Microsoft products on display at a store in Renton, Wa.
Microsoft products on display at a store in Renton, Wa. - 
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Kai Ryssdal: As you might have heard, the consumer part of this economy isn't the healthiest place right now. As a result there's a general tendency to be getting out of the business of running retail stores, not in. Unless you're Microsoft.

There's word out of Redmond, Wash. that the software maker is planning to roll out a chain of actual brick and mortar stores to gin up some product buzz and better connect with its customers. From the Entrepreneurship Desk at Oregon Public Broadcasting, Marketplace's Mitchell Hartman reports that's something Microsoft's been trying to do for a while now, with mixed success.

Mitchell Hartman: When you hear "Microsoft store" you instantly think "Apple Store." Brian Cooley is editor-at-large for CNET, says one key reason Apple's been so successful: it's showing off a unified line of cool products -- Macs, iPhones, iPods -- that it can hype, stock, and sell in a single trendy location.

Cooley says Microsoft, by contrast, has a huge grab-bag of products on its own and other people's machines.

Brian Cooley: Will they really have a thorough display of everything from Gateway, HP, Dell, all the accessories for the Zune, of course the Zune, the games that are on the XBox, the Xbox? It can get pretty exhaustive. They'll have to have a chain of stores the size of Best Buy.

And a big box store with everything on display in rows is not what'll create the "peak consumer experience" and take Microsoft's branding image to a new level. Marc Gobe runs Emotional Branding. He wonders whether Microsoft can break out of its own straitjacket in a storefront.

Marc Gobe: And so what I'm worrying about is, which image is coming through? Is it going to be the geek image that everyone associates with Microsoft?

CNET's Brian Cooley says shaking that image will be tough.

Cooley: I get nervous whenever I think of Microsoft trying to be cool. I mean, I would let almost anybody from Apple pick out my clothes for the day. I don't think I'd let anyone from Microsoft do that.

Microsoft wants to remind you, through its forthcoming stores, that you can get your whole tech wardrobe through them -- games, media players, major-label PCs, and all the software inside.

I'm Mitchell Hartman for Marketplace.