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updated 10/15/2008 6:43:58 PM ET 2008-10-15T22:43:58

Tactics reminiscent of a close presidential race seem to be popping up in Microsoft Corp.'s rivalry with Apple Inc.

Just a few weeks ago, the software maker, tired of being the butt of Apple attack ads, launched a positive series of commercials highlighting the diversity and coolness of Windows users. But then in the hours before this week's product announcement from Apple, Microsoft went negative.

A Monday evening e-mail from Microsoft's outside PR firm titled "Why You'll Find Better Value in Windows PCs than Macs" aimed to deflate anticipation that that Apple might unveil a cheap-by-Apple-standards $800 laptop. (The rumors were off by $200).

Microsoft laid out its talking points — among them that Windows PCs come with more power and features for lower prices, while Macs are even pricier than they look because they don't come with enough software.

In true political style, Microsoft trotted out a hidden "Apple tax," an extra $1,000 or more Microsoft says people switching from PCs to Macs must pay to "rebuy" software and hardware for their new system.

And what's more, "Macs, due to their high upfront (prices), won't sell in a more conservative market."

(Steve Ballmer, Microsoft's CEO, did not pop up to say he approved the message; the e-mail suggested journalists attribute the quote to "a Microsoft spokesperson.")

On Tuesday evening, the Microsoft camp followed up with a colorful chart akin to a post-debate fact-check, showing Windows PC configurations similar to Apple's new MacBook and MacBook Pro models at comparable, or lower, prices.

"Bottom line: you're going get a great Windows Laptop with a lot more, at a lower price than any MacBook. Period," the agency's e-mail read.

To push the political parallel even further: If Microsoft's message is aimed at "swing voters" who might be tempted by a Mac, the software maker might not be speaking their language.

Apple's decision to keep its Mac prices at $1,000 or more indicates the company doesn't think economic turmoil will stop its target customers from buying a Mac. Nor does Apple believe Mac users would give up the simplicity of their machines for the ability to do some tinkering under the hood on a Windows computer, as Microsoft suggests.

Unlike either of the presidential candidates at this point, however, Microsoft is winning the PC race by a landslide.

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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