A visit to Microsoft's first store

A visit to Microsoft's first store

Summary: Microsoft's new stores are an almost exact copy of Apple's. And they didn't do too badly. See for yourself.


Leaving the high desert mountains for a day I went Scottsdale's Fashion Square mall, where the world's first Microsoft no, make that Windows store opened. [For more photos, see my Gallery Tour.]

That's right, the logo on the store isn't Microsoft. It isn't even the wavy Windows flag logo. It is a newly styled Windows logo.

Microsoft store logo

Microsoft store logo

That's how you know this isn't your father's Microsoft. It's way different -- sleek, colorful, stylish, modern -- just like an Apple store.

The setting Set in the middle of the upscale mall -- Scottsdale is part of the Phoenix metro area -- that doesn't house an Apple store. Good thing, too: shoppers might get confused.

The similarities: white façade surround; large glass windows; spare modernist interior; T-shirt clad employees; stylish hardware. Even the occasional "it just works" tagline. Except for the color logo on the façade and the dark wood table tops and you could be in a Apple store.

Which is not a criticism. Apple stores are nice. Congrats to Microsoft's team for ditching the brown Zune difference-for-the-sake-of-difference impulse.

The store The store was busy at one o'clock on a Thursday afternoon. No one bothered me as I came in taking pictures.

The most striking non-Apple feature of the store is the row of thin bezel displays along each side wall. They display graphics, advertising messages and video, including some Xbox output.

Another difference: several of Microsoft's Surface computers placed around the store. These large screen touch sensitive displays are impressive for their responsiveness and ease of use. Think giant iPhone.

At the back of the store is a small theater area - just like at Apple stores. In front of that is Microsoft's version of the Genius Bar.

The goods The merchandise choices are well chosen. The slim, stylish and colorful notebooks are a welcome change from the chunky gray, heavy, notebooks on display at Wal-Mart and Best Buy.

Three rows of tables displayed hardware from Dell, HP, Sony and Lenovo. I also saw a Flip camcorder and colorful pink and red netbooks.

Colorful computer bags and accessories are displayed as well. The overall effect suggests quality, not price, drove product selection.

The help I was looking at a Sony notebook with a textured surface when a store associate asked me if I had any questions. I asked which version of Windows would he recommend I buy to run a video editing app on my Mac?

He had no idea about Mac and Windows but that he would find someone who did. The first person he asked also had no idea so they led me to a nice Answers lady.

She correctly outlined 3 ways I could run Windows on Mac. OK, and which version of Windows 7 would be appropriate for video editing?

She said Windows home basic. No extra features in the higher-end versions I'd want? No, for only running a program Windows 7 home basic is all you need. She didn't try to upsell me to a more expensive version.

A 2nd opinion A noncombatant in the computer wars thought the 2 stores looked alike, but that the Apple store had a cooler vibe - not as hard sell. After 3 can-we-help-you's at the Windows store she went to a Pottery Barn to relax.

I'd chalk it up to a brand new staff eager to prove themselves. They'll figure out what works, given time.

The Storage Bits take The first Windows retail store is an impressive effort. Sure, they stole freely from Apple, but why not? Few civilians will notice or care about the similarities - unless the stores are in close proximity.

That's when the price differences between Windows and Mac hardware will be most obvious. Stylish Macbook, $999. Stylish Sony, $799. Many a suburban breadwinner will wonder what the difference is. Apple will have to tell them.

The Windows stores are aiming at the mass-market end of the Apple demographic. Soccer moms and small business, not students and designers.

That's the core of the MS strategy: to fuzz the difference in the consumer's mind between Microsoft and Apple. Except, of course, any price difference. "We're as good as Apple, only cheaper!"

Apple is firing back. "#1 in customer satisfaction" the latest ads proclaim. They're also targeting XP users who face a tough upgrade to W7. With Grand Central Dispatch and OpenCL they're positioned for the future - as long as they can deliver obvious "wow!" to consumers.

The winners are us, the consumers. Microsoft can't illegally crush Apple the way they did Netscape 15 years ago. They have to compete on the merits. And Apple will have to work harder to tell its story.

Let the games begin!

Comments welcome, of course.

Topics: Apple, Microsoft, Operating Systems, Software, Windows


Robin Harris has been a computer buff for over 35 years and selling and marketing data storage for over 30 years in companies large and small.

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  • I missed an explanation as to why...

    I should shop there.

    "Three rows of tables displayed hardware from Dell, HP, Sony and Lenovo."

    The big chains sell those already. Why would I go to a Windows store to buy Dells, HPs, Sonys and Lenovos, when there are several sources for those same computers running Windows?
    • People will shop here...

      ...for assistance. The average consumer may not
      know what's available or what they need. Can
      you ask Walmart which version of Windows you
      should buy? No, you get whatever comes in the
      box. Have a question about which computer is
      better for video editing - forget it. Everybody
      here knows how many phone calls they get from
      friends and relatives - while they are standing
      in the store - asking which whatever they
      should get.

      Yeah, the HP at the MS Store might be $50 more,
      but if they do it right many will pay it for
      the peace of mind they'll get talking to
      knowledgeable professionals - IMHO.
    • You're not too sharp.

      They aren't selling Dell, HP, Sony, and Lenovo... they are selling Windows. Duh.

      Plus, All the PCs that you can buy at the Microsoft Store are branded as Microsoft Signature PCs. Microsoft Signature PCs do not come with all the crapware that you traditionally get with a new PC purchase.
      • Brilliant

        "They aren't selling Dell, HP, Sony, and Lenovo... they are selling Windows. Duh."

        So if you buy a certain machine from Sony with W7, then you buy a Sony. If you buy the same model from the MS store with W7, then you are buying Windows.

        I can see you have it all figured out.
        • It really doesn't make sense...

          Windows needs to be sold? Its sold on every computer in every outlet. Sure you can't ask the Walmart people about which computer to get but you can at Best Buy, Fry's...etc. If anything I think MS is helping out the competition here. What they had going for them is that the masses saw Windows as a part of any computer. They were inseparable. Now if you teach them that Windows is an OS on a computer it opens the door for exploration of other options.
          • Interesting perspective (nt)

          • Yes, Windows needs to be sold.

            Just because it doesn't make sense to you doesn't mean its illogical. Your comment just goes to show how little you understand about marketing.

            And if you think marketing is pointless please look at the iPod phenomenon.

            Microsoft needs to sell Windows because for too long they have let their competitors define what Windows is to the public.
          • Shhh!

        • Over your head by about a mile

          The more you post the sillier you sound. I'm not sure if it is intentional or not on your part but the point I was making flew over your head by about a mile.
          • Did it occur to you that

            it was the point you were TRYING to make, but actually did not make, that is the problem. In order to make a point you have to learn to write first.

            I will put my posts against yours any day, so the silliness is yours.
        • Honestly...

          If what he said is true. Getting a computer at the Microsoft store, you
          buy one without the crapware that bogs many pcs down, would be a
          plus. Now if it comes with actual install media (read disks) rather than
          the stupid "recovery partition", that should turn enough heads to make it
          a viable option. Also having someone that you can talk to face to face is
          always a good thing. I get sick of talking to some idiot in India. They lie
          about being in India, but the accent is so thick, you can tell.OKay that is
          not a problem limited to Microsoft, but having actual technicians that
          speak proper english (proper American English), will only improve the
        • Exactly

          The power behind Microsoft's marketing and business strategy is that they effectively partner with tons of different companies and vendors. I laugh whenever I look at the overinflated prices of Macs and wonder why people are so intent on paying so much more. The best part of owning a Mac is being able to use Final Cut Pro. The best part about using a PC is .... well, everything else.
          • My take...

            is different. The best part about Mac is the hardware and design
            intergration. Another thing is being able to run almost any OS I choice,
            including Windows if I wish. Plus I would argue no viruses, and the Unix
            Certification. All the software is just icing on the cake. This comes from
            a guy who switched from Unix/Linux.
      • So Microsoft is selling computers...

        with No OS ??? :)

        "Microsoft Signature PCs do not come with all the crapware that you traditionally get with a new PC purchase. "
        • Re: mrlinux

          No bias here to see; Move along!!
          Seriously, just what are you doing in this thread?
          • Just trying to add a little humor...

            I know very little, but people are just a little goofy over this Microsoft store thing. Why not just wait and see how it does, who knows it might be a good thing for Microsoft :)
          • I thought you were serious

            ....and that they weren't installing linux on the Signature Edition PC's. :P

            (Just kidding, I'm OS agnostic {That is, I don't believe in the ONE TRUE OS, be it Linux, Mac, Windows, or AmigaOS}, and just poking fun.)
          • I appreciated your humor. Brought a smile to my face. (NT)

            No More Microsoft Software Ever!
          • @No More Microsoft Software Ever!: You thought it was funny?

            Who'dda thunk it?
      • Your right he's not...nor is his agenda...nt