If you thought that Microsoft was simply out to copy Apple’s popular retail experiment, experience, and success, you don’t know the half of it.

Microsoft has no intention of merely emulating Apple; it wants to beat it at its own game. If you were curious, and I’m sure you were, as to why Microsoft has thus far located its retail stores very close to Apple’s, wonder no more: it’s on purpose.

Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer, in an interview with BusinessWeek, outlined the reasons for the locational positioning: “[the stores placed near Apple's as] the traffic is going to be there, and we’ve got to beat them anyway.” That last clause, that Microsoft not only can, but must, beat Apple is rather telling.

Microsoft Store AZ Ballmer: Weve got to beat Apple anyway, so lets build stores next to them

You don’t hear that sort of rhetoric lately from Ballmer, at least not since the infamous chair episode. But the attitude that the comment symbolizes is more plain: Ballmer wants to beat Apple even at what might be called non-core struggles; this isn’t OS X v. Windows, but in terms of revenue and mindshare, stores are critical.

It’s noted that Ballmer shrugged after saying that Apple has to bested ‘anyway,’ which almost seems dismissive. Microsoft has built quality stores, it has to be said, but to be so cool about a task as massive as bettering Apple’s retail empire is either the stance of a man with a serious plan, or someone who is mistaken as to where he stands. Still, Microsoft has plans to open dozens of new stores in the coming three years; perhaps Ballmer simply has more up his sleeve than we grant him the credit for.