You couldn't ignore Microsoft this year; a veritable flood of announcements and launches kept the company in the news.
Ballmer called 2012 "the most epic year in Microsoft's history", and we haven't seen Redmond be this feisty for quite some time.
But it wasn't all good news; there were delays, complaints and unwelcome surprises too. Here's our pick of Microsoft's hits and misses this year.
1. Windows 8
Key was the 16 million downloads of the preview releases, and though the 40 million licences sold in the first month sounds more like PR bluster, we're calling Windows 8 a success.
Despite continuing arguments over changing the Start menu to the Start screen, we think Windows 8 is a solid improvement that gives Microsoft a solid start in the tablet market, as well as adding more performance, security and battery life to PCs running familiar desktop applications, and a new version of IE that does well in every benchmark that's not designed to showcase WebKit.
From a secret launch that had the internet buzzing, and the snap-on, click-in, super-thin Touch Cover, to literally days of battery life and a beautiful, glare-free screen that's strong enough to use as a skateboard and survive being run over at 60mph, Microsoft's first real tablet is new, different and striking.
Microsoft is increasing production on the original Surface and the Intel-based Surface Pro is on target for January. Questions do remain over sales figures though, but more on that later...
3. Windows Phone 8
Without knowing how many it sold last year, we can't tell if Microsoft selling four times as many Windows Phones with Windows Phone 8 is impressive or disappointing; but 40% increases in Facebook usage on Windows Phone and in submissions to the Windows Phone marketplace, and the Lumia 920 selling out almost everywhere it's on sale, argue for impressive.
Skype integration and seamless, elegant and definitely-different interface, plus great hardware options like wireless charging and Nokia's excellent low-light camera give the iOS and Samsung champions some real competition.
4. Xbox sales
It might be seven years old (and we're still hoping for a new model next year), but the Xbox 360 is still outselling the competition.
It was the best-selling console in the US in 2011 and by October this year, Xbox had remained the best-selling console in the US for 22 months in a row.
Most months it sells between 200 and 300,000 units and has 40-50% of the console market; but over Thanksgiving alone Microsoft sold over 750,000 Xboxes in the US (compared to 400,000 sales for the Wii U).
Add in 40 million Xbox LIVE members, over $220M in sales in just the first 24 hours that Halo 4 was available, and 62 streaming TV and movie services on Xbox LIVE , and Xbox is undeniably successful.
5. Xbox Music and SmartGlass
Free streaming in Windows 8 (even with some adverts that haven't shown up yet) and Smart DJ playlists in Xbox Music (on Windows 8 and Xbox) give Spotify some serious competition.
Using SmartGlass on Windows, iOS and Android devices to control your Xbox without ever picking up a controller is a really impressive experience (far more so than the hit-and-miss Windows 8 Play To features).
Add in Internet Explorer, SkyDrive and voice control on Xbox, and those Xbox sales numbers are clearly about more than just gaming.
Apple is still talking about tackling the TV and home entertainment market; Microsoft might have already done it.
Hotmail has an image problem, with long-solved spam problems still haunting the service.
Not so Outlook.com, which has picked up over 25 million active users in just four months (and garnered plenty of praise for its clean Windows 8-style look, as well as for email management features that languished ignored in Hotmail).
A third of those users have come from Gmail, Microsoft says.
Other hits: the fantastic value of the Office 365 deal for students and Microsoft's smart move in snapping up business social network leaders Yammer (think Facebook at work).
7. Perceptive Pixel
The original Surface was a huge touchscreen for use in bars, hotels and sports venues and it never quite took off.
This year Microsoft bought touch pioneers Perceptive Pixel (whose touchscreens were the star of the 2008 US presidential election).
We expect their 80" touchscreens to start getting cheaper and a lot more common, and for some exciting new products to turn up with the Microsoft name on.
8. Botnet takedowns
Is Windows secure?
Windows 8 is the most secure Windows yet, but there are still plenty of infected PCs out there.
To its credit, Microsoft isn't just beefing up Windows security; its Digital Crimes Unit collaborates with law enforcement and security software companies to shut down the command and control servers – and the hackers – behind botnets.
Last year it helped take down Rustock and Waledac; this year it helped shut down the Kelihos, Zeus and Nitol botnets – a public service it deserves credit for.
1. Losing the Metro trademark
Metro was a catchy name that said what the Windows 8 and Windows Phone interfaces are supposed to be; as clear and unfussy as the signs at an airport or train station, with live information like a departure board keeping you up to date.
There was even a 'Metropolis' cityscape at the Windows 8 launch.
But even Microsoft's deep pockets couldn't persuade German supermarket chain Metro AG to let them use the name and that clarity got lost in a flurry of Modern, Windows Store, Windows 8 and Microsoft Design Style branding, and the claim that Metro was only ever a codename.
The cityscape was renamed Micropolis and then washed away by Hurricane Sandy, which Microsoft has to hope wasn't an omen.
Sure, what the product does matters more than what you call it, but a clear and memorable name is even more important when you're trying to distinguish two different versions of Windows.
2. No clear sales figures
At the Build conference, Steve Ballmer claimed an impressive 4 million sales (to end users and stores) in the three days since the Windows 8 launch, and after a month that was up to 40 million.
Initial US PC sales reports from NPD sounded far less positive, but since those figures cover PC sales before Windows came out and PC sales during Hurricane Sandy - but not PC sales in the big Thanksgiving shopping period - they're not particularly reliable.
The trouble is, with no actual Windows 8 PC sales figures, it's impossible to tell how well Windows 8 is selling, and the same is true of Surface.
Ballmer's comment about Microsoft's ambitions with Surface being modest was widely misreported as being about sales figures; it wasn't, and Microsoft has increased production of its Surface tablet.
But, again, until we see the real sales figures, no-one but Microsoft knows how successful it is.
3. Windows Phone secrecy
After Nokia leaked a video with Windows Phone head Joe Belfiore explaining the new features, Microsoft cracked down on everything about Windows Phone – including that the SDK developers need to create new apps.
Concentrating on big-name apps like Angry Birds means more of what the app users want is on Windows Phone 8, but it left smaller developers frustrated – and publicly venting that frustration.
And not bringing out Windows Phone 7.8 until 2013 avoids confusion with Windows Phone 8 (because the Start screens look the same, you'd be relying on the salesperson in the phone shop understanding the difference; unlikely in many cases).
But it also frustrates users who bought a Lumia, discovered they wouldn't get a full upgrade and are worried whether carriers will continue their often-abysmal record on approving Windows Phone updates.
4. IE10 for Windows 7 delays
Microsoft recovered fairly quickly from the 'mis-statement' that Windows 8 wouldn't get Flash updates between RTM and the October launch, and Flash updates now come on Patch Tuesday with other Windows updates.
But Windows 7 users waited for a new preview of Internet Explorer 10 from the end of June 2011 until 13th November 2012 when the Release Candidate finally appeared. That's a lot of Firefox and Chrome updates…
5. No news on Barnes and Noble
Microsoft let Barnes and Noble side-step a big court case over possible Android patent infringement, by announcing that it was teaming up with Microsoft to transform the ebook market.
We hoped for a dedicated Windows Phone or Windows 8 e-reader but all the partnership has produced so far is the Windows 8 Nook app.
6. Arguments over DNT
The Do Not Track standard is becoming a joke, with no real progress (but plenty of verbal punch-ups) in the last 18 months.
Microsoft is making privacy into a selling point by turning on DNT by default in Windows 8 and IE10; the advertisers are crying foul and Yahoo says it won't respect DNT in IE because users haven't turned it on themselves.
Given that DNT doesn't actually stop most websites tracking you, it all seems a bit of a storm in a teacup and we'd rather see Microsoft invest more in making Tracking Protection Lists (which do actually work) easier to install and use.
7. Negative marketing gone wrong
Microsoft has had some successful grassroots marketing campaigns over the last couple of years, from The Gmail Man to The Browser You Love to Hate to Ben "The PC Guy" Rudolph's Smoked by Windows Phone demos and #droidrage Twitter hashtag.
When Ben personally collected examples of frustrated Android users and raced iPhone and Android users to complete tasks faster on his Windows Phone, he made Microsoft products look genuinely superior.
But when Microsoft turned those into bigger campaigns, with races in Microsoft Stores and a follow-up Twitter competition, there was just as much Windows-bashing as frustration with Android on show.
Bing's Scroogled campaign - pointing out that Google Shopping is now made up of paid ads rather than search results - confused shoppers outside the US (where Google Shopping doesn't switch to the ad model until 2013) and raised a few questions about Bing's own shopping results.
As Microsoft gets its mojo back, claiming to be the plucky underdog doesn't always work quite as well (even when we can understand the company's frustration).
8. Losing Sinofsky
Possibly the lowest point for Microsoft this year (and certainly a low point for the Microsoft stock price) was the sudden departure of Windows chief Steven Sinofsky, soon after the Windows 8 launch.
A controversial figure (mainly because fans and supporters tended to respect his preference not to be talked about or quoted, while detractors were always ready to complain about him), he seems to have disagreed with Steve Ballmer about whether a major internal re-org is the way forward if the problems that hamper collaboration aren't addressed first.
Losing the man behind the hugely successful Windows 7 and the perhaps unproven - but critically important - Windows 8 releases, has to make us wonder what Microsoft will look like in 2013.