Last week was a big one for Microsoft (Nasdaq: MSFT ) . The Windows 7 launch went off smoothly by all accounts, and Redmond can start putting the Vista debacle behind it. "Good riddance," say many consumers, reviewers, and pundits. Also, the company reported stronger-than-expected earnings, and saw its stock pop in a way that would make any $250 billion company blush.
But that's not all. In the lingering desert heat of Scottsdale, Arizona, the first Microsoft-branded retail store opened. Some might say that Microsoft is desperately trying to duplicate the Apple (Nasdaq: AAPL ) store and its unquestioned success, and it's easy to dismiss this store as a simple copycat effort.
The critics may be right about the Apple-tinged inspiration, but Microsoft is putting its own spin on this one. Apple likes to keep its stores cool, clean, and uncluttered; Microsoft plastered the walls with high-definition screens, and there's a 94-inch screen hooked up to an Xbox 360.
The Apple stores are built to "simplify and enhance the presentation and marketing" of Apple products, and I think the keyword here is "simplify." From what I can tell, Microsoft is going more for the Vegas-style sensory overload and participation angle. In fact, the focus on eye candy and toys reminds me more of the Sony (NYSE: SNE ) outlet in Tampa's International Mall than the Apple store next door. That's probably no accident.
The first Microsofties reportedly lined up outside the store on Wednesday, and the line stretched out of the Fashion Square Mall by the store's opening time. Early buzz seems to be healthy, but that will fade away soon enough. I mean, CompUSA opening its first store in Tallahassee was big news at the time, and we know how that worked out.
I still think this is a smart move by Microsoft -- and the company is approaching the retail sector with brains and poise aplenty. David Porter, who runs Microsoft's new retail division, comes with decades of experience from retail giant Wal-Mart Stores (NYSE: WMT ) and Shrek creator DreamWorks Animation (Nasdaq: DWA ) , and he seems to have brought plenty of visual flair to this project. And Microsoft's portfolio of consumer products is wide enough that even a weathered old tech geek like myself should run into a surprise or two in this store.
By heading into its own smallish-format mall stores, Microsoft also avoids stepping on the toes of major sales partners like Wal-Mart and Best Buy (NYSE: BBY ) . If the Microsoft store concept crashes and burns, at least the company won't have burned any bridges with longtime friends and partners. It's worth a shot. Can't hurt, might help.
What do you think? Is Microsoft being stupid or visionary in Arizona? The comments box below is anxious to hear your thoughts and pass them on to Steve Ballmer.