Windows 8: how not to sell it to me

The autumn 2012 issue of British Telecom’s TechKnow plopped through my letter box yesterday. The allusion in the publication’s title to what Wikipedia tells me is “repetitive instrumental music produced for use in a continuous DJ set” had me cringing rather than keyed up.

But ignoring my suspicions that TechKnow was the brainchild of some David Brent type* trying to be down with da kidz, I was lured in.

Who, after all, could ignore the attractions of a publication billing itself as “your indispensible guide to the latest technology for your business”?

Anyway, my indispensible guide to the latest technology for my business contains a five-page feature on Microsoft's new thingy, Windows 8. Here’s a typical extract:

Great new features and enhancements mean that road warriors can take their Windows 8 computers with them, confident that the built-in WiFi and mobile broadband solutions can help them stay connected whether they’re on-site with a customer, waiting for a flight or working from a branch office.

Built-in mobile broadband features in Windows 8 add support for 3G and 4G telecommunication, enabling business users on the go to connect to the Internet immediately. Windows 8 mobile broadband support can help businesses keep data usage costs low with built-in mobile broadband metering. As mobile users move between locations, Windows 8 automatically uses Wi-Fi hotspots, if they’re available.

So correct me if I’m wrong, but hasn’t my indispensible guide to the latest technology for my business just made me wade through two paragraphs and 106 words to tell me something that could be summed up in one sentence:

As with pretty much any computer nowadays, you can use wi-fi with Windows 8.

It's so out of touch and repetitive I wonder if it's been written by a robot specialising in search engine optimisation.

But worse, such blurbage does not instil confidence in the article’s assertion that: “Microsoft’s latest operating system gives us a glimpse into the future of technology in the workplace”.

Rather, it makes me think of Louis Armstrong’s response to the question “what is jazz?” (“If you have to ask you’ll never know”).

Microsoft, if you really think this stuff needs to be not merely said but laboured upon at length, it’s telling me you’ll never really get what the future of technology is.

At least amid the barrage of corporatese (it's full of “solutions”, “enhancements”, “enablings”...), we get that hilariously inflated term for travelling salesmen: “road warriors”.

For surely some pleasure is to be found in the unintended bathos of a sentence that begins with the machismo of “road warriors” and ends with the mundanity of “working from a branch office”.

The article continues.

Windows To Go is a cost-effective solution for alternative workplace scenarios. In Windows 8 Enterprise, IT administrators can provide employees with a corporate Windows image on a compatible USB storage device that includes line-of-business apps, settings, and corporate data. Off-site users can have a consistent Windows 8 experience on any Windows 7 or Windows 8 logo-certified corporate or personal PC. With Windows To Go, employees get a rich consistent, and personalized Windows 8 experience that’s as secure as a fully managed PC. When they shut down, they can remove the USB device and no data is left on the host PC.

Perhaps this text isn’t aimed at me. Perhaps it’s aimed at some IT administrator who understands the importance of corporate Windows images, line-of-business apps and logo-certified PCs.

But given TechKnow plopped, unsolicited, through my letter box asserting its claim to be my indispensible guide to the latest technology for my business, you’d think they’d have the manners to bear me in mind when writing this guff.

All I get from the above is “something on a USB stick helps you have a rich, consistent Windows 8 experience”. Whatever one of those is.

In fact, I was stumped at “alternative workplace scenarios”. Are these improv classes for Goths? HR services for homeopaths? Jobs for 1980s comedians down on their luck?

Intrigued, I Googled “alternative workplace scenarios” and found no use of this strange little phrase that didn’t refer to Windows.

So clearly some bright sparks at Microsoft are so pleased with themselves for coining “alternative workplace scenarios”, they’re on a mission to seed the world with it. So far, the world doesn't seem too impressed.

Here are some lessons to take away from TechKnow.

1. Keep your writing brief Banging on and on and on about a feature your customer takes as a given undermines their confidence in you. All in all, the above 208 words of corporate blah (which represent a fraction of the original article, by the way) do little to dispel the average punter’s sense that Microsoft is to Apple what Cliff Richard was to Elvis. Minus the intriguing personal life and endless supply of Portuguese wine.

2. Write for one reader (and know who that is) Did I mention the article included a side bar on “the new language of touch”, which details how to “move things on your screen comfortably” in a touch-enabled PC? The sort of thing even my dad (who once asked “what’s an internet?”) can get his head around these days. All very well but a little out of step with the rest of the text, which seems to be aimed at tech heads. Somewhere between the two, I, the business owner this guide claims to be aimed at, am a particularly ill-served reader.

3. Run your writing by an outsider Stuff that makes sense to you and your team might be impenetrable gobbledygook to those of us who don't talk like you. Best find out before you publish, eh?

*“Michael Scott type” for American readers.