New Microsoft Stores? Not With the Same Old Products

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For Microsoft Stores, success hasn’t been as simple as following in Apple’s footsteps.

The slick retail stores, of which there are eight across the United States, aren’t turning a profit, and according to Business Insider, Microsoft is in the midst of a heated internal debate on whether to open more locations. Microsoft Chief Executive Steve Ballmer reportedly likes the idea of matching or even surpassing Apple’s 300 retail locations — which may soon include an outpost in Moscow — but for now, the company is holding back.

I like the idea of a Microsoft Store. Even if the stores aren’t profitable, they provide a showcase for the company’s products, and allow Microsoft to put on display what it thinks are the best computers, phones and games.

But as it stands, Microsoft doesn’t have a whole lot to show. Windows 7 is a year and a half old, and on the surface it looks rather similar to Windows Vista. The Xbox 360 turned 5 years old in November. The Zune is pretty much dead. If Microsoft Stores are to draw a crowd, they need products that can do the same.

The company’s getting there. Kinect has been a huge success, and it’s exactly the kind of product that’s best seen in person. Windows Phone 7 deserves a showcase as well, even if the current batch of the hardware is mostly¬†six months old.

The real showstopper, however, will be Windows 8. Rumors suggest that the OS will¬†unify design elements from other Microsoft products, include forward-thinking features like file syncing across multiple computers and, most importantly, support tablets through an alternate user interface. It could be Microsoft’s most important OS since Windows 3.0.

Windows 8 is expected some time next year. Even if Microsoft doesn’t need a big retail presence now, it’ll certainly want it then.