microsoft is generous

My workplace is offering the Microsoft Home Use and Employee Purchase Programs, so I thought I’d sign on for discounted prices and ease of ordering. What I found instead – and why was I surprised? – was one of the most poorly thought-out and consumer-unfriendly websites I’ve ever dealt with. I don’t generally buy Microsoft products online, so perhaps the Employee Purchase Program is the shitbin of the great Gates/Ballmer widget factory, a version of bargain shopping where all the products are heaped indifferently on pallets and the most useless employee in the whole company stands on guard behind a cash register, able to punch in numbers and shrug dully at your questions.

Even from the start it seems that Microsoft is not interested in your business. The sign-in page is buggy and borked, refuses to acknowledge the information you’ve input, then sends you through anyway to a broken version of the site. That’s right: you can still get into the EPP site even if you haven’t filled out all the required fields. Maybe some hacker could make hay of this kind of crappy broke-code security, but all it did for me was provide several minutes of sheer confusion as the page kept prompting me for my country of origin and preferred language but neglected to provide any fields where I could enter this information. Eventually I realized that Microsoft had “forgotten” the information I initially provided, so I trudged back to the sign-up page, tried three more times, and then got through.

I tried to come up with a real-life equivalent to this experience that makes any kind of sense, but any scenario I wrote down just felt Chaplinesque. I’ve got a great comparison for the experience of actually shopping on the EPP site, though. Imagine that you’re Indiana Jones, and you’re searching for some priceless treasure, let’s say a magical golden spittoon that can vanquish your enemies, but after you’ve outwitted the Nazis and crossed the Bridge of Snapping Towels, you get to the sacred Spittoon Chamber, where you find a homeless man whose only power is farting “You Are My Sunshine” for spare change. I can think of no other way to describe site features such as the “Entertainment” category, which offers “the stuff that you really want”. I did not know that I really wanted Zune accessories for the whole family. Thanks, Microsoft.

Or maybe it’s not as bad as I’m making out. Even though the product selection is limited and the site is so buggy that it would probably leak your credit card information into the void and airdrop your purchases into the Pacific Gyre, at least it offers a discount on popular software and hardware. I brought up the Future Shop site to see how jim-dandy the deals were. Under the Employee Purchase Program, I can buy an Xbox 360 bundle (no info on what the bundle contains) for $399.99 Canadian, which is a discount of, let’s see, -$50.00. That’s right: I can buy an Xbox 360 on Future Shop for 12.5% less than Microsoft’s generous discount.

The real deals come with items like Windows Vista Home Premium, which goes for $119.68. That’s an insanely good deal over Future Shop, which is selling the same product for $250. May I delicately point out, though, that even the best deal on a one-tonne crate of strontium-laced pigshit is no deal at all. Scratch that: radioactive pigshit, whatever its shortcomings, will probably run your computer more efficiently than Vista.