Ballmer on Natal: 'The most exciting product we'll bring to market this year'

Ballmer on Natal: 'The most exciting product we'll bring to market this year'

Summary: Microsoft is launching a lot of products in calendar 2010. Which of them is the most "interesting" and potentially groundbreaking? According to Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer -- who spoke to a group of executives in Bogota, Colombia on April 26 -- that distinction belongs to Microsoft's Project Natal


Microsoft is launching a lot of products in calendar 2010. Which of them is the most "interesting" and potentially groundbreaking?

According to Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer  -- who spoke to a group of executives in Bogota, Colombia, on April 26 -- that distinction belongs to Microsoft's Project Natal, a gesture-based game controller that Microsoft will be previewing at the upcoming E3 show and launching this holiday season.

From a transcript of Ballmer's April 26 remarks:

"Perhaps for me the most exciting product we'll bring to market this year, and it really fits in this context, actually comes out of our videogaming group. You might say, why would I talk to a group of CEOs about videogames? Because the technology actually is very general purpose, and we'll see come into the rest of our lives pretty soon.

"It's a technology that we call Natal. It's a little camera and microphone that sits on top of your TV set. And if you want to control the TV, you don't go get some remote control or big fat gaming thing. If you want to look through TV channels, you just gesture, and the computer recognizes your voice, it recognizes your gestures. You want to see the next sports program, you go like this, it will cycle you through. You want to play a game and you need to jump, you jump. I'm not going to jump too hard; a little bit too high altitude here in Bogota for that, at least for me. But it recognizes you, it knows your voice, who you are, your gestures, what you're doing.

"And if you think about that in a lot of settings, why am I carrying this thing? I've already forgotten three times where I set it down. I should just be able to go like this, and the camera should recognize that gesture and control the slides for me, and let these kinds of things freely happen."

Ballmer is making the rounds in South America to talk with a number of customers, with a heavy focus on Microsoft's Online services -- the family of Microsoft-hosted applications, including Exchange Online, SharePoint Online, Office Communications Online, Live Meeting, CRM Online, the Business Productivity Online Suite (BPOS) and the forthcoming Windows Intune management offering.

Last week, Microsoft expanded availability of its Microsoft Online Services to 17 new markets. Colombia is one of the newly added targets for BPOS.

Meanwhile, speaking of Microsoft's Online Services offerings, the Redmondians unveiled earlier this week new functionality that is part of the May service update for its Dynamics CRM Online service.

The May update will support integration between the Microsoft's Dynamics CRM (either the on-premises or hosted version) and its Dynamics GP ERP product. Officials made the announcement as part of its Convergence conference, which kicked off this past weekend in Atlanta.

Microsoft officials said last week that Dynamics GP 2010 will be available to customers as of May 1. At Convergence, Microsoft also announced a new promotion for Dynamics GP customers, via which they will be able to purchase Dynamics CRM Online for $19 per user, per month, for a year.

Topics: Microsoft, Collaboration, Enterprise Software, Software


Mary Jo has covered the tech industry for 30 years for a variety of publications and Web sites, and is a frequent guest on radio, TV and podcasts, speaking about all things Microsoft-related. She is the author of Microsoft 2.0: How Microsoft plans to stay relevant in the post-Gates era (John Wiley & Sons, 2008).

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  • Hmm...

    Natal looks good, but I play games to relax after
    a hard day at work or school. If I wanted to
    exercise I would have bought a Wii (no, wait, I
    would have went jogging or swimming). However,
    Natal will be good for social gaming when you have
    friends over. ;-)
    • LOL... Cameras all over the house???

      Like anyone is putting cameras all over their
      house, pointed right at themselves, at all
      times... ROTFLMAO!!! Natal is already dead...
      • who says it has to be that way??

        Who says that the technology won't evolve into 1 single camera or camera-like device for the entire room or home for that matter?

        Its a nice technology for people with limited mobility, for handling things that are out of reach. I can see this implemented in cars etc...

        Lots of stuff. Perhaps you should think about it.
      • Where did that come from?

        Natal is primarily for the gaming market. It will work in conjunction with the x360. This is msft's answer to the wii, and Sony is also jumping on that bandwagon with Next. Imagine FPS games where you have to really run, jump, crouch, go prone, and raise your weapon. For those that want to game and stay fit, this will be great to avoid being a couch potato. Natal isn't about monitoring your every move.
        • It came from Mary-Jo's story...

          Try reading it and try to comprehend what
          Ballmer is talking about here...

          A technology that requires aiming a camera and
          mic at yourself...

          [i]"It?s a little camera and microphone that
          sits on top of your TV set. And if you want to
          control the TV, you don?t go get some remote
          control or big fat gaming thing. If you want to
          look through TV channels, you just

          [i]"it recognizes you, it knows your voice, who
          you are, your gestures, what you?re doing."[/i]

          So MS wants the world to aim cameras and
          microphones at themselves so their cameras can
          recognize who you are and what you are doing,
          and watch your every move, waiting for you to
          make a gesture...

          Those MS cameras have got to be secure... I
          mean after all, MS is known for being secure...
          No one could hijack your camera, use it to spy
          on you... nahhhhhh...
  • RE: Ballmer on Natal: 'The most exciting product we'll bring to market this

    This will be about as popular as the big ass touch screen table.
    Ballmer just doesn't get it. Again Ballmer shows his ineptitude as
    an innovator. Maybe he should stick to copying other companies
    technologies and pawning them off as MS innovations. Though
    they don't do that very well either. When is the board at MS going
    to show some guts and replace this jackass?
    • Thanks ZDNet

      This stuff is priceless. The most exciting product a company claiming USD8+ BILLION a year in R&D is a little game controller.

      You couldn't write a better comedy!

      Monkey boy should ask himself how this is better changing channels than his remote control;-). I can think of a number of ways it is way worst.
      Richard Flude
      • You guys don't get it

        If you actually listen to want Ballmer was saying, the implementation of a camera on a TV where you can play games and change the channel is only one implementation of the real diamond which is a system that understands you!

        Imagine having these throughout a building, house or somewhere. You no longer need to carry a remote, or some other things, it just knows who you are what you're doing and can translate this into all manner of actions..

        The possibilities are endless and only limited by one's imagination and is by far and away more powerful than anything else we have seen.

        Of course you never really thought about this but rather just posted some trolling drivel.
        • Equally...

          OK, but we'll have to wait and see how this really pans out. How
          nuanced is the system? Do I need to make big gestures, or can it see
          "hand signals" [insert your own joke here]. If I have to make large
          movements I know by the end of the day, I'm going to be REALLY
          tired. How much am I expected to use my voice? Again I can't keep
          talking all day, and imagine what that'll do to an open office (horrible,
          and Microsoft you'll never get any work done as some sweaty man in
          the next cubical shouts: "Developers, Developers, Developers!" at his

          Now as a gamer, I'm not sure about this. Maybe I lack imagination but
          I'm so used to pushing buttons I can't quite get my head around
          flailing to play Halo, with the Wii I get a "prop" (little stick) that helps
          me into the game, I don't think an empty hand is really so cool. The
          thing that really gives me pause is the video that Microsoft put out of
          the race game - honestly, I want a wheel, "doing the mash-potato" to
          steer looks seriously iffy. I'll admit Lionhead Studio's take looked really
          good, but I'm still a bit hazy as to how you work that into a successful
          game mechanic.

          But in the Office, I really have trouble seeing this. Microsoft's
          "multitouch" technology is really half hearted in Windows 7, it seems
          to have VERY limited utility, is this going to be the same?

          I'd have thought Windows Phone 7 would be the most exciting thing
          Microsoft are doing this year. Full multitouch UI, integration with XBox
          Live, and a whole new platform. So if a new game controller is the
          most exciting thing going on in Seattle, then we're in for a dull year
          from Microsoft.
        • what are you smoking?

          or is it the kool-aid?
      • You just dont get it!

        If this was Jobs you would be wetting your pants about now....
        • Err...

          If it was Steve Jobs we'd not know anything about it yet.
          • You would have it

            it just wouldn't support multitasking or 3G. And it wouldn't work with standard TV inputs you would have to buy an adapter.
            Turd Furgeson
          • lol

            and flash and really doesn't do anything but is pretty and everyone around the apple campus will lineup for it.

            But if its from jobs everyone will know about it because someone will conveniently leave it at a bar in redwood city.
          • If this were Jobs

            If this were Jobs Mary Jo would be 6 feet under.
          • If it was Steve Jobs, the world would be proclaiming him as ...

            ... the second coming.

            Oh ... wait ...
      • You have no vision for innovation

        If you think this technology is limited to just video games then you have no vision for innovation.

        This is being introduced and marketed for gaming. But its going to branch into computing.

        For example, people like touch screens. But it doesn't quite work perfectly on the desktop. You would have to lean over and touch the screen. For a lot of people their monitor is not on top of their face and it would only take about 4 inches of space to make constant touching of the screen awkward. It would be much easier for you to raise one hand and gesture towards the monitor.

        If you can only think of how this applies to video games then you really don't know how technology evolves.

        The technology in this thing is pretty impressive. The early test shows the camera mapping your entire body so that people/objects moving around you doesn't interfere. Its a brilliant technology.
        • Not MS vision

          Only MS thinks a touchscreen on a desktop was going anywhere (dumb, fingerprints anyone?). This interface appears just as silly for the example given by Steve B.

          But time will tell. Anyway it appears some are impress that this is the most exciting product to be delivered from MS this year;-)
          Richard Flude
    • When is the board...

      going to replace 'this jackass'? His '15 months' are up around the end of this year, so I predict it will be around 1st quarter 2011.
      All parties must be allowed to save face. He will declare victory and retire.
  • Natal is misapplied

    Natal is really cool. Personally, I don't think MS is thinking big
    enough and pervasive enough. Done right Natal could make
    Windows revenue look tiny.