The company has hired former Wal-Mart executive David Porter to lead the effort. "There are tremendous opportunities ahead for Microsoft to create a world-class shopping experience for our customers," Porter said, "I am excited about helping consumers make more informed decisions about their PC and software purchases, and we'll share learnings from our stores with our existing retail and OEM partners that are critical to our success."
It seems to me they want to set en example for other retail outlets on how to sell Microsoft equipment, a sort of how-to. The press release explicitly states that "the purpose of opening these stores is to create deeper engagement with consumers and continue to learn firsthand about what they want and how they buy."
It's not Microsoft's first experience with selling its products directly to customers; only recently it opened its own online store, and back in 2001, it even had its own retail store in San Fransisco.
Setting a time frame and choosing locations will be the first order of business.