PC maker Dell is going to open retail stores in malls in Dallas and a New York City suburb as an experiment, The New York Times is reporting.

"Dell insists that it is not losing confidence in the direct-sales model that has made it the world's biggest seller of PC's," writes the Times' Damon Darlin.

However, he reports, "The move is a sign that the company is willing to experiment to reinvigorate its slowing PC sales. In the first three months of the year, Dell lost market share in the United States to companies that sell in stores. Gartner, the market research firm, said that was the first time Dell had lost market share since Gartner began tracking PC data in 1989. Dell has also been cutting prices of its PC's to increase sales."

Darlin goes on to suggest that Dell's changing product mix may explain the changing strategy. The company sells a lot of flat-screen TVs and notbook computers, he observes, and consumers like to experience these kinds of products in the retail store environment before making a purchasing decision.

I wonder whether Dell— the company or the man or both—looks at the excitement that Apple is generating through its retail stores, and worries that it's seriously losing the emotional branding battle. Scenes like this one at the new Fifth Avenue Apple Store in Manhattan suggest that the future of computing may just be decided on the (snazzy) shop floor.