the microsoft store

It looks like an Apple Store, filled with eager employees in brightly colored T-shirts. Laptops, smart phones and MP3 players are arrayed on modern tables for anyone who wants to try them out. There's even a desk in back where people can walk up and get expert technical help.

But the similarities between the Apple Store and the Microsoft Store begin to fade at the cash register — or at least they did one recent Saturday afternoon at the Shops at Mission Viejo mall.

Over a half-hour period, 19 people walked out of the mall's Apple Store carrying purchases in one of the company's signature white bags. By comparison, just three walked out of the nearby Microsoft Store with merchandise.

The survey may not have been scientific, but it reflects what analysts say is the challenge Microsoft Corp. faces in taking on Apple Inc. in America's shopping centers.

"The Microsoft Stores, it seems so far, lack the same cool factor as the Apple Stores," said Phil Baker, an independent technology analyst and consultant in Solana Beach, Calif. "It's not entirely clear as to what the goal of the Microsoft Stores is, but it doesn't seem to be as much about sales as it is about building the brand."