Livin' la vida Redmond

Strange news has reached my ears about Microsoft's latest attempt to look warm and fuzzy. It seems that down in San Francisco, Microsoft and Sony have teamed up to bring the shopping public MicrosoftSF, a concept store that takes Windows and its ilk out of the back alleys and dark doorways and "showcases it in a lifestyle environment" next to housewares like overpriced vases and overpriced miniature Japanese rock gardens and overpriced . . . oh, I think you get it. It is to me one of life's great mysteries why folks will pay good money to wear someone else's advertising. (Fran Leibowitz put it best: "If people don't want to listen to you, what makes you think they want to hear from your sweater?" And that was years before Tommy Hilfiger.) Frankly, I dress and decorate so as to make people think I have a life; why would I want to spend money to prove it's not true? And yet computer-logo gear is practically the only thing some geeks ever wear. Computer trade shows are notorious for exhibits in which booth bimbos toss printed T-shirts into the crowd, which scrambles for them like sharks for chum. And forget the really cool gewgaws: I once saw two middle-aged men practically come to blows over a multicolored plush chameleon wearing Hawaiian shorts. (The chameleon was wearing the shorts, not the men. You're relieved, I know.) In other words, maybe I'm missing something; too many years in black-wearing New York may have scrambled my sartorial and aesthetic circuitry. (It also enables me to tune out street crazies, stare down rude waitstaff, and use turn signals, so I think I came out ahead.) But suddenly I'm envisioning whole malls-ful of faaaaabulous nerdware shops, shops that will put the Niketowns and Planet Hollywoods to shame, shops where the upwardly dot-com mobile can make the big leap from the post-college Ikea Moderne look into true feng-shui-approved Geek Chic. Pull up a virtual shopping cart and stroll with me through the Mall of the Banzai Shopper. . . . MacintoshBS: The original computing-lifestyle company is a beautiful oasis of fine design, and the customers are just about the happiest people on earth, but due to perpetually unforeseen demand all the merchandise is backordered six months. On the remainder shelf: your current computer. Out of stock: that beautiful machine you saw in the ads, the one that convinced you to drop by in the first place. MicrosoftBS: They'd like you to think this is really a collection of small, fun, independent boutiques; in fact, paper-thin walls have been erected to disguise its hulking Wal-Martlike nature. They're fooling no one. Sample products: it all looks a lot like the stuff in the Macintosh store, but not as sturdy. On the remainder shelf: 640K of RAM. Out of stock: bug spray. LinuxBS: Duck into this cozy nook for all your open-source community needs; the shop operates on the same principles as those pick-your-own-strawberries farms. And it's all free! Sample products: anti-l4m3rz keyboard, poison pens (for those charming letters to the editor), boy's Underoos with asbestos lining, bright shiny halos. On the remainder shelf: purple Kool-Aid. Out of stock: sense of humor. Yahoo/GeoCitiesBS: Shopping? Read the contract; you give your possessions to them. Sample products: other people's property. On the remainder shelf: good karma in the Net community. Out of stock: integrity, no deliveries scheduled. AmazonBS: Dammit, still not a real bookstore. Next! eBayBS: I'll give you a hint: Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz is a major eBay stockholder. Imagine a shop full of stressed-out online-auction addicts, each participating in a dozen vicious bidding wars. Now add caffeine. Sample stock: Beanie Babies, coffee beans. On the remainder shelf: more Beanie Babies, more coffee beans. Out of stock: self-control. A whole new perspective on e-commerce, isn't it? Now if you'll excuse me, I need to go; one of my online auctions is drawing to a close and I'm running dangerously low on caffeine. Obviously some "lifestyle environments" are more pertinent to the geek lifestyle than others.

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