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2/7/2013
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Microsoft Woos Consumers With New Retail Plans

Microsoft pop-up stores didn't lift ultrabooks or Surface RT to holiday success, but the company hopes additional retail locations will help Windows 8 catch on with consumers.

6 Reasons To Want Windows 8 Ultrabooks
6 Reasons To Want Windows 8 Ultrabooks
(click image for larger view and for slideshow)
In 2011, Microsoft revealed its intention to open 75 retail locations by mid-2014. On Tuesday, almost 19 months later, the company announced it will be opening five more North American locations, meaning it should be a little more than halfway to its original goal by this summer.

The new stores continue Microsoft's ramped up effort to connect with consumers. The company is not in imminent danger of losing its longstanding foothold in the enterprise, of course, but with tablets, smartphones and the BYOD phenomenon muscling into spaces once occupied exclusively by Windows, Microsoft knows that relationships with end users are increasingly important. Its holiday pop-up stores were one effort to cultivate such relationships.

Microsoft no doubt hopes that retail locations will help foster enthusiasm for Windows 8 devices. Many predicted Windows 8 would galvanize the slumping PC market, and although the new OS's launch roughly matched that of its market-leading predecessor, hardware sales haven't seen the predicted boost.

[ One man's vow: Windows 8: Why I Won't Upgrade. ]

New, possibly more compelling devices are on the way, however. The upcoming slate includes not only the much-hyped Surface Pro but also ultrabooks that could, if the advertised specs of Intel's next-gen Core processors pan out, boast tablet-like battery life and even thinner designs.

By showcasing its wares in intimate, inviting retail settings, Microsoft is reaching toward Apple's wildly successful model. Indeed, the vast majority of Microsoft's holiday stores were installed in shopping centers that also included an Apple location. Some have questioned whether Microsoft is too closely mirroring its Cupertino-based rival, which recently secured a patent for the design and layout of its stores. It remains to be seen whether consumers will think Microsoft's new stores are as original and appealing as Apple's. Microsoft has spent a fortune trying to market Windows 8 devices as cool and cutting edge, and such efforts will certainly be hampered if buyers see new retail locations as derivative.

Microsoft currently operates 29 stores in the United States, as well as other locations in Canada and Puerto Rico. The quintet of new locations announced Tuesday will join six other forthcoming sites announced in December. Several of the new locations are holiday stores that have been upgraded to permanent status, and Microsoft, showing that it might be keen to convert more of the temporary pop-ups, has stated that the majority of the holiday installations will continue to operate for at least the near term.

The 11 new stores should be open by this summer. They will be located in Beachwood, Ohio; Honolulu, Hawaii; Miami, Fla.; Natick, MA; Portland, Ore.; Salt Lake City, Utah; San Antonio, Texas; San Francisco, Calif.; Schaumburg, Ill.; St. Louis, Mo.; and Troy, Mich.

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