In the midst of a holiday shopping season in which online retail sales might fall for the first time, the general manager of Microsoft's online store said sales and traffic are "really good."Then again, Larry Engel said the point of his site, microsoftstore.com, is not just to post robust sales figures. And Engel does not have much to compare this year's results with: There was no online Microsoft store last year.In mid-November, Microsoft quietly announced that for the first time all of the company's consumer products -- from "Flight Simulator X" to Windows Vista -- could now be bought directly from Microsoft online in the United States. (It launched similar sites in six other countries this year.) Most of the software is available for download. All of it is also available in a box.Engel said the store extends a "direct connection" between the company and its customers. Currently, he said, such a connection exists with Microsoft's Zune music player and its Xbox 360 video game console, which feature online marketplaces.One analyst said direct connections like those could become more important as Microsoft moves into providing services such as a Web-based version of Office to consumers, instead of just software in a package or for download."The name of the game in the end is finding ways to own the customer, to be able to not only sell them the operating system but (also) recurring revenue-based services," said Tim Bajarin, the president of consulting firm Creative Strategies.Microsoft's Engel said the company decided to open microsoftstore.com for a simple reason: Customers wanted Microsoft to launch a store."Customers have been asking us to do it for years now," Engel said. "We are responding to something our customers have asked us to offer: An option for them to purchase directly from Microsoft."
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