Microsoft at CES: The elephants in the room trample the actual announcements

Summary:Microsoft didn't show off its rumored Courier tablet at CEO Steve Ballmer's keynote on January 7 at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES), as I predicted it wouldn't do earlier today. Nor did Ballmer share any information on Windows Mobile 7, Windows 8 or much of anything else that enthusiasts had been hoping to hear/see.

Microsoft didn't show off its rumored Courier tablet at CEO Steve Ballmer's keynote on January 6 at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES), as I predicted earlier in the day. Nor did Ballmer share any information on Windows Mobile 7, Windows Live Wave 4, Windows 8 or much of anything else that enthusiasts had been hoping to hear/see.

Instead, Ballmer did talk up some of the recently debuted Windows 7 PCs, a new Game Room retro-game arcade on Xbox Live (which had been previously rumored), a soon-to-be-released Windows Mobile 6.5 phone from HTC/T-Mobile and a forthcoming HP slate tablet (that's nothing like Courier) at the event. Oh yeah... and he confirmed what he let slip months ago: That Project Natal, Microsoft's next-generation gaming controller, is coming in 2010.

Once Microsoft officials finally started confirming earlier today that Ballmer wasn't going to show off Courier, there was a lot of speculation that he might say something -- anything -- new about Windows Mobile 7. Nope. All we know is the next most likely venue for anything WM-7-related is the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona in February. (We also do know that Microsoft is going to say something about WM7 for developers at its Mix 2010 show in mid-March, since they've put up a session placeholder for it on the Mix site.)

After the power-related delay, which pushed back the start of Ballmer's keynote by about 30 minutes, what did he say that caught my ear (via the streaming Webcast)?

  • He used the words "screens" and "cloud" right off the bat, in case you had any doubts that Microsoft was going to continue to bang the "three screens and the cloud" drum in the new year.
  • He also mentioned one of Microsoft's new favorite buzzwords, NUI (natural user interface), which means everything other than QWERTY input: Voice, touch, gestures, etc.
  • Microsoft has inked an agreement with HP to make Bing the default search engine, and MSN the default homepage on HP PCs in 42 countries.
  • He showed prototypes of three slate PCs (including the aforementioned HP one) that are all Windows 7 based and due to ship in 2010. The other two were from Pegatron and Archos.
  • He shared a couple of new Windows stats: On Black Friday, retailers sold 63 percent more PCs than they did the year before. And the 2009 holiday season saw greater than 50 percent year-over-year growth for Windows PC sales, Ballmer said, quoting NPD.

Maybe Microsoft would be better off just relinquishing the CES keynote kick-off spot. Yes, I know there's a renewed focus at the company on proving Microsoft has consumer mettle. But if you're going to back up that claim, you need to bring to CES some things people are actually excited about. Not version 2.0 of MediaRoom (Microsoft's IPTV software, if you've forgotten).

It says a lot that one of the biggest new announcements in Ballmer's keynote was the Blio e-reader software from Ray Kurzweil and Baker & Taylor. The software supports full color graphics, multiple voices, note-taking, video and several other features that may make it useful in the textbook space, in particular. OK, OK -- that HP slate looked nice, too... It was running the Kindle for PC software in Ballmer's demo.

I know there are a number of folks who think Microsoft's noticeable move away from pre-announcing strategies and technologies is a good one that will better help the company meet expectations (and emulate a couple of its competitors). But continuing to re-announce previously unveiled technologies -- even in new bottles -- doesn't create much excitement.

Do you think Microsoft would have been better served showing a sneak peek of Windows Mobile 7 or Windows 8/IE 9 at CES? Or do you think the elephants in the room don't really overshadow the actual technologies Microsoft that are already shipping and/or closer to delivery?

Topics: Enterprise Software, Hardware, Microsoft, Mobile OS, Mobility, Networking, Windows


Mary Jo Foley has covered the tech industry for 30 years for a variety of publications, including ZDNet, eWeek and Baseline. She is the author of Microsoft 2.0: How Microsoft plans to stay relevant in the post-Gates era (John Wiley & Sons, 2008). She also is the cohost of the "Windows Weekly" podcast on the TWiT network. Got a tip? Se... Full Bio

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