“The State of Apple” session during Macworld iWorld Expo took many weird, insightful turns but the least expected twist was surely the conclusion where all three Mac media luminaries suddenly heaped praise on – of all companies – Microsoft. Even they looked shocked that they weren't immediately lynched by the somewhat taken aback Mac fans.

Macworld Editorial Director Jason Snell hosted the “State of Apple” discussion panel, which also featured Andy Ihnatko (Chicago Sun Times), and John Gruber (Daring Fireball).

While it was supposed to focus on where the new, Tim Cook-led Apple will go in 2012 and beyond the discussion veered from amazement at Apple’s recent quarterly financial results (“Apple could fund Greece’s debt payments for two years!”) to Snell’s shopping trip to ailing department store JC Penney and revolutionary thermostats.

Macworld iWorld Expo: photo gallery

Apple said on Tuesday that it hit $46.33 billion in sales and $13.06 billion in profit for the fiscal first quarter ended December 31.

Ihnatko suggested that with its many billions Apple could help out the near-bankrupt country of Greece: “Thanks for democracy. We made quite a lot of money out of it.”

Gruber and Ihnatko disagreed over the impact of Apple’s iPad. Gruber said the all-conquering tablet was further along today than the iPhone was at the same point two years into its cycle.

Ihnatko suggested that we’d know how successful the iPad was only when it had some serious competition.

Gruber prophesised the end of the optical drive in all Mac products, starting with the Mac laptop range: “If you want a MacBook Pro with an optical drive… buy it now, because it’s going away soon”.

He suggested that Apple was “offended if a component physically spins,” as it leads to breakages. He also said that Apple was “paranoid about complacency” and so had to keep disrupting industry norms.

Apple’s MacBook Air was the first mainstream laptop to abandon the optical drive, and all three Mac commentators praised the ultra-thin Mac laptop as an amazing product – with Snell saying the 11-inch MacBook Air is his favourite Mac computer of all time.

A long part of the panel session focused on the JC Penney chain of department stores. Why was this relevant to the state of Apple in 2012?

JC Penney links with Apple as the iPhone maker’s former head of retail Ron Johnson is its new CEO, and he looks to be taking lessons learned from the wildly successful Apple Stores to the failing, discount retailer.

Snell had to visit a JC Penney store for the first time as his mother had given him some store vouchers for a Christmas present. He bought five shirts but was astounded by the faded retail environment.

Macworld State of Apple panel

Gruber and Snell also sidelined the discussion into their thoughts on the Nest home thermostat, from the man who helped design the first 18 generations of the Apple iPod, Tony Fadell. It looks gorgeous and is the first attempt to redesign domestic thermostats, and is probably what an Apple thermostat would look and work like if Steve Jobs had decided to focus on energy-efficient homes.

But the weirdest tangent was spared till last. With little prompting all three panelists started heaping praise on old Apple enemy Microsoft – particularly its Metro user interface from Windows Phone 7 and Windows 8.

Gruber called Metro “graceful and elegant”.

The company that was once famed for its conservative mindset had previously avoided changing something that worked. Now it was praised for taking a humble step backwards and starting over in a brave way.

Ihnatko said he missed many of the nice touches of Windows Phone 7 when returning to his Apple iPhone.

The Mac faithful could hardly believe their ears, and suddenly snapping out of this Microsoft-loving dream Snell quickly ended the session before the stage was invaded and the panelists beaten to death for their heretical chatter.