stampeder, I think the reason people are objecting to your thread title is "phoning home" implies a lot more than what is actually going on here. The "phoning home" term is usually used when describing what software like Adobe CS 5's copy protection measure that involves communicating with Adobe's servers.
That would be like me starting a thread saying that "Apple's computers 'phone home' while using NTP to time.apple.com". A reader would look at the "phone home" statement and assume that there must be some sort of privacy/big brother activity going on here when that really isn't the case because the requesting packet doesn't include identifiable information. If, instead you wrote a title that read "Windows determines Internet availability by pinging a public-facing Microsoft server", I don't think you'd be getting these objections.
This is along the same lines as the consumer irritation with Apple and Android phones secretly sending location info or leaking private data.
I think I see where you are misunderstanding what is going on here if you believe that the Microsoft case that you're citing and the Apple/Android cases are comparable. Let me explain: one doesn't have any sort of identifiable information (aside from the IP address it is coming from being transmitted) and the Apple/Android examples can, and usually do have very specific identifiable information associated with them. Fortunately, because of all the decompilers and debugging tools that are available to the security community, if Microsoft was actually sending personally identifiable information with the "ping", then we would know about it.
Your posts suggest that the user would derive some sort of privacy benefit from changing the server that gets pinged, but no evidence is provided to support that view. In fact, the absence of evidence about a privacy violation here is evidence of the absence of said privacy violation.
Does this make sense to you?