We'll confess: When we heard CompUSA was keeping its stores open until 2 a.m. for the Vista launch this morning, we scoffed. Sure, we reasoned, people will show up at the locations where they're giving away free gadgets and food, and a visit from a pro football player will certainly draw more than your typical techie crowd. But we were convinced that every other store would be filled with the sounds of crickets chirping, accompanied by bored employees drumming their fingers on idle cash registers.
But when we pulled up to the CompUSA in Culver City (Los Angeles) at 11:45 p.m., the parking lot was mostly full, and about 35 customers were inside eyeballing the new Vista machines and other products on sale. Clearly we'd been hasty in our judgment, but the question still remained: A PlayStation 3 is one thing, but who shows up at midnight for an operating system?
"It's not that I was rushing to get it," said Laurence Hilman, an attorney and real estate agent who lives in the area. "I knew I wanted it, and I'm going to be busy in the next few days, so midnight was just a convenient time for me." Hilman, who was wearing a Motorola headset to coordinate with his Rizr phone ("I usually wear the Bluetooth sunglasses--they're a little more comfortable," he said), had one copy each of Vista Business and Vista Ultimate in his cart, along with two copies of Microsoft Office 2007.
Meanwhile, Carrie Ayon and John Stephenson had walked in the door and hurried directly to the row of laptops on display. "We're third-year law students. We'll be taking the bar in July, and we need a computer that won't crash," Ayon said matter-of-factly. "You take the bar on your own laptop, and it's a timed test, so I want a reliable computer that's really fast and with a keyboard that will let me type fast." Her laptop died a few weeks ago, and she's been waiting to replace it with a Vista machine; when we left her, she was testing the keyboard on the HP Pavilion dv6000t.
At 12:21 a.m., about 30 people were still in the store, though most had queued up to the registers. Two women sitting on top of a display of stacked printer paper looked bored. "I listened to that trainer talk about Vista, but I didn't understand a word of it," one of the women said. "We just came here with him," said the other woman, pointing to a man nearby who was paging through the store's sale ads. When asked if he'd be buying a computer tonight, the man shook his head. "No, we wanted to see Vista. We came to find out if our computer was compatible, but it's not," he said, his voice tinged with disappointment. Suddenly, he brightened. "But we'll get a new computer soon. It's 2007, and we're going all out!"
By 12:48 a.m., only a handful of customers were left in the store, and most of the employees looked ready to go home. David Justin, a technology trainer on hand to give demonstrations of Vista to curious customers, summed up the reactions he saw during the launch event: "People aren't that impressed," he said. "Those who are here because they want to be the first person they know to own Vista, and people who work in the technology field, they know what to expect. But for the common user--there was all this hype, but they get in here, and it just looks like XP. I'm sensing a bit of disappointment."
After making a few purchases of our own (not even Crave is immune to the allure of deep discounts), we left the store about 1:15 a.m. A handful of cars still sat in the parking lot, but the streets of Los Angeles were blissfully empty as we made our way home.