The company is hiring Walmart veteran David Porter -- an expert at negotiating deals between the movie industry and the big-box retailer's expansive DVD sales division. Porter most recently worked at Dreamworks Animation, managing worldwide product distribution for their games and movies.
The stores apparently will be geared for sales and education about Microsoft's product line. Porter said, "I am excited about helping consumers make more informed decisions about their PC and software purchases, and we'll share learnings [sic] from our stores with our existing retail and OEM partners that are critical to our success."
If Microsoft is aiming to compete with Apple on a retail level, they seem to be omitting a key part of Apple's retail success: Service. The Genius Bar is arguably the most crowded area in Apple retail stores, with every store booking appointments well in advance. A Microsoft service bar for both PCs and Zunes could be a very popular destination. If Microsoft stores can offer a competent service experience for the vast diversity of PC hardware, they might have something.
Microsoft has a 20,000 square-foot "Retail Experience Center" in Redmond, on the company's corporate campus. The Center is designed to show how Microsoft products can be used in every corner of a business' operations: from the loading dock to the reception desk. It's unclear if it will serve as the model for Microsoft's new retail initiative.