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Bring on the fake John Hodgman!

It's no surprise that Microsoft is (finally!) kicking off the Windows-focused phase of its $300 million consumer-focused Windows marketing campaign. What I am surprised about -- and pleasantly so -- is Microsoft is going to attack Apple (even if humorously) in the next phase of its campaign, which kicks off tonight on TV.

It's no surprise that Microsoft is (finally!) kicking off the Windows-focused phase of its $300 million consumer-focused Windows marketing campaign.

What I am surprised about -- and pleasantly so -- is Microsoft is going to attack Apple (even if humorously) in the next phase of its campaign, which kicks off tonight on TV.  That's what Microsoft told the New York Times, in an attempt to counter all the claims that it is backing away from its original consumer-focused marketing plans, axing Seinfeld due to the first two commercials' unpopularity and contemplating firing ad-agency Crispin Porter. (Crispin must be laughing about that one, as it banks its nearly $300 million, no doubt locked in with an iron-clad contract.)

The Softies have been pretty mealy-mouthed when it comes to admitting that Apple is the primary target of its so-called "Free the People" (FTP) strategy. But who else, other than Apple, is a credible player in the PC operating-system business? And who is Microsoft so obviously aping in the portable media player and cell phone markets?

Microsoft officials have been reticent to even say the "A" word when communicating about their goals in improving the perception of Vista, Windows Mobile and the whole other host of "Windows"-labeled brands that are part of its "Life Without Walls" messaging. And some have backed Microsoft's play, claiming that talking about your competitors is giving them too much attention.

I am looking forward to tonight's commercial. It's GOT to be better than the first two. Microsoft is touting market-research numbers claiming the Seinfeld ads garnered Microsoft a 63 percent positive rating. But I wonder where the surveyers found these upbeat folks, as I sure haven't come across any of them.

So I say bring on the fake John "I'm a PC" Hodgman and the 60 20 or so Microsoft employees that the company told The New York Times are part of the next phase of the campaign -- one in which Microsoft is actually going to talk about Windows. It can't come a moment too soon.

Bring on the fake John Hodgman!

Update: Microsoft gave me a sneak peek of the new ad spot they plan to show tonight during "The Office" at 8 p.m. ET. I have to say it's a vast improvement, to me, over what's come before. Think along the lines of the "I Started Something" Windows ad campaign -- where everyday Windows users (some famous and some not so) are the "stars." Microsoft is hinting that the supposedly-disgraced Seinfeld may appear in ads in the coming weeks.

The new phase of the campaign is launching on September 18 in print, on billboards, in New York City cabs and other venues. Microsoft also will show the new ad spot to the tens of thousands of Microsoft employees attending today's company meeting in downtown Seattle. Starting tonight, Microsoft is going to be running user-generated content as part of the campaign on the Windows.com site. The first cameos will feature some well-known Softies (CEO Steve Ballmer, Windows development chief Steven Sinofsky and other lesser-knownMicrosoft employees) talking about how they use Windows.

Microsoft also is going to allow anyone who has a Windows story to tell to submit pictures (and later, video) to include on the site as part of its "Life Without Walls" campaign. Guidelines on how and what to submit should be on the Windows.com site tonight.

One interesting tidbit: The Softies who are starring in Microsoft's new phase of its campaign got in there by answering a casting call, Brad Brooks, Corporate Vice President of Windows Consumer Marketing, told me today. Several hundred employees in Sinofsky and Senior Vice President Jon DeVaan's organizations responded and Microsoft held a "Windows Idol" competition to select the individuals who are appearing in the new campaign.

And that Hodgman look-alike guy who debuts tonight as part of the new campaign? He is Sean Siller, a senior program manager with the Windows networking group.