But the Redmond, Wash., firm is mostly trying to crack the problem Apple was facing when it got into the retail business in 2001: The merchandise doesn't get the best presentation in other stores such as Best Buy or Walmart.
In too many outlets, the computers on display are either stuck behind store screensavers or exhibiting all the junk software preloaded by manufacturers. Good luck finding more than one or two Xboxes to play with. If there are any Windows Phone 7 smart phones in sight, you can't count on being able to turn them on. And in-store tech support? That will cost extra.
The Microsoft Store rewrites that retail script. The hardware on display, including a variety of non-beige-box computers from such vendors as Acer, Asus, Dell, HP, Lenovo, Samsung, Sony and Toshiba, is all powered up, online and ready for you to try. Everything seems clearly labeled; for once, the price tags of laptops uniformly list their weight and estimated battery life.
The free Wi-Fi and stools in front of each display table invite you to spend some time. So do distractions like the video walls lining the store, the bank of Xboxes on which you can try new games and the interactive tabletops running Microsoft's Surface kiosk software, on which you can play simple games and look up nearby shops.
Another rarely seen Microsoft venture receives a prime placement at the front of the store: "slate" tablets running its Windows 7 desktop operating system. That's a curious choice, considering how poorly slates have sold.
Software and peripherals line the edges of the store. The selection invites speculation about where Microsoft thinks those businesses are heading: Xbox titles vastly outnumber Windows productivity releases, and conventional digital cameras are absent.
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The attractiveness of the store's pricing varies. All of the peripherals I checked could be had for less elsewhere - a similiar situation prevails in Apple's stores - while Microsoft matched or beat other outlets' prices on three of four computers.