Microsoft has decided to pursue commercial stores, presumably these would be located in strategic markets and would allow consumers to purchase software and various PC accessories. While they are obviously borrowing the idea from Apple, it may prove difficult for Microsoft to execute.

The most obvious problem is that Microsoft is primarily a software company, so without some help from a PC vendor they won’t be able to offer you the kind of complete solution that you will find at your local Apple retailer. Amazingly enough, the $319 price-tag for something like Vista Ultimate gets you halfway to a Mac Mini, not mention most casual customers will likely need to upgrade their computer anyway to take advantage of the latest features Windows has to offer.

While Microsoft doesn’t necessarily need to get into the PC business to compete, it might be worth reconsidering a physical storefront in favor of a virtual one. The iPod Touch and iPhone offer easily installable applications from the App Store, maybe this model could also work for the largest vendor of commercial software?

…what if you could visit the Microsoft Store from your Windows computer?

Rather than ordering a copy of Microsoft Zoo Tycoon 2, what if you could visit the Microsoft Store from your Windows computer? The installer would integrate with the existing Add/Remove Programs screen, users could simply find software they would like to have and click the Buy Now to automatically download and install the program onto their computer

You wouldn’t have to wait for the CD/DVD to arrive in the mail. Larger titles may take a bit longer to install, but this would also make it easy to break these out into separate downloads. For example, instead of buying Microsoft Office you could pay $25 to install Microsoft Word and maybe decide to buy Microsoft Excel a few months later.

The software distribution model is changing, and Microsoft is still heavily reliant on a legacy shrink-wrap strategy. Consumers today simply download programs they want over the Internet and install them on their desktops. Many competing operating systems take advantage of this paradigm, in particular the Add/Remove capability of Linux based operating systems like Ubuntu make new software installation a streamlined process.

Add ProgramsForget about all the Vista bundles, sell a single version of the operating system and let the users purchase the additional modules they need. So you want a Media Center on your Vista install? Go to Add/Remove Programs, select Media Center for $50 and click “Buy Now”. If you are in a corporate setting with an MSDN subscription, this can integrate with your Windows Live ID to provide seamless installation support for any Microsoft product you are licensed to use.

While the Windows Server environment may not benefit as much from this model, a Windows workstation clearly benefits from some kind of upgrade path. Forget about selling boxes of software in an expensive storefront, offer Windows users an electronic shopping experience that allows them to upgrade Vista for anything new they might want.