Later this week, Apple's opening its first European Apple Store in Regents Street. We sent Jo and new boy Alex down to the press preview day and got some great snaps -- and yes, the chap with the Apple logo shaved into the back of his head is on staff. And although those black spherical seats look mighty uncomfortable, they're for the kiddywinks -- who presumably will be so entranced by the wonderful treats on screen they won't mind falling off a lot. Ah, Macintoddlers.
I'm surprised no other PC makers have followed suit. There used to be some Gateway shops around the place, but that was in the days when there used to be some Gateway. In fact, there really should be some Windows Shops -- where people can enjoy surrounds just as elegant and inspiring as the software itself and consult with people who, like the resident Apple Geniuses, are tuned into the creative and technical spirit of the product. It would be a churl who suggests that a prefab down in Peckham manned by Grunty McPherson of the South London Special Brew Society should do the trick. Those prefabs are really rather nice.
But it would be a good idea. I'm convinced that many of Microsoft's problems stem from the company's isolation from its end users -- the retailers, PC manufacturers and the rest of us poor bloody tech infantry have to soak up the misery that the software creates. You can't just take it back to the makers. It would be so nice to say to a sufferer "Look, I don't know why your laptop is demanding you increase the number of stack pages. Why don't you drop it round to the Windows Store on Oxford Street and demand that they fix what they so clearly have broken?" Forget about the queues outside the Apple Store -- if the word was that Bill Gates would be appearing behind the desk with a screwdriver and an apologetic expression, you'd have them backed out to Basildon.
Anyway, Microsoft is keen to be thought of as a cool consumer company these days -- if it's going to be taken seriously, it has to at least try and keep up with Apple. Perhaps it can go one stage beyond Windows Shopping, and start up some nightclubs -- although if it did, it could do well to remember this little snippet from The New York Times in 1999...
"That appears to be exactly what Microsoft is doing in announcing a new consumer operating system that may appear in the year 2000 or 2001. Ballmer said the new operating system would include advances in digital media handling, home networking, Internet technologies and improvements in the ease of installation and use. That product outline has evoked a sceptical response from competitors.
'At a risk of being called sexist, ageist and French,' said Jean Louis Gassee, chairman of Be, 'if you put multimedia, a leather skirt and lipstick on a grandmother and take her to a nightclub, she's still not going to get lucky.'"