First Microsoft store looks set to open

SCOTTSDALE, Arizona (Reuters) - Microsoft Corp’s first store looks ready to open in an upscale Phoenix valley city in the next few days, as the software maker takes its first step in trying to match rival Apple Inc’s successful venture into retail.

Expectations are running high that its first store, in the Fashion Square Mall in Scottsdale, Arizona, will open next week, to coincide with the launch of Microsoft’s new Windows 7 operating system next Thursday.

The site is still boarded up, but a peek through an open door reveals lights and shelving all ready for customers and a large, flat-screen display running along the walls.

Microsoft has so far been coy about its retail plans and a company spokeswoman would not officially pin down an opening date beyond “the fall.”

Chief executive Steve Ballmer teased reporters with an imminent opening on Friday, but also would not commit to a date.

“We’ll open a couple of stores, try to improve, open a couple more stores,” Ballmer said at a public appearance in downtown Boston.

“It’s very important for us to have a direct connection with the user,” said Ballmer, talking about the planned stores, which he said will be important for “showing the customer what you really can do.”

Microsoft unveiled its plan to open stores in February, in emulation of Apple, hiring a former Wal-Mart Stores Inc executive to run them.

In July, Microsoft’s chief operating officer said the company would open up stores “right next door” to Apple stores. The nearest Apple store to Scottsdale is several miles away in Phoenix.

Reporting by Tim Gaynor and Ross Kerber; writing by Bill Rigby; editing by Andre Grenon