Why Microsoft is Apple's new whipping boy

At yesterday's Apple announcement CEO Tim Cook and others reserved their biggest zingers for Microsoft. In fact, they seemed to go out of the way to lash out at Microsoft whenever he could. Why is Microsoft, not Google, Apple's new whipping boy?

Throughout the presentation, it was clear that Microsoft has become public enemy number one at Apple. Here's what Tim Cook said just before introducing Apple's newest iPads:

"Our competition is different: They're confused. They chased after netbooks. Now they're trying to make PCs into tablets and tablets into PCs. Who knows what they'll do next? I can't answer that question, but I can tell you that we're focused."

He also criticized Microsoft's Surface tablets as being a "sorta-tablet, softa-PC."

At another point, Apple services VP Eddy Cue was explaining that iWork would be free for owners of new Macs and iOS devices. Onscreen was a slide reading "Office 365 $99 every year," while Cue said:

"Others would have you spend a small fortune every year just to get their apps."

And at yet one more point during the presentation, Apple engineering VP Craig Federighi was explaining that the latest version of Mac OS X, Mavericks, would be free for existing users. Onscreen, a slide showed a box shot of Windows 8 Pro, with the text $199 next to it. Federighi said:

"The days of spending hundreds of dollars to get the most from your computer are gone."

Ouch, ouch, and ouch.

Why is Apple putting Microsoft in its cross-hairs, while ignoring Google? One over-the-top explanation by Rocco Pendolais writing for The Street is that it's all part of a master plan to destroy Microsoft. That's overkill, to put it mildly.

But it's clearly part of a strategy to target Microsoft. And the reason is simple: That's where new potential Apple users are. Tablet sales continue to eat into PC sales, and Apple is hoping to pick off many more people who might buy a tablet instead of a PC. So the more Apple badmouths Microsoft, the more the chance is that they'll get even more market share. And using price as a bludgeon is a smart way to do it.

As for Google, it's tough for Apple to criticize it on price, because so many Android tablets are available for much less money than iPads. And Google already gives away productivity suites, so there's nothing to criticize there.

So for the foreseeable future, expect Apple to keep dinging Microsoft. Whether Microsoft will fight back -- an "Appled" campaign like its "Scroogled? campaign? -- is not at all clear.

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