Visiting Japan is a mind-blowing experience but once you have got over the crazy ways they do retail in general, Akihabara itself doesn't have much to offer IMHO.
The few unusual stores that are there are the ones the guide shows, like the discount test equipment/oscilloscope store (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XGPddaXFkXU). Sure they are kind of cool but most of it is just regular electronics at prices that were not competitive.
The internet really changed things - Akihabara was the place to buy unusual and rare electronics but the chances are you can buy anything you see in Akihabara in the US via the Internet, at a cheaper price point. I'm sure you can buy those second-hand oscilloscopes at similar discount prices via specialized online retailers.
Do check out the video of the labyrinth 'department stores', which are buildings full of small vendors (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZKmwIBfT5U4). I used to visit buildings like that in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia that were several levels just full of pirated software - all dark and full of neon, it was like something out of Blade Runner.
Roll-up shutters to lock-up style units with all this software on the wall - patrons would just pick off the wall the names of the software they wanted (Windows, MS Office, Photoshop, etc) and some kid would run off and bring them the disks at $1 a pop. Every now and again one of these units would be selling noodles or soup or pot-stickers.
But again, the Internet has disrupted that market and you don't see them as much (http://ahcheo.blogspot.com/2009/06/todays-imbi-plaza.html) - I guess because if you are interested in obtaining pirated software you can do it via Bit Torrent.
Speaking of fake stuff, check out the "Mac Store" in Akihabara: http://www.flickr.com/photos/dotben/53700249/
This photo, http://www.flickr.com/photos/dotben/53699076/, also reminded me that if you do visit Akihabara go at night, when all the neon is lit!
Also, good advice in any part of Tokyo is to look up -- often, the ground-level stores are just the beginning of what's available.
Anyway, I've been taking friends from the US who visit me to Akiba for a while now and I have always given these disclaimers before going:
1.) In general, things will not be cheaper. This isn't Hong Kong. Here's the main reason why:
2.) Prepare to enter a world where the average consumer who is shopping there cares a lot about things you don't care at all about. Like Anime, plastic figurines and Nintendo Wii games.
3.) Any cool software or hardware that requires software will probably not be localized to english. Windows rules here and Microsoft makes a special version of windows for the japanese market. Maybe it's gotten better with windows vista or 7, I really don't know. That sweet netbook will be awesome for a Japanese person but you're about to enter a world of pain. Here's an example:
I had a friend visiting last week and he really wanted to buy a cool USB microscope that we saw there. I had to warn him that it might be impossible to get the drivers installed properly.
Another friend wanted to buy the new Jumbo sized Nintendo DS before it was released in the US but we asked the sales rep and he said there was no way to switch the UI to english. No sale.
4.) The main reason to visit Akihabara is if you are interested in Japanese otaku culture and want to understand it more. It's a trip. I recommend it. But don't go expecting to get a bunch of shit to bring home with you.
I don't know about XP, but with 7 (Ultimate, at least) there definitely isn't a "special version of Windows for the Japanese market". Japanese Windows is the same old Windows with a Japanese localization pack installed and enabled. You can go into the settings and change it. This is why when you install Windows 7 Ultimate, you get a ton of optional updates that are a bunch of language packs (there are ~25-30).
> That Apple has a store in Ginza but not Akihabara says a lot I think
Actually that Mac Store is in Akihabara (here's a video I found randomly on the net of it http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bmmmaR5lAxY) - perhaps there is another one or it moved (that photo is from a few years ago).
> That sweet netbook will be awesome for a Japanese person but you're about to enter a world of pain
Yup, I used to own a sony vaio netbook that I bought in japan way ahead of the netbook craze, and yes all the keys were in Japanese. I managed to get it working though, but I've since moved off of Windows completely.
In a city, anyone with a web browser could do geocoding (address -> longitude/latitude) anyway.
Is there some military/criminal application? E.g. to stop automatic targeting or to hinder automatic GPS on cameras from kidnapped people?
Among 100+ stores over 6+ levels, there may be 20+ with very similar inventories. Why does this provide a win for sellers or customers, over a smaller number over stores with larger and more unique inventories?
Japanese culture seems to have become dominated by consumption, whereas China still has a big thing for production.
Will have to visit the hacker space next time i get the funds together to visit :)