Notebook PCs with Windows tend to be dull. There are exceptions, because the most attractive ones are colorful, some are wrapped in expensive feeling metal or plastic. So I say "tend to be".
Notebooks come in many sizes, storage capacities, connectors and CPU performances. The human interfaces are a screen and a keyboard with a touchpad in one packet plus a mouse. The concept has remained unchanged for about two decades, because it's so good!
Microsoft has long been interested in a touch interface and they seem to have thought there would be products if they put touch into Windows. With few exceptions that has rarely happened. The Windows PCs offering touch UI have not taken off, because the products were too expensive and didn't handle well. People didn't really know how to deal with them. Here's an example scenario: "I need to write a document, so I'll use the keyboard now. Where's the cable, ... type, type type, ... Ok. Done. Turn it off.". Whatever the intentions were when turning the PC on, the user mostly ended up using the keyboard. Touch didn't add anything really. The graphics wasn't made for a touch interface and neither was the product as a whole. The price/experience ratio was poor.
Time went by, iPad came and Microsoft had to admit it seems to work fine and Apple had beaten them again. "Let's make our own touch PC, since no one else can be bothered to do it correctly", they must have thought, and Surface was born. (Surface is an iPad competitor: http://proctele.blogspot.se/2012/06/whats-microsoft-surface.html).
I think they are right about doing both the hardware and the software themselves, just like Apple. It's essential for getting it right. Microsoft have made some good mistakes along the way, so it's possible they've learned enough. Hopefully enough to make the Surface+Windows8 an excellent product.