Even so, I think it is cool, in its way, that they are doing this. No matter what Microsoft tries, they will never be given credit for doing anything right or for being as cool as Apple. Hating Microsoft has become so fashionable that people pretty much do it reflexively nowadays. I can understand. I've been a Linux/Open Source proponent for years, and an avid Microsoft hater for a long time. They've given people lots of reasons to dislike them over time.
A bout three years ago though, I had to come to terms with my own dirty little secret. For all my MS bashing and love of Linux, I still used Windows XP around 75% of time for my own personal use. The simple truth was, that when it came to playing games, viewing media, and dozens of other simple little tasks, it was just easier to do it on XP than on Linux. I do not say this to put down Linux, I still love it. But due to licensing issues, lack of program support, proprietary drivers and codecs that Linux cannot legally use, etc, Linux is just having a heck of a time competing on the desktop. None of this is Linux's fault, it's just a fact of life. And the truth be told, XP has been a pretty solid OS since SP2. So rather than coming home from a long day of working in IT to spend hours trying to get something to work for me on Linux, it seemed a lot more efficient to just use Windows and be done with it. I am not giving up on Linux, but I also am not using it for my main home desktop.
About the time I was coming to grips with the fact that I was a closet Windows user, I was also working for a company that had a Microsoft based network, which was a first for me. And you know what, despite everything I had heard, it worked pretty smoothly. The email functioned, it integrated with messenger nicely, and the network seemed as stable as anyplace else I had worked.
So, I decided to quit hating Microsoft just because. I now try to judge tech a little more fairly (accept of course Apple) and be more reasonable. I gave Vista a try, and found it a mixed bag. Lots of nice features, but some big flaws and annoyances as well. I think it got treated a bit harshly in the tech press, but in the end, it really wasn't an improvement over XP.
Now Windows 7 is coming out. I've been running betas and RCs of it for the last year, and overall I'm pretty impressed. Lots of cosmetic improvements, but a fair number of more substantial changes as well. The new taskbar is the probably the biggest thing people will notice, but there are some other innovations in there too. Microsoft is going out on a limb, putting itself out there for people to see, and encouraging folks to get together and have a good time while they do it. It's all a bit corny, but it is also something they don't have to do. They could drop support for XP, start putting Windows 7 on all new computers, and just pretty much let things take their course. Even if a lot of people got upset and jumped ship for Mac or Linux, they would still dominate the market. Instead, they are rewarding a number of people willing to give them a chance with free versions of the Ultimate Version of their OS and some cool swag. They are inviting people to come check out what they have to offer and make up their mind for themselves.
Ironically Microsoft may end up being their own greatest enemy. People may laugh at their current marketing campaign, but even if they came out with the coolest product and event ever, the true Mac and Linux devotees would still find some reason to ridicule them. The people they need to convince are the XP users. XP has been a solid, stable OS since SP2, and many people simply do not see any reason to change. It is time to change though. XP has been around for 8 years now, and while it has matured well, it is now getting a little long in the tooth. Computers have changed a lot in those 8 years, and the transition to 64 bit, multi-core computers require operating systems designed to take advantage of these features. XP has served well, but it is not ready for the modern state of computing. And while Linux and even Mac got to the party a lot earlier than Microsoft, sometimes it's ok to be fashionably late.