Windows Marketplace Open For Business


Windows Marketplace goes live today.

The online store for all things Windows-related launches from the Start button of Windows XP SP2, or from Internet Explorer 6. Or it can be visited at www.windowsmarketplace.com.

Actually, a preview of the service, announced in July, has been available for a few months. "This is a soft launch in that sense," Tom Button, vice president of Windows Client told CRN.

Microsoft is bending over backward to show third-party software providersmost of which compete with the companyas well as hardware and accessory makers that this is a vendor-agnostic service. Sales will transact through third parties, not through Microsoft, which will not take a fee, Button said. In addition, there is no fee for the vendors or resellers to participate.

"There's no transaction fee, none of that whatsoever. We'll find resellers and match them with buyers. We want to help them find each other. We are trying to remove friction out of the economy," Button said.

Reseller partners listed include Best Buy Online, CDW, Buy.com, PCnation.com, Office Depot and others. Some vendors, including Sony, are also selling wares via the site.

Analysts said the idea is sound, but Microsoft has to prove that it can be a good and trusted partner to third parties.

"It's a step up from what they offer today in terms of the Windows catalog, which hangs out on the Start menu, but I'm not sure people click on it," said Steve Kleynhans, vice president at Meta Group. "This is an attempt to take that bit of real estate and turn it into something of value, to try to create an ecosystem around Windows and its bits and pieces. Such ecosystems are critical to staving off incursions by Linux, [but] whether it's successful remains to be seen."

Rob Enderle, principal analyst at The Enderle Group, concurred. "The idea is good, a place where you can go to easily accessorize your purchase. It just needs to reach a point where it's more about the partners supplying those accessories and less about Microsoft itself before it is likely to be successful for either," he said.

In action the site is fairly straightforward. A user interested in security software, for instance, clicks on that category and gets a list of popular options. He or she could then select, say, Norton Antivirus and get a listing of nine resellers offering the software, along with their prices.

Button acknowledged that Microsoft has tried similar things in the past. The current Windows Catalog lists all sorts of Windows products but does not include an e-commerce component. The company also fielded shop.microsoft.com.

But, Button maintains, this is the company's first attempt to provide "a hub for the Windows industry, for thousands of vendor partners." The company claims to have 93,000 listings ranging from consumer software for "scrapbooking" digital photos to mainstream business applications, and from mice to enterprise servers. It offers 20,000 downloads, including 5,000 free trial offerings, according to Dee Dee Walsh, director of Windows Marketplace.

Walsh said the online store gives visibility to smaller companies that have difficulty getting physical shelf space in retail outlets.

"One of the big goals was to highlight the edges of the ecosystem, to show off niche products that are hard to get into retail. Things like bridal software, health software, Halloween software," she noted.

This is the first phase of a longer-term plan that hinges on the availability of the full Longhorn client operating system, Microsoft executives have said.

When that new operating system ships, it will include drastic interface changes that will add luster to the online store, they noted last summer. It was unclear, however, how the slippage of the WinFS file system from that client might affect those original plans.

"Our plan is to integrate with Longhorn and we're still scoping that out," Walsh said.

The official launch of today's Marketplace version will come Tuesday at Hollywood's famed Shrine Auditorium, where Bill Gates will also unveil Windows XP Media Center Edition 2005.