RealTime IT News

Windows Opens Marketplace

Microsoft rolled out a beta version of Windows Marketplace, a one-stop online shop for everything from computer mice to enterprise sever software.

The online store, featuring content and information from CNET Networks, will be practically unavoidable: Microsoft will place it in front of its captive audience of Windows XP and Internet Explorer users. Consumers will be able to access the Marketplace from the XP Start menu, via "find a partner solution," while Microsoft plans to add a link to it in its Internet Explorer browser. The company will promote Windows Marketplace through a variety of marketing vehicles.

"They're going to be able to find more than 100,000 products that work with your Windows PC at launch," Will Poole, a Microsoft senior vice president, told attendees of the company's Worldwide Partner Conference in July. "They're going to have advanced searching tools, and browsing, try-before-you-buy features that are all going to make this process of finding, sampling, and adopting technologies for your Windows PC possible."

The Marketplace makes for some odd juxtapositions. For example, a search for Microsoft's speech recognition products places Speech Server 2004 Enterprise Edition ($16,773.56) right above the MS Voice Command package for PDAs ($29.12).

Shoppers can refine their searches by manufacturer, price range, by compatibility, retailer or whether there's a free shipping option. Consumers also can rate products and post comments.

CNET Networks, a San Francisco, Calif.-based online shopping and content company, will provide Windows Marketplace with pricing and product information for some 100,000 products. The information will come from CNET's existing databases, plus self-serve input from vendors.

Microsoft partners whose products have already received "Designed for Windows" certification can use Microsoft's Marketplace Listing Wizard. The rest can use tools on the CNET site.

"We had a close partnership with CNET and [CNET's] Download.com to get content into this," Poole said.

Neither CNET nor Microsoft executives responded to queries about whether CNET is actually hosting the Windows Marketplace.

Clicking on the "buy now" link takes shoppers from Microsoft's site to a retailer's; the third-party vendors handle the actual transactions. Neither company disclosed whether Microsoft will receive a revenue share or referral fee for sending business to vendors. CNET does receive fees when visitors click through from its own shopping site to merchants' sites and when CNET visitors download software.

"This is a great opportunity for CNET Networks to work with Microsoft to better serve our shared software developer and merchant customers by increasing the visibility of their Windows-compatible products before target consumer audiences," Barry Briggs, chief operating officer of CNET Networks, said in a statement.

But Aly Colón, ethics group leader for the Poynter Institute, a nonprofit, independent school for journalists, said the deal could harm the credibility of CNET's news site. He said a perceived conflict of interest for journalists reporting on a vendor with whom the publisher has a commercial relationship could harm credibility. "The best scenario is there is no relationship, no connection that people will perceive to be beneficial to either one or both parties," he said. "If there are some interrelationships, it's important to disclose those, so people will not find out about them in some other way."