If it’s true that there’s no such thing as bad publicity, Microsoft’s first Seinfeld ad, part of a $300mn effort to shore up its image, is off to a great start.

The ad certainly seems like a “bizarre” way to start rebuilding the Windows brand but then again, its creator, Crispin Porter + Bogusky, is known for producing interesting ads.

Thus far, the response to the encounter between Jerry Seinfeld and Bill Gates hasn’t been incredibly positive.

But putting aside the criticism, some of which comes from individuals who dislike anything Microsoft produces anyway, is there a positive takeaway?

I think there just might be – Microsoft knows it has a problem.

Despite the fact that it still controls around 90% of the operating system market and according to Red Herring, saw 28% of the $60.4bn in revenue it generated last year come from sales of Vista, Microsoft isn’t ignoring consumer sentiment.

It sees that the lukewarm reception Vista has received is problematic and knows that it can’t risk doing nothing, especially in the face of compelling marketing assaults from Apple.

While it will be interesting to see how Crispin Porter + Bogusky evolve Microsoft’s message over the course of the campaign, marketing is only one component of improving customer perception.

Marketing without real change is not likely to benefit Microsoft and to that end, it’s interesting to note the more substantive actions Microsoft is taking.

As detailed by the Seattle Times’ Benjamin J. Romano:

“Microsoft’s new Windows advertising campaign is one piece in a major overhaul of how the company makes, markets and sells its most important product to consumers…”

He notes that Microsoft’s senior vice president of the Windows business group, Bill Veghte, claims that the firm has spent nearly two years “researching and rebuilding all aspects of its consumer Windows business.

Part of this rebuilding process includes working to improve Windows itself and forming closer relationships with PC manufacturers to ensure that Windows functions solidly across today’s diverse selection of desktops and laptops.

Perhaps most interesting is the fact that Microsoft is adopting the “store-within-a-store” concept. “Microsoft Gurus” will be present at Circuit City and Best Buy to provide customers with more detailed information about Microsoft products and to answer customer questions.

As Romano notes, this is not dissimilar from the “Geniuses” Apple places at retail locations for the same purpose.

Will all of Microsoft’s ongoing efforts be enough?

It’s difficult to state at this point and it’s fair to point out that Microsoft has an uphill battle.

Evolving an operating system used by 90% of the market isn’t easy. Even Google is learning just how difficult it is to build a consumer software product that is stable, secure and satisfying.

Microsoft’s Veghte observes what might just be Microsoft’s biggest challenge:

“Windows has become so ubiquitous that sometimes some of the magic and some of the opportunity that Windows affords fades into the background a bit.”

For all of Windows’ faults, it’s hard to disagree. On the whole, Windows works pretty darn well and I’ve never personally contemplated purchasing a Mac or running a Linux-based operating system like Ubuntu for the simple fact that the software I use on a daily basis requires Windows.

Yet I don’t consciously appreciate Windows on a daily basis.

From this perspective, Microsoft’s challenge becomes clear – it needs to make sure Windows works well enough to remain as ubiquitous as possible but at the same time needs to ensure that we don’t forget that the same level of ubiquity is unavailable through its competitors.