Microsoft is a company that seems to have as many personas as it does product lines. To gamers, they’re the XBox company, who unleashed Halo upon the masses. In the office world, they’re the Office company. And to Linux buffs, they’re the devil incarnate.

What many don’t know, though, is that Microsoft has a truly quirky side to them. In Japan, the company’s been building a kinder, cuter image since the launch of Windows 7. Since October 2009, the company’s been creating mascot characters, which are affectionately called “OS-tans“, to promote its flagship products. Windows 7 saw the birth of Nanami Madobe: a spunky, blue-haired lass voiced by Nana Mizuki. She was a helpful character, used to show how easy it could be to build a PC, particularly of the Windows variety.

Nanami proved to be a hit. For the release of Windows 8, Microsoft doubled down on the mascots, as they introduced the world to Ai Madobe and Yu Madobe: Nanami’s younger sisters, who would preach the word of Windows 8 everywhere, from electronics shops to Comiket.

After Windows 8, we began to see a push from Microsoft Japan to provide an anime face for more of the company’s lineup. At last year’s Anime Festival Asia, Internet Explorer was shown off as a badass magical girl who could take on threats both big and small. the new mascot, named Inori Aizawa, was presented as sleek, powerful, and, most important, cool.

Earlier today, the family got a little bigger. Claudia Madobe, Nanami’s older cousin, is the latest addition to the mascot lineup. She’s an adept troubleshooter, a tech support genius, and the new face of Microsoft’s Windows Azure cloud service.

Two shorts featuring the character were already produced and posted to the web. One features Claudia doing what she does best in the data center, while the other revolves around Nanami dealing with a manager that has a bit too much affection for Claudia.

Dear god, I’m tracing the family tree of a series of characters created to sell operating systems!

That said, the decision to craft such a diverse family of characters is brilliant marketing on the part of Microsoft. Let’s face it: Most people don’t buy the newest version of Windows when it comes out. They’ll often ride out their current system until it’s time to get a new computer. For some, this is fairly often but, for others, it could mean a span of eight, even ten years before their system konks out, warranting a trip to Best Buy.

The same goes for applications like Internet Explorer. Currently, 4% of the world’s online population uses Internet Explorer 6, which was originally released in 2004.

So, to give a face and a personality to these brands is simply smart business. It creates a positive, memorable image in the minds of potential customers that could give a nudge to buy that new OS or update that application. This ensures that money will continue to flow into the company through purchases or upgrades.

While the impact of such shorts may be minimal on the sales of a specialized product like Windows Azure, they certainly do help to build mind share and awareness of the brand in the greater market. Still, the rewards could be great for the company, as they continue to shift their offerings to cloud-based services and software.