Talk about biting someone else’s style. Not only is Microsoft (s msft) trying to add some cool factor to its brand using celebrity influence, a game which Apple (s aapl) has long had in the bag, now it’s also opened its first official brick-and-mortar retail store, and it even just began offering PC hardware for sale via its online store. Next thing you know, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer will be wearing black turtlenecks.
A revamp of the web site is part of the Windows 7 launch campaign, and it includes a brand new store that stocks more than just software. You can now purchase a range of Windows 7-toting computers from HP (s hpq), Acer, Dell (s dell), Lenovo and Sony (s sne), which are the real heavy-hitters in the PC arena. You can also pick up a single desktop, a Lenovo A600 all-in-one. Selection seems slim, but Microsoft is being a good copycat and not overwhelming consumers with an overabundance of choice.
All of the computers available on Microsoft’s web site come in stock configurations only, with no customization options beyond the ability to choose a color on select models. Users looking for more in the way of upgrades should still continue onto the manufacturer’s web site to order their machine, but Microsoft isn’t playing to that crowd. Instead, it’s aiming at first-time buyers or people with little to no computer expertise who just want the buying process to be as simple as possible.
And if you’re not too keen on the fancy new Internets, you can always take a trip down to Scottsdale, Ariz., where Microsoft today opened its first retail store. Here’s Microsoft’s own description of what it’s like, since I’m a little out of reach of the Scottsdale area:
As soon as you enter the store, there are laptops on large cedar tables, with seating so shoppers can sit and tinker. The walls are lined with giant LCD screens that envelop the space with landscapes and product images designed to create interest and spark curiosity. Below the images, stylish all-in-one PCs are set up with Zunes, Xboxes, headphones and widescreen displays, showing how all the items work together to create a multimedia experience.
Toward the back are laptop bags and an array of software titles before you turn the corner and reach a veritable mecca for Xbox enthusiasts — a gaming zone featuring a 94-inch widescreen, with immersive sound, seating and an array of controllers to play with.
Sounds like the whole premise is designed more around showing, rather than selling, as early speculation suggested. Microsoft is clearly pushing the experience, rather than trying to sell the component parts. I’d say something snarky about how this points to a lack of imagination on the part of your average PC customer, but being Mac users, I’m sure we can all come up with much more creative snark on our own.
All of this image and distribution re-imagining on Microsoft’s part is great news for one company: Apple. There’s no better sign that you have your main competitor on the ropes than when it resorts to parroting your moves. All Apple needs to do is continue to set the trend, and watch as Microsoft tries to follow it.