IT WAS the giant paper clip. That was the first clue.
It came bounding up to me and without waiting to be asked, said: "It looks like you're spending some money. Can I help?"
This is Microsoft's new flagship store in Oxford Circus. Sat a few doors from the magical fairyland that is Apple's Regent Street store, it offers a very different proposition.
From the moment you walk in and are greeted by a giant video screen flicking between "Welcome to «city_name»" and a classic Blue Screen of Death (to get the oldies on side) you are bombarded with a world of retail innovation, the like of which you could hitherto only dream of - or in our case, still have to.
Perhaps what's most impressive is the fact that by the time you reach the store, three staff have been programmed to know exactly what you came in for, because Microsoft always knows what its users want better than they do.
This is augmented-silicon-shopping-as-a-service (or Ass-Ass).
Tucked over in the corner, there's a display of Windows Mobile products, covered by a heady mix of dust sheets and Wotsit crumbs. Even in death, it seems Kevin has a part to play here - this store has clearly been in the pipeline for a long time.
Perhaps the most disappointing thing, as a shopper, is the constant nag screens. They pop up from the floor, often narrowly dodging tripping you up, with helpful messages like "you are in a shop" and "remember, we'll need to restart your store between 2000-0800". Nobody likes pop-ups, and making them four foot high was just wrong.
Staffing levels were disappointing. We're told this was a teething problem in the opening week - the staff had been asked to use Bing Maps to navigate in, so they were screwed from the outset.
As for the products on show, the peculiar decision not to sell single items, but provide "roll-ups" of every product from each range may prove unpopular, but we're told it's to improve the experience.
Eventually, I shake off Clippy, find what I'm after, the other 14 things I had to buy with it, and made my way to the cash registers, which are currently down as their operating system has reached end-of-life.
It all becomes too overwhelming. I turn my heel and run towards the exit when a four foot pop-up warning me that it's important not to run for security reasons blocks my path. I fall straight over it, cracking my head.
I awake, back in my own bed. It was all a dream. This wasn't the Microsoft Store, it was all in my head.
Not surprising really - despite being a mid-tier professional tech title with (literally) millions of readers, nobody from the INQUIRER or our got an invite to the opening of the store.
We work really hard at covering Microsoft stories because we know it's one of the things you want to read - but our relationship with the company is patchy at best, and snubs like this, perhaps because we're honest about Microsoft's problems, rather than whitewashing them, are really stopping us from doing our best for you.
We had a moan when we found out and were told we were "welcome to pop down". Funnily enough, when the store was open to the public anyway.
We're not a group of journalists with a sense of entitlement. We're a group of London-based journalists that want to do their job. Being based in London, we thought we were well placed to cover this important launch, but we've been, from what we can see, deliberately obstructed, whilst overseas journalists were invited.
So, we're sorry. We'd already allotted this page to review the opening of the Microsoft Store. We couldn't. So we had to imagine it.
Working with the press is supposed to be symbiotic. Maybe it's time it was. We don't set out to write stuff like this. But if the plan was "they won't write smack about us if we don't invite them" then epic fail, lads and lasses, epic fail. μ
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