Could there be Microsoft and Apple retail stores competing for business in the Triangle, across the Carolinas and Georgia? Could be.

Microsoft Corp.’s chief operating officer says the software maker is planning to open retail stores "right next door to Apple" in the fall.

Apple operates retail stores in Durham (Streets at Southpoint), Raleigh (Crabtree Valley Mall)), Greensboro and Charlotte, N.C. as well as Charleston, S.C. and several locations in Georgia.

The executive, Kevin Turner, also says Microsoft (Nasdaq: MFST) is "in the game for the long-term" and has hired a retail team.

Microsoft brought on a 25-year Wal-Mart veteran in February to lead the effort, but has said little since. Turner was speaking to a gathering of technology partner companies in New Orleans.

Microsoft and Apple (Nasdaq: AAPL)  have been sparring for years. Microsoft’s Windows runs on most of the world’s PCs. Apple, which operates 250 stores worldwide, is venerated for its design sense.

Apple’s popular Mac vs. PC ads depict Windows as a self-righteous nerd; Microsoft has struck back with ads that push PCs’ lower prices.

The stores are not the first foray Microsoft has made into retail, notes PC World. "The company opened an outlet in San Francisco in 1999, selling Microsoft souvenirs and software," the magazine said. "The shop, however, shut down after several years."

What will the stores be offering?

"t’s unclear whether the Microsoft stores will be selling strictly Microsoft hardware (e.g., the Zune or Xbox 360) and software, or whether it will also be selling products from third-party companies," wrote Brian Chen at Wired News. "In the past, Microsoft has said the purpose of the stores was to build the company’s brand name by connecting with customers."