Burnt orange blues

Matthew Valentine visits the EasyEverything Internet shop, only to find broken vending machines and unwieldy PCs. But what can you expect for £2 an hour?

The dawn of the new millennium has brought a few changes to the familiar TV ad break. Budgets appear to have been saved up for a new year blitz of “dot.com” ads. At least every other spot appears to be plugging an Internet service provider, PC manufacturer or on-line bank.

And those without a computer at home could be encouraged to surf the World Wide Web by one of the growing numbers of Internet caf̩s. These are nothing new Рreceiving Internet postcards from smug friends trekking in the Phillipines or recovering from hangovers in Thailand has lost its novelty. But these caf̩s look set to become the modern equivalent of the video rental shop, springing up on every street corner.

EasyEverything, a spin-off from budget airline EasyJet, is aiming to be one of the biggest providers of simple Internet access.

Its giant branch on London’s Tottenham Court Road has hundreds of computers and, with commendable commitment to its core business, not much else. There are no lattés or frapuccinos at EasyEverything, just lots of computers and chairs. Two drinks vending machines at the top of the stairs were out of order.

The chain has clear and obvious branding, created in-house – pretty much everything is white or bright orange. The computers themselves have neat flat screens sunk into the partition desks.

A lot of attention has been paid to branding at EasyEverything, but it doesn’t quite pay off as well as it should. The corporate orange should stand out on the street – but it doesn’t, because the equally orange Sainsbury’s is virtually next door. It looks like the future might, indeed, be orange after all.

And, inside, the reception area is too small, making the whole place look uncomfortably crowded and unattractive when there are actually a large number of free spaces in the upstairs computer area. This wasn’t helped on my visit by a continuous water leak from an air conditioning unit in the ceiling, which further reduced queuing space. Considering the amount of electrical appliances around, it didn’t make a very good first impression.

On the first floor, which has the constant buzz and typing noise of a large office, circulation between desks is hampered by columns, meaning getting in or out of the place when it is busy can be a bit of a chore.

And last Saturday was fairly busy, with a constant flow of customers taking advantage of easyEverything’s £1 per half-hour rate. This appears to be an economical way to get Web access, but not everything is simple.

Young male surfers abound, but I couldn’t see any of the older “silver surfers” we hear so much about. Maybe they were surfing at home – but anybody without rudimentary Web knowledge would have been stuck at EasyEverything. There didn’t appear to be any spare staff on hand to help those unfamiliar with a PC.

As a dedicated Mac user, I could have used the occasional pointer, especially when the terminal I chose decided it didn’t want to play ball. A full 30 minutes of trying resulted in successful, but slow, connection to a total of one website – even when I tried connecting to sites advertised on the screen. Moving to the next terminal solved the problem – and in half an hour I managed to open an e-mail account, check the latest design and marketing news and subscribe to an on-line gaming network.

EasyEverything? Yes, if you already know what you’re doing.

EasyEverything is located at 9-16 Tottenham Court Road, London W1.

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