Sunday, 10 April 2016

Buying online from the Microsoft Store

It's amazing how you can suddenly discover something new and useful, that you've never looked into before.

I was reading yet another Dell XPS 15 laptop review, and happened to look at the comments section that followed it. Now I've long been accustomed to take comments sections (and forums) with a big pinch of salt, whether it's to do with computing, photography, cars or even the sort of thing you'll find on Mumsnet. Worthwhile advice and wisdom, the kind that you might actually consider following, is usually in limited supply. Fortunately it's usually possible to discern which contributors are sane and sensible and know what they're talking about, and which have personality problems or are trolls pure and simple.

Anyway, one sane contributor (in response to a claim that all Dell products were junk, and full of problems) made a suggestion that made me sit up. He recommended buying the Dell XPS 15 not direct from Dell, but from the Microsoft Store. He added that you'd get it quicker too, because it doesn't have to be shipped so far.

Apparently Microsoft do not just sell their own Surface-branded goods in this Store of theirs. They offer a selected range of laptops from other manufacturers - HP, Acer, Lenovo, and Dell. These are marketed as their own Signature Edition. That means they are unpacked, checked and tested, stripped of bloatware and trialware, and then repacked for sale. They do this so that the buyer gets a machine that will run faster and provide the best possible Windows 10 experience, uncompromised by the manufacturer's own useless extras.

Thus an XPS 15 Signature Edition from the Microsoft Store would present me with Windows 10 as Microsoft want me to enjoy it. In this way they can showcase a 'pure' version of Windows 10 in all its glory.

Of course buying direct from Dell would be cheaper. The machine I have been thinking of - if bought direct from Dell - would presently cost me £1,599.00. The MS store will charge me £1,649.99. That's £50 more. Well, for that extra cash I apparently get an assurance that my new pride and joy will work faultlessly out of the box - it has to, so that Microsoft can do their stuff with it - and that all inessential (and irritating) third-party software will be fully (and safely) expunged.

A tested and well-sorted machine is naturally a very attractive proposition. Yes, I could spend time doing all that they do myself. Assuming the new toy comes with all correct bits and pieces - such as a mains cable - and starts up without issues, and keeps going, then in theory it's simple to uninstall anything one doesn't want. But in practice some of this unwanted stuff is tenacious, clinging on at a deep level. Or one hesitates, unsure whether it's completely safe to get rid of it. I'd rather leave a complete cull to experts.

Should I be cynical and suspect that the notion of a 'Signature Edition' is just a device to divert gullible customers to the MS Store and squeeze an extra £50 out of them?

Well, Windows 10 is still new enough to need promotion. It would make commercial sense for Microsoft to genuinely quality-check the goods sold, so that the hardware will unfailingly fire up and display their OS without glitches. And then purge the software, so that the customer gets a cracking Windows 10 experience. And becomes a thoroughly happy bunny willing to recommend the OS, and indeed the MS Store. So with this rationale in mind, I think I'll buy from the MS Store, and not Dell itself.

But another £50...oh well. I did say this is an eight-year investment. So, if the cost is spread forwards, it now becomes £206 per annum rather than £200.

The laptops offered by the MS Store can all be seen here:

And the link to the Dell XPS 15 in particular is here:

I'm also going to look carefully at the other Signature Edition laptops, just in case I've overlooked an equally-capable rival. Or one that has lesser power but would do. Microsoft's own Surface Book might deserve a second look too. I can do this in odd moments while on holiday, perhaps when having afternoon tea and cake somewhere.

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