Microsoft plans to open 75 new Microsoft stores in the next two to three years, massive expansion of its retail outlets for a company that abandoned an earlier store strategy a decade ago.
The software giant's chief operating officer, Kevin Turner, told the 15,000 attendees at Microsoft's 2011 Worldwide Partner Conference in Los Angeles that the stores have given the company tremendous insight into consumers.
"It's helping us transition from thinking about our customers to thinking like our customers," Turner said today in a speech that was streamed online.
A map of the locations show that many will be concentrated in the northeastern United States, California, and Florida. However, Turner said the company will begin to open stores outside the United States as well. Right now, there are 11 Microsoft stores open, all in the United States.
Of course, Microsoft is chasing Apple, which has more than 320 stores, including 86 abroad. Microsoft actually was once ahead of Apple on the retail front, opening its first retail store in 1999 at the Metreon shopping center in San Francisco. But Microsoft abandoned the effort, shutting the store a little more than two years later. After witnessing Apple's retail success, Microsoft revived the store strategy in 2009.
Turner, the resident flame-thrower at Microsoft, spent much of his speech ridiculing rivals in a bid to motivate Microsoft's partners. He started in early on Salesforce.com, which pioneered selling customer-relationship management software as a service, well before Microsoft ventured into the market. Now that Microsoft has a product in the market, Turner tweaked Salesforce Chief Executive Marc Benioff.
"We now have this humongous pacifier to stick in the mouth of Marc Benioff, and it's called Dynamics CRM Online," Turner said.
(After I posted a link to this story on Google+, Benioff replied to Turner's comments by linking to Wikipedia's definition for "phallic stage.")
Turner went after Google, too, saying with more than a bit of hyperbole that the press wrote off Office as a business when the search giant began offering Google Apps, its online productivity suite. With the launch of Office 365 two weeks ago, Microsoft's customers now have Web functionality with products previously tied to desktops and servers.
"Office 365 is nothing but a Google butt-kicker," Turner said. "That's all it is."
Then, Turner alluded to Google's transgressions with regard to customer privacy.
"Google is a company that has a mission statement to remind themselves not to be evil," Turner said. "We don't scan your e-mail. We're not snooping your Wi-Fi."
He laid into Oracle as well, criticizing the company's pricing and attacking the company's executives.
"Should our customers bet on Oracle? Let's look at the cast of characters and you make the call," Turner said as photos of Oracle Chief Executive Larry Ellison, President and Chief Financial Officer Safra Catz, and President Mark Hurd flashed on monitors around the arena to the amusement of attendees. "I don't even know what to say."
Maybe his most mild barbs came with regard to Apple, a company he acknowledged as being a "terrific competitor." But Turner criticized what he described as Apple's confusing developer pitch, showing a slide that called out the Mac, iPad, iPhone, iPod Touch, and Apple TV as five different platforms at the company.
"The ability to get one application to run across all five of those platforms is difficult," Turner said, though it's not clear that many developers have a desire to do so.
Of course, Microsoft has multiple platforms, too--Windows, Windows Phone, Xbox, and Internet Explorer among them. But Turner argued that Microsoft can unify its ecosystem in a way that Apple can't, and that it has the ability to enhance those products with cloud-based services.
Updated at 4:15 pm PT with Salesforce.com CEO Marc Benioff's response to Turner's speech.