With the economy in freefall, Microsoft this week continued its discussion of the "Apple Tax," what it says are the additional costs associated with using the Mac platform instead of a Windows-based PC. According to the company, the severity of the Apple Tax has only gotten worse in the past few months, as Apple has released expensive new Macs despite ever-worsening economic conditions. The discussion is occurring the day before Apple opens its Macworld trade show in San Francisco.

"Windows is more compatible than the Mac, but it's also more compatible with today's budgets," Microsoft Corporate Vice President of Windows Consumer Marketing Brad Brooks told me in a briefing on Monday. "Around the globe, people need to balance the interests they have with the realities of the economy. Windows PCs are a better value than Macs, and that's true at every price point."

Microsoft first began discussing the Apple Tax concept in October, just before Apple shipped new Macbook notebook computers that were even more expensive than their predecessors, a curious move given the economy. At the time, much of the discuss was around the cost of switching, comparisons of Macs and PCs at different price points, and the lack of innovative new hardware features. These issues continue to this day, Brooks pointed out. But the problem is exacerbated by the value of Windows, Apple's continued insistence on only serving the high end of the market, and the design aesthetics of Apple hardware, which limits choice.

"Apple fans like to say that the company is like the BMW of the PC world," Brooks said. "Fair enough. But we're Toyota, and we have the Corolla on the low-end and Lexus on the high-end. And both offer tremendous value across the board."

"Microsoft has been delivering low cost technology to the masses for over 30 years," he continued. "And we're going to push this concept of 'Life Without Walls' going forward and explain to people the value they get when they run Windows on the PC, on the Internet, and on their phones." Brooks noted that the upcoming Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas was an obvious time for make this renewed push for Windows, including Windows Vista and 7 on the PC, Windows Live on the Internet, and Windows Mobile on phones.

"Look, the Apple Tax gap is widening, not shrinking," Brooks said. "And it plays out in so many different ways. There is the upfront cost of the machines, the lack of technology innovation, the compatibility of the devices, the lack of form factor choices, and so much more. The gap has never been greater." Brooks said that Apple machines were luxury items while PCs happy straddle the gap between utility and luxury. "You can get even more technology in Windows at the same price point than you can with a Mac than you could as recently as October," he added.

Brooks hinted that PC users should stay tuned to Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer's CES keynote address on Wednesday evening. "Let's just say it's going to be an interesting talk," he told me.