I get megabytes of anti-Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT) eVitriol from fans of Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL), RealNetworks (NASDAQ:RNWK), Red Hat (NASDAQ:RHAT), and thousands of angry Europeans whenever I say anything positive about the gang in Redmond -- or even when I simply ridicule the world's childish and nonsensical need to take repeated pokes at the biggest kid on the block.

But no one ever bothers to mention the obvious: For all the bloated rhetoric about this big, scary, alleged monopoly, Microsoft is doing a pretty bad job of playing the heavy. Take this week, for example. Although Microsoft already paid a princely $1 billion ransom to settle antitrust class action lawsuits in California, several counties and cities in that state decided that they'd like a free check, too.

So, a new lawsuit was born. And Microsoft responded with a whimper. Sure, a spokesperson said that Microsoft was at the forefront of reducing prices while adding features, but this is the toothless snarl from an aging wildcat. You can bet the firm will simply whip out its checkbook and pay its way out of this latest extortion, following the pattern it has set in settling more than a dozen similar cases in the past year.

Next, the company announced that the long-awaited next-generation Windows operating system, code-named Longhorn, would be delivered in 2006, but without new file system advances that many in the C-prompt-and-pocket-protector set consider vital. The tech headlines were nearly unanimous in calling this a failure, though Bill Gates said he thought the glass was still three-fourths full. Denizens of our own discussion board wonder whether the incredible retreating deadline isn't just a big conspiracy to keep consumers from switching to Macs or Linux boxes.

Here's my conspiracy theory: Mr. Softy is just sandbagging. After all, what better way to prove you don't have an overly powerful monopoly than delay release of your biggest property, daring competitors to try and take some of your market share?

That's a bit outlandish, but one thing is certain: Microsoft's working hard to remake itself. If you ask me, the firm's recent shareholder largesse is a prime example of maturity, as well as an admission that the company is running out of competitors to buy. And in a world that responds with a lawsuit or government inquiry every time Microsoft sneezes, this should be good news for shareholders. Redmond's strong market position and internal technical evolution -- however meager -- will be enough to keep investors in the green for a long time to come.

Seth Jayson works with Macs, Linux, and Windows and is sorry to report that the latter works best for him. He has no position in any company mentioned. View his Fool profile here.