Microsoft first announced its plan to enter the retail arena back in February, when it hired Wal-Mart veteran David Porter. Now, during a keynote speech at the Worldwide Partner Conference, Microsoft chief operating officer Kevin Turner has confirmed they are on track to open the stores in the fall timeframe, with at least some of them to be located next to existing Apple stores.
He also said Microsoft wouldn't be imitating Apple but rather innovating with the new stores - exactly how was not mentioned. Earlier this year, Microsoft officials said the stores would be more about building Microsoft's consumer brand and demoing newer technologies - like Windows 7 and the Zune - than making them a cornerstone of its sales and distribution strategy as with Apple.
Indeed the software giant has had a much bigger focus on the entire distribution chain, so just going into direct competition with its partners wouldn't make much sense. Perhaps the proximity to Apple stores is meant for users to compare prices themselves, which would be consistent with Microsoft's latest advertising strategy, or maybe they'll just showcase upcoming products from partners and their own to build up hype. We'll just have to wait and see what exactly Microsoft's plans are.