@magicalclick: Microsoft has hired out reference designs to push OEM's before. Long Zheng had a great article about some of the designs that MS was pushing to OEM's to think about when creating Windows Vista PC's.
HP, Dell, and other OEM's have dropped the ball. When was the last time you saw a PC or Laptop where the design is what made you want it? Alienware is probably the only company that has made those products, and now they are part of Dell. Their current laptop designs are reminiscent of the early Latitude D610 laptops and have lost their luster.
I hate to say that there's a bit of collusion with PC OEM's, but it does appear they have been struck by collective laziness and greater concern about profits rather than customers. Why else preload their models with crapware? Why else the lack of desire to differentiate?
Right now, Microsoft realizes the absolute truth. All computers are in competition with each other , whether Linux, iPad, MAC, or Windows PC's. The OEM's are stuck in the past thinking that it's still the 1990's and they are only in competition with other OEM's. It's a new world and Microsoft has stopped relying on the OEM's and is fighting for it's product.
The Surface is an interesting experiment. I think the question that has to asked is if Surface is a success, should Microsoft get into the hardware? Or if the Surface is a success and the iPad phenomenon is reduced, should Microsoft hand the market back to the OEM's.
Needless to say I think that the future is going to be very interesting indeed.