Try to imagine you are Microsoft’s CEO, Steve Ballmer. You’re weary of Apple’s perennial coolness, and of the fact that Mac sales have been growing at a startling clip. Your company basically invented the tablet 10 years ago, but didn’t have the chutzpah to take it mainstream, and now Apple has built the most valuable company in the world on the popularity of mobile devices. You’re still essentially minting money, Windows 8 is just over the horizon, but a voice in the back of your head is nagging that something needs to change. Found in this position, you might direct all your company’s resources toward innovation, to creating fascinating new products the world can’t live without. Or, you could just start building Microsoft retail stores directly across the mall from Apple Stores. As Ballmer told Business Week recently, “Well, the traffic is going to be there, and we’ve got to beat them anyway.”

Microsoft currently operates 14 retail stores and is looking to quintuple that number over the next three years. Its stores feature separate areas for Microsoft’s core businesses: a living room setup with an Xbox and games, a Windows phone section, an area for mice and keyboards, and of course for ubiquitous products such as Office and Windows.

In Redmond, WA Microsoft has constructed an impressive 20,000 square foot “Retail Experience Center,” in which potential retailers are trained in the “new” art of Microsoft sales. According to the Business Week reporter who toured the space, displays range from a “disco-themed dance stage to flaunt its Kinect games to a giant-size Windows phone that can go on a wall.”

Despite what haters might say, Microsoft has had a pretty good year: record profits, a steady growth of Windows Phone adoption, and the recent disclosure that the Redmond O.G. of OS sold 535 million Windows 7 licenses since the OS’s introduction in 2009. To put some perspective on that whale of a number, Apple has sold about 40 million Macs in the same time period, in addition to roughly 280 million iOS devices. Google has seen 250 million Android devices activated. In other words, Microsoft has sold almost as many Windows 7 licenses as all Macs, iPhones, iPads, and Android devices combined.

Still, traditional desktop computing — the type of which Microsoft thrives — is now a shrinking market, rapidly being replaced by mobile. Retail seems a peculiar place for Microsoft to focus, given competitor Apple’s extraordinary success there, but Microsoft may have at least one advantage that it is loathe to admit: Its stores are currently less crowded than Apple’s.

“I was at the Apple Store in Union Square today trying to buy a MacBook Air,” a shopper told The New York Times. “The place was packed, as always. I finally got tired of waiting and used one of their MacBook Airs to order mine from Amazon and then walked out of the store.”

Image Credit: The Next Web