Has "Crazy Steve" Ballmer walked you through the Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT) garage sale?

See that box of Zunes over by the bowling trophy?

"We're so crazy we're slashing prices on these flash-based puppies by $10 to $20 apiece!"

Fight through the buzz-stirring shoppers to see what all the commotion is about at the Windows Live OneCare table.

"Have we gone insane? Grab these subscriptions while you can, because next year we're going to be giving away antivirus protection for free!"

Cheaper Zunes and a free security software suite will be great moves for consumers, but the same can't be said for the  competition.

Zune's price cuts won't do much to rattle market leader Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL). If anything, it's a bigger play for bronze medalist Microsoft to gain ground on silver medalist SanDisk (NASDAQ:SNDK).

Axing OneCare subscriptions next summer, in favor of a free solution to tackle viruses, spyware, and malware, will be a bigger deal. It threatens companies like McAfee (NYSE:MFE) and Symantec (NASDAQ:SYMC) that rely heavily on their PC security software.

The move may also be a roundabout shot at Apple. Offering PC users free protection will hopefully clean up the reputation of Windows-powered computers as a haven for unwanted apps. Making PCs safer gives Windows a better fighting chance against Linux netbooks on the cheap end and Mac OS systems on the high end.

So what's next on Microsoft's sale block? It already slashed Xbox prices two months ago. Microsoft Office prices have also been coming down, even though many are interpreting that as an attack on software piracy by making legal versions more attractive.

Add it up and one will ultimately wonder if Microsoft is giving up too much. It has never been more than a fringe player in portable media players and antivirus software, but if this is simply a prelude to sharper price cuts in flagship operating system and office productivity software, there comes a point where Microsoft's earnings power will come into question.

It's at that point where this friendly garage sale will become a desperate fire sale. No one wants to see that happen, especially Crazy Steve.

Marketing mantras on parade right here:

Symantec and Microsoft are Motley Fool Inside Value picks. Apple is a Motley Fool Stock Advisor recommendation. Try any of our Foolish newsletters today, free for 30 days.

Longtime Fool contributor Rick Munarriz really does find himself surrounded by more and more Apple appliances these days, but he does not own shares in any of the stocks in this story. He is also part of the Rule Breakers newsletter research team, seeking out tomorrow's ultimate growth stocks a day early. The Fool has a disclosure policy.