Software // Operating Systems
12:20 AM
Josh Greenbaum
Josh Greenbaum
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Microsoft Must Get The Windows 8 Commerce Model Right

Microsoft has innovated well on the tech side of Win 8/Metro, but it has a huge problem on the commerce side.

The first problem by itself was pretty egregious: The Xbox back-office accounting system where the Metro Video app sent me to buy the movie has a well-known bug, well-known because once I talked to technical support, it was apparent they'd encountered it many times before. This little bug prevented me from linking a credit card to my account: I verified with my credit card company that the authorization went through on its end, just not on the Xbox side. That makes it hard to actually buy the movie. Tech support kindly spotted me the points I needed to rent the movie (points, as this is Xbox, a gaming site, so, you don't transact in actual currency--more on this problem later), but the only way I could buy any more movies for three days until they fixed the back-office bug was to purchase a pre-paid Xbox card. This bug is so well known that tech support even knows how long it takes to get it fixed.

It's clear from the Xbox back-office bug that something is rotten in Microsoft's e-commerce strategy, especially as it's apparently a known bug that for whatever reason remains unfixed. That this can and should be fixed goes without saying, and it should be easy enough for a company with Microsoft's tech firepower. How it can persist for more than a few days makes me wonder if Xbox gamers are just more tolerant of this kind of nonsense, or if they have some other way to get the points they need from Microsoft. Regardless, it was strike one against Microsoft's commerce model.

Strike two happened when I tried to watch the last two-thirds of the movie, and the Slate Video app crashed, yielding some arcane error code. Fair enough, this isn't the GA release, so I never expected the Metro experience to be bug free. But the problem escalated when I contacted Microsoft tech support to resolve the problem. Since I bought the movie from Xbox, I contacted Xbox account management support people. They hemmed and hawed, and finally said I'd have to talk to someone at Xbox Live support to resolve this issue.

Okay, I thought, what do I know about Xbox and Xbox Live. But more importantly, why do I even have to know the difference to buy a movie? I should mention that support wanted to authenticate my account by asking me for the credit card I had provided, which meant I had to launch into the back-office software story. Luckily, there was a security question that I'd set up in my Microsoft Live account years ago that I actually could remember--on the second try.

By this time, I had decided to download the movie onto to my Windows 7 laptop and watch it there. That should be easy, right? I bought the movie from Xbox, surely I could just move the download authorization to another device (something I can do with an audio book on my public library's website, so it should be easy). But Xbox Live support punted on this as well: Not only didn't they understand what was happening on the Slate, they couldn't help me download the movie to Windows 7. That, I was told, was a job for Zune support.

Zune? I was on a Metro tablet buying an Xbox movie that now needed support from Zune, which, when last I checked, was a discontinued iPod wannabe. (Actually, the brand has morphed into a digital media store, though why the brand was worth preserving is beyond me.) And herein lies the gist of problem two: Microsoft has two commerce sites trying to serve a single customer with a single goal, and their lack of integration makes the consumer experience more than just problematic. Pain in the ass is the best way I can describe it.

By now I'd been trying to resolve this Slate problem for an hour. Factor in the time I spent trying to add a credit card to my Xbox account, and I'd already spent two hours--pretty much the movie's entire runtime--without having seen more than the first 30 minutes of the movie.

So now for Zune, which doesn't offer telephone support; chat is the only way to communicate. But they had a fix: I had to download Zune for Windows 7, sign on (using my Windows Live account), and then find my movie, download it, and run it on Zune. Right. I was on it.

When I finally got the Zune process underway, believe it or not, I could no longer download the movie because the download timeframe had expired. Zune support generously offered to refund the points I had spent, but first we needed to verify my account using my credit card number! OMG! At this point, I hope you're laughing, because I was truly in stitches. This comedy of errors was beyond unbelievable.

Luckily I knew the security question cold, so we got that settled quickly, the points instantly appeared, and my Zune download began. Now I'm on the airplane home, daring myself to actually try to watch it. If you hear about a Virgin America passenger who ran amok and started eating his laptop, you'll know this story didn't end well.

On to problem three: The lack of an integrated customer experience. I have a Microsoft Live account that I use to sign into all sorts of things. It has a little graphical icon that appears when I sign on to use various non-commercial services at Microsoft (like registering for Microsoft conferences.) I had to use that same Live account for Xbox (a gaming site, though I've no interest in being a gamer), where it has its own funky Xbox avatar, and I used it again for Zune (another service I have no connection to), which created a third little graphic next to my account name.

This multiple personality disorder is a mess and will be the nail in the coffin for Microsoft's aspirations to beat Apple if it doesn't get resolved. This problem isn't just a matter of signing on, of course. Buying movies with Xbox gamer points, making it hard to move content between devices, not to mention the support morass--all this will help Tim Cook sleep well for some time to come.

The moral of the story is that Microsoft has innovated well on the tech side, but it has a long way to go on the apps side and even more so on the commerce side. While the groundwork has been laid for a critical mass of apps to emerge, I have concerns that the commerce side is showing Microsoft's infamous siloes at their worst, and it may take a while for this mess to be resolved.

It's not just Win 8/Metro that's in release preview, it's the whole business model. My concern is that Microsoft is working away at making Win 8/Metro even better and setting the groundwork for a robust developer community, but it's asleep at the switch when it comes to the commercial experience.

Hopefully I'm wrong, because if I'm not my Slate will end up in the pile next to my HP Touchpad. It would be a shame to see such a good start go to waste.

Josh Greenbaum is principal of Enterprise Applications Consulting, a Berkeley, Calif., firm that consults with end-user companies and enterprise software vendors large and small. Clients have included Microsoft, Oracle, SAP, and other firms that are sometimes analyzed in his columns. Write him at

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User Rank: Apprentice
6/26/2012 | 5:49:52 AM
re: Microsoft Must Get The Windows 8 Commerce Model Right
I think you are nitpicking. You need look only as far as Windows 8 to see what problems Microsoft is facing. They decided a phone interface was a good idea for a PC. Do you need more evidence that something is wrong? I used to adore Microsoft but whatever mojo they once had has long faded.
They used to at least borrow ideas and make them better. Windows 8? They borrowed tiles and made it the default UI for computers? It is a joke. A PHONE UI ON A PC. Try and grasp the logic here. There is none. CLUE: Did Apple decide to use tiles for their Mac's interface? Perhaps Microsoft should stay a follower since when they try to take the lead they make dramatically poor choices.
Does anyone remember they had a touch interface on a phone in 2002 that could surf the web, get email, listen to music, text message, take pictures, do GPS, and which had voice control???? And they sat on it for 6 years doing absolutely nothing to it to make it better. Then came the iPhone. It is almost like they are trying so hard not to miss another technology wave ... so they dumped their tried and true desktop for Tiles.
Windows 8 didn't prompt me for my time zone during installation so when it was loaded I was on west coast time despite being on the east coast. The weather tile showed me the weather from where my IP address was thought to be from - 100 miles away. I tried to find where to change this for no less than 30 minutes. After changing it, selecting my town's name, it reverted back to Orlando again.
I can almost hear Mom and Dad: Now Martha it says here that you need to type in ReggieEdit and find the H Key on our local machine. I guess they mean this computer, right? Then change the D Word (must be damn word) to a 0. And then we will get to see the Desktop we so badly would like to use as our interface. But Tom dear I don't see a tile called ReggieEdit.
I'm sorry. I have used every version of Wndows since 1.0 and Windows 8 will be Microsoft's final demise - and Apple's gain. Folks are not so stupid about technology any longer that they will accept stupidy. It is a new age Microsoft - and your age is showing. You don't look so good any more. The facelift has not helped. Too little to late as they say : (
Goodbye good friend. I hate to see you go!
User Rank: Ninja
6/26/2012 | 1:25:04 AM
re: Microsoft Must Get The Windows 8 Commerce Model Right
I'm curious as to why the Windows Desktop is expected to run better on these tablets than it did before. The problem isn't so much hardware as it is UI issues. So far, I've read a few articles saying how great Win 8 is on these x86 machines. But I haven't read anything that they've actually done on them. Most just discuss Metro.

If its a Metro tablet they want, then they should get an RT device when it comes out. People wanting actual Win 8 Pro tablets will be buying them for the classic (as I suppose we're now supposed to call it) programs that run under Win7. There is no expectation that these will run any better on these small screens than they did on the larger screens on the Convertables we've seen for over a decade now.

But nothing about that. One would think that it was being avoided.
User Rank: Apprentice
6/25/2012 | 8:03:13 PM
re: Microsoft Must Get The Windows 8 Commerce Model Right
I was not impressed with the device released by Microsoft and I am not impressed with Windows 8. My IT department has long-since moved to Mac OS X/iOS and everyone is so much happier for it from both the business and IT side.
S. Kyle Davis
S. Kyle Davis,
User Rank: Apprentice
6/25/2012 | 4:35:25 PM
re: Microsoft Must Get The Windows 8 Commerce Model Right
I think you're missing the fact that the services aren't live yet. Microsoft is in the midst of combining Xbox Live, Zune, and their live store into one. These services won't go live until launch. Completely understandable why the situation was frustrating, but hopefully much of this will be resolved when Win 8 launches.

And one can only hope that they don't bring over the Xbox credits thing to the Live Store experience. That would be a bad move, but it may happen.
User Rank: Apprentice
6/25/2012 | 3:43:59 PM
re: Microsoft Must Get The Windows 8 Commerce Model Right
Wow this article nails why microsoft will most likely fail.... not the hardware or the OS but the user experience. Something to think about microsoft and the #1 reason you do not make money in the consumer sector.

Microsoft reminds me of AT&T with their customer service.... every dept just wants to pass you along as fast as possible and never attempt to resolve the issue. Zero accountablility, sit on hold for an hour and then they hang up on you (I won't do business with AT&T any longer due to this)

Also the language barrier with Microsoft's technical support team doesn't help the matter any.
User Rank: Apprentice
6/25/2012 | 2:48:09 PM
re: Microsoft Must Get The Windows 8 Commerce Model Right
Another problem with the Xbox Points system is that you can purchase the points in even numbered blocks (400, 800, 1600, 4000, etc.), but purchases are FAR from even numbered. You always end up with 13 or 15 points at the end that you can purchase NOTHING with. Even if you try to go purchase an avatar item to put a hat on your worthless little character, you'll end up with 2 points. Multiply that by millions of users, and Microsoft is making money hand over fist by literally nickel and diming everyone to death. The points need to go, or they need to be rounded off for purchases. Adopt a system of currency credit, like the Playstation Network or Apple, if you're going to use prepaid cards.
User Rank: Apprentice
6/25/2012 | 2:46:31 PM
re: Microsoft Must Get The Windows 8 Commerce Model Right
I am not sure Microsoft is seriously trying to build an AppStore like Apple, because most of is customers are not the ones that download a guitar tuners to tune their guitars, for instance! :) Also, to cater to gamers, they already have the xbox platform (not to mention serious gamers donG«÷t play on a tablets, rather on a custom PC with multiple graphic cards that has a private GPU bus between them!) I think all Microsoft is planning with their Windows 8 is to capitalize on their business customers, who would use Windows 8 tablet/phone as a facade for their large enterprise applications such as ERP, CRM, Healthcare and so on; in other words, Microsoft is not competing with Apple on their $0.99 apps, rather simply highlighting the gap that Apple cannot conquer, i.e., serious business applications! Microsoft doesnG«÷t want their developers to start writing for iPad and iPhones to provide mobility to their applications, rather run that same application (or parts of it) on Windows phones, and on Windows tablet - Windows 8 is all about this write-once-deploy-everywhere concept, hence its more of catering to Windows-users and sustaining their loyalty for a long haul rather than a game changer or a head-on intent to compete with Apple and Android in their own turf, IMO.
User Rank: Apprentice
6/25/2012 | 2:38:14 PM
re: Microsoft Must Get The Windows 8 Commerce Model Right
Mistake number one is comparing Microsoft to Apple. Apple left the computer industry with the launch of the iPod. Subsequently their business model is simply to provide a delivery system for for iTunes. Granted they do this very well, but it's still an unfair comparison when your talking about a Software company like Microsoft. To be honest I didn't even know you could rent movies through Xbox or Xbox live or what ever. Now knowing that it's possible I'm still baffled why anyone would even try? Microsoft builds software virtually all other software publishers depend on. They've dipped their toes into the hardware market with Surface. I think it's extremely naive to expect them to embrace the Apple model...that's just not the business MS is in. Frankly I think you would see a large scale revolt if MS went whole hog into the content delivery market. Further, the authors "rules" may apply to your average time wasting, faux productivity, entertainment device (i.e. all current tablets). But thankfully Microsoft has wisely decided to avoid this "me too" demographic. Windows 8 is at it's core an attempt by Microsoft to bring the gadget loving masses back down to earth (much to the relief of system administrators everywhere). Surface has the potential to be the first tablet device capable of doing actual work. And for that businesses will thank Microsoft in tablet hungry droves. If Microsoft can deliver a true productivity tool in the tablet format, we will see a very strong shift in momentum for Apple. Not because Microsoft built an "ipad killer", but because they've tapped a significantly ignored market. Simply put, business isn't interested in providing employees access to fart apps or Netflix. Microsoft knows this. I think the rules are about to change. My humble suggestion is rule number one: Does it run Excel? Not: does it play Angry Birds?
User Rank: Apprentice
6/25/2012 | 2:36:09 PM
re: Microsoft Must Get The Windows 8 Commerce Model Right
Oh man, good ol' "The Zone". I've got the itch to make my Asheron's Call yearly return...

Back on track:
The thing I'm really disliking these days is them trying to cram tiles down everyone's throat...You'd think WinMo would have shed a little lights on some of their concepts.
User Rank: Apprentice
6/25/2012 | 1:40:00 PM
re: Microsoft Must Get The Windows 8 Commerce Model Right
Microsoft has a huge blunder on their hands. Windows 8 will become Windows Me3 (Me2 was Vista). Also, in the Support Arena, they have always been severely lacking. The last time they tried anything to do like an APP STORE, was with MSN when they were hosting games like Asheron's Call (Turbine Games) and Fighter Ace (I can't remember who wrote it). They hosted both games when 1st launched and then discarded them (only the Powers that Be at MSN know why).

But with Windows 8, I hate the METRO interface and I hate the changes they made to the Windows 7 interface (calling it WIndows 8). They never seem to talk with the END USERS before making drastic changes in the interfaces.
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