Panay then talked for a long while about how the Surface devices feel and look like books. (To me, they looked like sleek computing devices, but what do I know?) “We designed this organically like a book,” he said. “It is light enough and it feels just perfect.” How perfect, Panos? “I am seriously in love with it,” he said of the keyboard/cover. “Outside of my wife, the Touch Cover is No. 2. I never want to take the Touch Cover off.” Okey-doke.Microsoft, in many ways, helped create this mess that Panos et al are trying to fix. Along with Intel, it sucked all the profits out of the PC industry, leaving HP and Dell to rely on manufacturing companies in Taiwan for their innovative twists. The result has been the Great Stagnation, during which PC makers have been throwing smartphone and tablet designs over the wall, only to see them ignored en masse. With Windows 8 coming this fall, Microsoft could not afford to let that happen again. Needing a strong response to the iPad, it decided to build one.

Yet, I’m not sure how committed Microsoft is to this hardware-making thing over the long haul. It showed this technology off months before the arrival of Windows 8, has yet to release pricing details, and says it will deliver these beautiful products only through Microsoft channels. This does not sound like a full-on break with the PC makers. Rather, it sounds like Microsoft giving them a wake-up call: You can make something different and sexy with a bit of effort, guys. “We took the time and effort to get Surface and Windows 8 right,” Ballmer said. Now it’s the rest of the industry’s turn. That is, if they still want to have an industry in a few years.