Under the leadership of chief executive Satya Nadella, the message out of Microsoft has been one of collaboration rather than competition. Since Nadella took over last February, the historically sharp-elbowed firm has seemed to soften. A humbler Microsoft emerged, putting a greater focus on helping consumers use its products on whatever device they wanted, rather than being its own cheerleader.
But Microsoft showed that its competitive spark is alive and well Tuesday with the announcement that it's making its first-ever laptop.
The laptop, called the Surface Book, has a 13.5-inch screen and weighs 3.34 pounds with a detachable keyboard - clearly putting it in competition with Apple's MacBook Air and the many, many Microsoft partners who make the class of lightweight laptops known as ultrabooks. (So does its starting $1,499 price tag.) The Book can be used as a tablet or as more traditional laptop.
The announcement seemed a bit incongruous with what we've seen lately from the company, as Nadella has focused on shoring up software and services, backing away from the hardware side. But on stage, Microsoft Surface leader Panos Panay tied the new laptop and other gadget announcements directly to Nadella's strategy of expanding Microsoft's reach by touting them as showcases for the best of what Window can do.
"We're relentless," said Panay. "Satya pushes us to be growth hackers. We can't just stop. We need a fleet."
There was certainly a new kind of energy and drive from Microsoft executives at Tuesday's conference, which took place in New York and was broadcast live on Microsoft's press site.
We're relentless. Satya pushes us to be growth hackers. We can't just stop. We need a fleet.
In addition to the Surface Book, Microsoft launched a wide line of other gadgets that included two new Lumia phones, a new Surface Pro 4 and the second generation of its health-focused wearable, the Microsoft Band. It also showed off an updated gaming demo of its augmented reality glasses, the HoloLens, which users can wear to project digital images over the real world.
Analysts picked up on the shift in tone but cautioned that Microsoft's enthusiasm needs to transfer over to consumers if it's to succeed. "While the new hardware products look impressive, it all comes down to consumer adoption as Microsoft aggressively tries to change its consumer image," Daniel Ives, a senior analyst at FBR Capital Markets, wrote in a note to investors after the event.
In his own remarks, Nadella seemed well aware that all the enthusiasm in the world from the company still required consumer buy-in to go anywhere. The company announced that its latest system, Windows 10, had been downloaded on more than 110 million devices since its July release. That's the fastest growth the company has ever seen for a new system, Nadella said, and an encouraging sign.
"We're making great progress toward our aspiration we shared in January, to move people from needing Windows, to choosing Windows to loving Windows," Nadella said.
Whether the Surface Book can engender that kind of devotion remains to be seen, but, looking purely at its specifications, it does seem able to go toe-to-toe with other top-end laptops on the market.
Microsoft has packed the laptop with performance-focused components -- a sixth-generation Intel processor, high-end graphics processors housed in the keyboard, up to 1 TB of storage. Panay boasted on stage that the Surface Book is twice as powerful as a MacBook Pro.
We're making great progress toward our aspiration we shared in January, to move people from needing Windows, to choosing Windows to loving Windows.
To prove it, he did a live demo showcasing it strength in an area where Apple's laptops seriously lag behind their PC counterparts: gaming. He played a little bit of Microsoft's upcoming "Gears of War" title while simultaneously using video editing software on his game play without missing a beat.
Maxing out your Surface Book will cost you; the most expensive one available for pre-order on Microsoft's site right now is $2,700. But the company is also including its Surface Pen in the box with the Book, which gives users a little more value for their money. It also gives users a little something that other Windows laptop makers - even those who make convertible laptops - don't: Microsoft says that users should get 12 hours of battery life with the Surface Book when it's in laptop mode, matching what Apple advertises for the MacBook Air.