St John Karp

Ramblings of an Ornamental Hermit

Adventures at the Microsoft Store

A Descent Into Hell

Village of the Damned
Helpful staff down at the Microsoft Store

I’ve met Microsoft employees before at parties. Microsoft is the kicked puppy of the computing world — the company everyone can dump on. But when I meet Microsoft employees I always wonder: who do they mock? It turns out they will spend hours complaining about Oracle, for whatever good it does them considering the general public don’t know the first thing about Oracle. Like an abused child, Microsoft employees have to find someone lower on the food chain to abuse in return. Oracle is Microsoft’s pet cat that turns up half-buried in the backyard with burn injuries while Microsoft strolls by whistling innocently.

But this isn’t about Microsoft’s office employees — this is about the staff who man Microsoft’s new Apple-style stores. I was dragged to the one in San Francisco by a friend and I discovered for myself. Microsoft staff are just as creepy as their damned operating system. Windows is restrictive and interfering, like a helicopter parent, constantly asking and notifying and prompting and confirming. Microsoft must think this is a friendly approach to computing, because it’s obvious they’re training their staff the same way. I would have thought they’d learnt their lesson from Clippy, the annoying paperclip which used to pop up with unwanted advice for Word users. Apparently not, because Microsoft has populated their stores with human(oid) Clippies — needy, desperate for affection, and thoroughly unwanted.

The stores themselves look all right, if you like that kind of thing — all the sleek and colorful modern design. Of course the company that pioneered that look is Apple, what with their “genius bars” and staff with bright, solid-color t-shirts who are too hip to give you the time of day. Microsoft has ripped off the design of their stores directly from Apple, giving the place a weird echo of somewhere else you didn’t want to be. Walking into a Microsoft store is walking into an alienating copy, like suddenly discovering you have an evil twin that you’re 98% sure is going to kill you and take your place.

But if I thought that Apple employees were cold and unhelpful, I was about to find out that the alternative is worse. Everyone at the Microsoft store is brimming with overeager excitement, as if someone had transplanted a puppy-dog’s brain into a human body. They are SO glad to see you and SO excited by what you’re wearing and SO keen to make sure you have a GREAT DAY. And like locusts, one Microsoft employee turns into two, and three, and then Biblical plagues of them descending upon customers whom they can pick clean and devour to the bone. I couldn’t take two steps without bumping into another human Clippy who had to engage me in a whole conversation. And then I realized — there were no actual customers in the store. The place was packed, but they were all people who worked there, all staring at me expectantly, desperate to meet my gaze, all smiling, all grateful for the opportunity of spending a second in my presence.

I shuddered. My skin didn’t stop crawling until I got the hell out of there. It was like Village of the Damned. I was surrounded by uncanny parodies of human beings. These are the kinds of people who are forced to smile for eight hours a day until they snap and go postal with a semi-automatic weapon. All I can urge you is, don’t be there when it happens. Steer clear of these pile-ups of human wreckage. It’s not a pretty sight.