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Microsoft aims to match Cupertino's retail glitz

As it gets ready to launch its retail effort, CNET News has the skinny on what to expect inside Redmond's first shops.

Microsoft has been keeping rather mum on what to expect from its new retail stores, but sources tell CNET News to expect lots of flashy monitors, fancy PCs, Surface table-tops, as well as a giant display.

The outlets, which will be called simply the "Microsoft Store," closely resemble the mock-ups that leaked earlier this year, according to one source. They also borrow some of their design cues from Apple's retail outlets, including an "answer bar" that seems to closely mimic Apple's Genius Bar.

The stores will sell PCs from some of the leading brands, showcasing what Microsoft sees as some of the best models Windows has to offer, with mostly high-end models such as Dell's Adamo. However, there will be PCs in all price ranges, including Netbooks, sources said.

In addition to PCs, there will also be sections for other Microsoft products such as Windows Mobile and Xbox.

Microsoft confirmed its plans to enter the retail market earlier this year, hiring Wal-Mart Stores veteran David Porter to lead the effort. The software maker later said it would open two stores this fall, with more to come next year. The first two locations are in Scottsdale, Ariz., and Mission Viejo, Calif., and are both set to open this month, sources said.

In Mission Viejo, Microsoft will be in the same complex as one of Apple's stores.

The Microsoft outlets won't have cash registers, instead using handheld devices to ring up customers. There will also be lots of ways to personalize various products, according to sources.

Microsoft also has an online Microsoft Store that sells directly to consumers and is also opening a "Windows Cafe" in Paris on October 22--the same day that Windows 7 launches.

A Microsoft representative declined to comment on the retail stores beyond saying that the stores are on track to open on schedule.