News is out that Microsoft is going to start opening its own stores. (Seattle Times 12/2/09 or Mercury News, 13/2/09) Having hired David Porter, a 25-year veteran of Walmart, Microsoft wants to go down the Apple path to create a retail outlet to express, educate and sell its wares…

Personally, it seems like the right approach considering the big array of products that Microsoft can display and the need to harness its retailing power. However, they will have a long way to go catch up to the beauty of the Apple store experience as well as the 251 outlets that Apple already has up and running. Not that Apple is Microsoft’s sole worry. The challenge is quite large. Can Microsoft craft a store culture that is consistent with its brand culture? What hardware will they have to bring to life the look & feel? One interesting idea for Porter: use open source for creating the design! What about co-creating it with a designer or a sporting goods company? Niketown meets Microsoft. (Portland isn’t too far away from Seattle).

Meanwhile, there is Steve Ballmer, CEO of Microsoft, at a conference in Barcelona yesterday… looking awfully like a Jobs job, no?

This store idea is a bold initiative — but they should be able to find some good real estate at bargain basement prices these days. It will either be a landslide idea or a landmine depending on if Microsoft is able to create a sexy, well articulated store concept. Is a Walmart executive the best suited for that? Certainly, Porter has some exotic experience after heading up worldwide distribution for Dreamworks AnimationDreamworks Animation. But, he will have to mine his REM cycles to come up with a great store strategy for Microsoft.

UPDATED FEBRUARY 18, 2009: Ballmer’s presentation at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona (as pictured above) was to launch the second compliment to Apple in as many days. Microsoft announced its Windows Market Place, a virtual store in which mobile phone using the mobile Windows application (a paltry 20 million) can download applications — to copy if not combat Apple’s AppStore (you have to love the elegance of that name) which, launched in July 2008, has had 500 million applications downloaded for the iPhone and iPod Touch users. The title of Windows Market Place, which is slated for an autumn launch, is somewhat more clumsy. As much as Apple remains elitist and stiff in its approach, Microsoft just does not have the same “hacker” friendly community. And Windows certainly does not inspire the imagination or stir the emotion. The WMP may find its place, but it will likely be a slow grind.

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