped will not have Office Starter.”
I guess no one at Gateway or Acer got the memo.
Meanwhile, come October 26 I’ll be looking carefully at new Windows 8 PCs from other OEMs to see whether they’ve carried over those old, crapware-loving ways. I’ll also be taking a fresh look at Microsoft’s Signature program to see which PC models are available in junk-free configurations.
A quick check of other leading shopping sites, including Amazon.com and Walmart.com, shows no Windows 8 PCs available for sale elsewhere. (Newegg has a "Coming October 26th" page, and Walmart has a large selection of Windows 7 PCs that include Windows 8 upgrade options.) I've asked Microsoft for comment on the unexpected presale and will update this post when I hear back.
Update: Via Twitter, a reader reminds me that Acer chairman J.T. Wang urged Microsoft to "think twice" about its plans to release the Surface PC. These designs suggest that Microsoft did exactly that and decided that it needed to offer an alternative to crapware-infested PCs like these.
Update 2, October 8, 5:00AM PDT - A Microsoft spokesperson responds:
Unfortunately, HSN made this offer without the support or authorization of Microsoft.
Microsoft and major retailers are getting ready for general availability of Windows 8 devices on 10/26 and not prior to that date. Once Microsoft learned of the HSN promotion, we contacted them and asked that they discontinue the on-air and online offer since it is not yet 10/26, the date that marks the official availability of Windows 8.
An e-mailed statement included this quote from Peter Han, Microsoft's VP, US OEM: "We are looking forward to Windows 8 General Availability on October 26, when customers can take delivery of Windows 8 PCs at retail for the first time."
The e-mail also included this quote from Scott Ledterman, Acer's VP, US Consumer: "We are excited to support Windows 8 with great Acer and Gateway offerings starting on October 26, but this HSN offer came prematurely and we've requested its immediate removal."
Update 3, 8:00 AM PDT October 8: All five products are still listed on HSN's website, but attempting to purchase one results in this message: "We're sorry, this product has sold out and is no longer available."