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Friday, September 05, 2008, 03:25 pm PT (06:25 pm ET)

Microsoft calling up Gurus to take on Apple's Geniuses

As part of its efforts to shore up Windows Vista's battered reputation, Microsoft has revealed plans for retail helpers that bear a strong resemblance to Apple's Genius Bar staff.

Although they won't be fixing existing users' computers, the new staff will have the same ability as Apple's Genius Bar and Specialists to address questions customers might have about PCs they buy or to demonstrate the integration between Vista and Microsoft's other products, such as Windows Mobile or its Windows Live suite of dedicated and web apps.

Microsoft's general manager of corporate communications, Tom Pilla, likens the strategy to "borrowing a page from Nordstrom" in providing high-end customer service, though the connection the company actually intends to make is clearer through its choice of names for these new staff: Microsoft Gurus.

With no immediate plans for stores of its own, however, Microsoft will rely on representatives closer to Apple's store-within-a-store projects at Best Buy and other key stores. About 155 Gurus will be ready at Best Buy and Circuit City stores in the US before the end of the year.

None of these staffers will be rewarded with commission pay and will instead be judged on their ability to "translate" technology for customers, Pilla says. It's not known whether this will quickly lead to a full-scale deployment if the trial is worthwhile for Microsoft.

The push into direct retail representation is considered part of Microsoft's $300 million strategy to counter Apple's "Get a Mac" ads and, like the Redmond, Washington-based developer's ads associated with the campaign, is there chiefly to get Windows at the forefront of the home PC user's consciousness instead of Macs.

News of the retail push also follows just a day after Microsoft began running the first of its highly touted ads featuring both Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates and Jerry Seinfeld, which reveals a non-confrontational approach to matching Apple's own duo of John Hodgman and Justin Long: the 1:30 routine only mentions computing towards the very end and includes just a single Windows logo as a sign of Microsoft's plans. A stream of the ad is available below.