Microsoft on Friday opened an online store for U.S. customers. The company already has online marketplaces in the United Kingdom, Germany and Korea.
The home page for the Microsoft Store features the Microsoft Xbox 360 hit Gears of War 2, but also offers various flavors of the Microsoft Office productivity suite. Microsoft also features the Zune and a small ad for Vista Ultimate.
"With this launch, our customers in the U.S. are able to buy first-party software and hardware directly from Microsoft, offered in a comprehensive online catalog," Trevin Chow, Microsoft's senior program manager, wrote on his blog. "On our store, you'll find products from many categories, ranging from Office 2007 Home and Student and Zoo Tycoon 2 to Xbox 360 wireless controllers and the new Zune with that cool Buy from FM feature."
Microsoft customers have two options: Order products online for shipment to their home or business, or, when the products are software-oriented, buy them on the spot and download them immediately.
Microsoft customers can pay for an Electronic software distribution (ESD) product the same way they would purchase orders for delivery online. However, once the payment is confirmed, they can download and install ESD products in minutes.
"There is no longer any need to pay for shipping costs and waiting for the big brown truck to drive across the country," Chow said. "You'll be able to enjoy your software almost immediately -- all it takes is the download time of the product, which will vary depending on the size of the digital download."
Pros and Cons of ESD
Buying and downloading digital files is not a foreign concept in the software market or the digital-music market. However, with software some consumers fear not having a backup on physical media to reinstall if the system crashes. Microsoft said its answer is re-downloads.
Microsoft lets customers re-download the product until mainstream support for the software ends, usually five years after the product is first released. Microsoft also grants permission to copy the downloaded products to physical media for those who don't want to take any chances, or who plan on using the product beyond its supported life cycle.
Chow points out several advantages of ESD buying. For example, he said, it offers consumers the advantage of perpetual storage of their product keys.
"For all ESD purchases on Microsoft Store, there is no longer any need to keep a software box, CD jewel case, or obscure e-mail around for future reference," he said. "Your product key is stored in your Microsoft Store account alongside your purchase history so you can use it to reinstall your software at any time."
Chow also said ESD is better for the environment. Finally, ESD makes things easier when an optical drive isn't easily accessible, he said.