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One helluva week for Microsoft, Leopard notwithstanding

On the heels of beating out Google to buy a piece of Facebook, Redmond racks up its fastest-growing quarter in seven years.

During the Microsoft antitrust trial, one of the company's PR execs named Mark Murray would dutifully approach the press microphone on the courthouse steps in Washington, D.C., each afternoon to declare: "It was another good day for Microsoft."

That was called playing the part of loyal soldier in the face of debatable circumstances. But if Murray were called upon to sum up this week's events, I think he would describe it as a very good week for Microsoft.

And he'd be right.

In fact, it was a helluva week--one of the best the company has enjoyed in recent memory. On the heels of beating out Google to buy a piece of Facebook, Microsoft racked up its fastest-growing quarter in seven years. The company's $13.8 billion in total revenue beat Wall Street estimates by more than a billion dollars.

Halo provided a nice lift along with strong server and PC demand. The company also helped its own cause by doing a better job against software pirates, who rip off hundreds of millions of dollars worth of Microsoft merchandise each year. All told, this was enough to send Microsoft's stock to its the highest level since the summer of 2001. Apropos, Credit Suisse's research report on Microsoft on Friday morning was titled "The wait is over."

Armchair critics have happily taken potshots at Windows Vista since its debut earlier this year. The perfectionists claimed that Microsoft had produced what might charitably be called a derivative operating system. There's some justice in that argument. Vista does not make the pulse beat faster, especially when compared against Apple's sleeker Leopard operating system. And for my money, I much prefer the Macintosh. In fact, I moved over to the Mac a couple of years ago, and nothing I've seen out of Microsoft has convinced me to return to Windows. Still, (PDF) for the third consecutive quarter, so something's working well.

Sure, it pays to be a monopoly (as long as the trust busters don't threaten to break you into pieces). But operating systems don't need to be interesting. However, they do need to be functional, and so far, I haven't seen evidence to suggest that customers believe Vista is a dud.

I'm sure any number of the company's product managers might want to give me an argument. But I'm not trying to slip in a backhanded compliment. As long as Microsoft can issue incremental improvements to Vista, plodding along is good enough.