I noticed on .NET Undocumented that Microsoft is currently accepting votes as to how important it is to have updated icons distributed with Visual Studio 2005. (You will need a Passport to vote, and you may have to fill out some minor registration details.)
Personally, I think that Microsoft should go one step farther. Any icon released with any of their application programs should be released with an icon for unrestricted free use on Windows platforms.
Why? Microsoft hired artists and paid them a pretty penny to make those icons easy to use and understandable? Why would Microsoft release those icons for free use? Easy. Microsoft has a vested interest in it. Microsoft is always pushing the Windows User Experience. They've even got the Official Guidelines online for anyone to read. While not as strict as Apple's UI Guidelines, Microsoft's are very straightforward, and stress the uniformity of the Windows User Experience.
The entire concept behind Windows is that your programs look and function in a similar fashion. With Visual Studio 2005, Microsoft is providing developers with UI controls that finally look and function like the controls in Office 2003.
Microsoft invests millions of dollars every year in usability research. These icons and controls are the result of that research. In order for that research to advance the Windows platform, Microsoft has essentially two choices here.
One: Microsoft can maintain the status quo. Microsoft can leave the UI resources included with Visual Studio at the same level that it has been since Visual Basic 1.0...Windows 3.0 icons and graphics. This works well for third party developers like Infragistics. They can sell overpriced controls that look and feel like Microsoft's controls. Those who cannot afford these controls are forced to look for open source controls or spend a massive amount of time reinventing the wheel.
Two: Microsoft can release their UI components or act-alikes with Visual Studio. The average appearance of Windows software from 3rd parties will improve dramatically (or legally, in the cases where people have jacked the UI components without permission). Infragistics and friends will have to actually work on dramatically new components.
Now, I'm not talking about display components, like charting components. Those are a definite value-add to the product that they come in. I'm talking about the basic UI components: buttons, menus, menubars, scrollbars, the icon glyphs that accompany certain tasks, those sorts of things.
Microsoft, if you give us the tools we need to make Windows more attractive with a low cost, we can make it harder to look at Linux as an alternative. Don't make us reinvent the wheel to keep up, and we'll spend that extra effort pushing the Windows platform ahead.