The announcement of the Microsoft Surface shows the biggest change Microsoft as a company has ever made. They now directly sell hardware which runs their own software.
This is a sign that Microsoft is backed into a corner and willing to do a lot to get out of it. Gruber sums up the change well:
Microsoft this week showed itself willing to do what was once unthinkable: design and sell its own PC hardware. This is a profound change of direction for Microsoft and the entire PC industry.
When big companies are pressured into making radical moves like this, exciting things happen. The Surface looks extremely interesting — I'd actually love to play with a Metro-only version of the device. The Touch Cover looks like it could be great to type on, too.
Having said that, the Intel powered versions of the Surface show us that Microsoft is terrified to move into the future too quickly. I can't see any reason to buy an expensive, overpowered and overheating version of the Surface. It's interesting to note that Microsoft doesn't mention the two distinct versions of the Surface, even on its official page. The only one which is shown is the Windows RT version.
Being able to run "traditional" desktop style legacy Windows applications is being touted as a feature of the Intel powered device, but I see it as a drawback.
All traditional desktop computing software is designed to be interacted with a mouse. Apple is currently slowly transitioning to a much more gesture based input method on OS X, partly due to laptops being the most popular Macs and partly because many features of iOS are being taken back to the Mac. Microsoft is forgetting that almost all desktop applications are meant to be interacted with using a keyboard and mouse and shipping a device which will be unpleasant to use.
A device being enjoyable to use is a feature.
Imagine using Numbers or Pages for OS X via a VNC app on an iPad. It would be slow and frustrating to use. Numbers and Pages for Mac are designed to be interacted with using a keyboard and mouse — not touch input. This is a fair comparison to what it'll be like using desktop apps with Surface. It'll be awful.
Microsoft's "no compromises" approach — running Windows RT apps and full Windows 8 applications on touch-based Windows tablets — is the biggest compromise of them all.