Microsoft's First Retail Store Opens (Like Apple Store With More Colors)

You've seen the mockup of the Microsoft Store, now step inside for a look around the real thing. We asked Phoenix-area stringer Dennis Tarwood to head over to the snooty mall and check things out. Here's what he experienced:

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I'm in Scottsdale today to visit the off-Broadway tryout of a Microsoft store. (MSFT goes to the big city next week when they open in Southern California. As you can see from the photos, it bears a haunting resemblance to Apple Stores. (Despite Microsoft's desire to distance their retail outfit from that of Mr. Jobs, the fact is, they did hire one of the same designers as a consultant, among other things.)

Microsoft's First Retail Store Opens (Like Apple Store With More Colors)

Though Windows 7 starts belting out its big opening number today, we're here to see the whole show from Xbox to Zune. Still, the chanting before the store opening—as brought to us by brightly-shirted store employees—told us what today was: "Windows! Seven! Windows! Seven!"

Among those waiting in line were John Hernandez, an unemployed south Phoenix gentleman who jumped in line around 6 pm Wednesday and found himself in 23rd place. "I'm not much of a computer person," said John. However, he heard there might be free stuff, so he stuck out the night outside the Scottsdale Fashion Square Mall, and says he received food and drink from helpful Microsoft staff.

Most of the line, however, showed up this morning, including George Nesbitt. An IT third-shifter, he headed over around 7:00 am for the 9:30 am opening and found himself #134. Breakfast had already been served by 8:30 as energy bars and water kept the hardy-ish line nourished.

Microsoft's First Retail Store Opens (Like Apple Store With More Colors)

At 9:30, Microsoft COO Kevin Turner came out to bow and cut the ribbon, while another exec, David Porter, contented himself to stay out with the crowd and provide exhuberant high-fives to the team when the store flew open.

The store was touted as a local shop, just your Mom-and-Pop monolith in a town run by a former Wal-Mart exec. Towards that end, comically large checks with serious donations of $25k to $50k were presented to well-known local charities and partnerships announced, complete with training and software. (You'll hear $1 mil mentioned with one check, but most of that was software donation. Your charitable mileage may vary.)

Inside the store, though, a Southwest feel was curiously absent as sleek and stylish took the day. Entry into the left-hand side of the store greets you with one of a few Microsoft Surface tables scattered through the store, available to help you find the product you need or simply get your fingers virtually wet.

Microsoft's First Retail Store Opens (Like Apple Store With More Colors)

The only local touches that were visible were Arizona Cardinals-skinned hardware and Grand Canyon panoramas on the constantly-shifting screens lining the walls. These changing panoramas gave the store an unexpected sense of space and breathing room on a very hectic first day.

No product is left behind as laptops from numerous manufacturers always flank you from the right and Windows 7 and Media Center PCs cover the wall to your left. A kids section rests in the back left in front of the relatively few shelves of PC software (mostly games).

Center back yields to the Microsoft Answers Suite (not a bar), where Technical Advisors (not Geniuses—or Gurus) meet you to take your hardware in and make it well. One gentleman with a dead laptop and an Xbox in for its fourth replacement received more help from Microsoft today than most celebrities in a year.

Microsoft's First Retail Store Opens (Like Apple Store With More Colors)

Oh, don't rely on the store employees to be color-coded for your convenience. Microsoft Store employees are empowered to wear one of four colored shirts as desired, so you'll have to ask your Customer Advisor to direct you to your Product Advisor or your Technical Advisor. At least that's my advice.

In the end, it is an awful lot like an Apple Store, albeit one with Surface tables, Xboxes and more employee t-shirt colors. There's no shame in that to start with, though; there's certainly something to be said for building a show similar to the one that's doing gangbusters down the street before taking it out on the road.