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

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: Operating Systems, Hardware, Microsoft, Mobile OS, Mobility, Software, Wi-Fi, Windows


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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  • fair coverage of a boring session

    I agree there was no substance. nothing new, nothing innovative and lot of references to 3rd parties as the source of innovation which I found a bit odd. Ballmer was low energy, so i especulate it was his last
    • One key note.. HP.. Never buying another one

      If bing is default.. I need something else.

      BING is USELESS...please HP.. you are going to
      loose revenue.

      Recommended the purchase of 4 digit laptops this past year. most went to HP the rest where Asus and Nokia.. Guess Acer starts looking attractive.

      IF Bing and/or MSN default... HP is scrapped on my list. Cause it would mean extra work on my part to get if off to a selectable choice and not a push down your throat option.
      • I feel the same way

        I'll scrap any company that deals with Google. If even a tiny piece of Google software comes pre loaded on a system, it's past by for consideration by me. That's alot of money that HW company wil lose.

        Bing/MSN i don't mind as our users are liking it.

        We've actually had a sales rep tell me he would remove Google's software off their systems personally if we purchased from their company.

        We said no and purchased from someone else.
        John Zern
      • Uh... OK

        It takes less time and effort to change your
        default web page from MSN and your default search
        provider from Bing than it took for you to type
        that comment.

        I do, however, agree that I won't be using either
        Bing nor MSN, and eschew it with the machines I
        set up at work as well.
      • Users far more productive with Bing than google

        Bing is the clear winner with relevent search results. Pick a user task and watch, they'll save 40-50% of their time using Bing.

        Not to mention you have to be clueless to make a hw desicision based on search provider or browser homepage default in the first place as these will instantly change to your system policy settings anyway and you'd have to be clueless to use 4 digits of machines without system policies.
        Johnny Vegas
      • I am not the only one that hates Bing?!

        I tried searching for something at Microsoft, and it was useless! So I went to google and typed and what I was looking for and it came right up! People are asking me to remove Bing from their computers because it keeps taking over without their permission!

        Is Bing the cyber equivalent to Obama health care - they will just shove it down our throats weather or not we want it??
        • Are you the only one that hates Bing?!

          Probably not. But there are A LOT of people out there that do like it. I decided to give it a try and I used it exclusively for one month. I found everything I was looking for.
        • words

          That is whether not weather. the latter is whether or not it is sunny, raining, cold or hot. Whether is choice.
        • Bad analogy

          Right, you prefer the Republican plan--don't get sick, but if you do, die quickly. Most Americans want a public option, which Republicans fought tooth and nail. This is the strategy of the right--anything the dems are for, they're against it. Makes me wonder if the dems proposed a resolution praising thrift and saving, the repubs would probably claim Hitler also was for thrift and saving.
          • So much cluelessness in one short and simple post....

            <i>Right, you prefer the Republican plan</i>

            You're jumping to conclusions. Did the poster mention a preference for "the republican plan"?

            Besides, you don't really know what the republican plan is. Do you!?!?

            <i>--don't get sick, but if you do, die quickly.</i>

            You are precisely the type of person that the congressman from Florida had in mind: clueless, non-thinking and, very likely, an ideologue who will go for anything democrat regardless of how harmful or stupid it is.

            Anybody that gave any credibility at all to the rants of that congressman must be one of the most idiotic human beings ever.

            <i>Most Americans want a public option,</i>


            Polls have consistently shown that the American public doesn't want the "public" option, and that they'd rather have the current system than to go with what the democrats have proposed.

            <i> which Republicans fought tooth and nail.</i>

            Guess what.

            Polls show most Americans favoring republicans in their stance against what the democrats are doing. Thus, it would seem that what the republican leaders are doing is echoing the sentiments of the public.

            You need to start following the news and stop echoing the democrats' talking points and their lies.

            <i> This is the strategy of the right--anything the dems are for, they're against it.</i>

            Not everything; many republicans have acted like democrats for a long time and that's the reason that many republican voters stayed home in the last couple of election cycles, allowing the democrats to take over congress and the presidency.

            But, the republican and conservative voters are taking back the controls of the republican and conservative movements and they're doing it with the the creation of the tea party and other means. I am a "tea party" member and proponent of their beliefs. (Just in case you want to make a big deal of it, yeah, there is no official "tea party", but the ideas behind it is what people are going for).

            But, it's not just republicans who are outraged at what the democrats are doing. The independents and many moderate democrats are just as outraged, and the plurality of them now favor voting for republicans.

            If anything, it's the democrat congress that's out of step with the American people.

            The American people voted the democrats in, but now the majority have realized that they were duped.

            <i>Makes me wonder if the dems proposed a resolution praising thrift and saving, the repubs would probably claim Hitler also was for thrift and saving.</i>

            You'll never know the answer to that one because the democrats have demolished the economy and the people don't have any money to stash away in savings accounts and the only thing left for people to do is to cut their spending. Thus, with no money to spend and no money to save, the economy is in much more dire straits than Obama and democrat "leaders" realize or want to admit.

            So, buddy, it's time for you to wake up and look around you and start doing some real thinking. Just repeating what you hear won't help you or anyone else.
        • What does it have to do with the weather?

          I switched from Google cause I don't want paid for results. I want relevant results. Our techs all use Bing now because they get relevant hits quickly where with Google you have to wade through what amounts to advertisements for companies that paid for search word relevance.
          Anyone that doesn't see this is probably just used to working around everything with Google and is afraid of change, even when it's obviously for the better.
          And please post what make/model computers and where they were purchased that are having BING "takeover" the machine.
          I can't buy that w/o some more information to back it up.
      • Group Policy

        It seems like someone with "4 digit laptops" would be able to control the home pages and search defaults with group policy - or not, and just let the users choose for themselves. OEMs have to choose something as the default, and they can't please everybody, but to make a buying decision based on the default search and home page is bizarre and absurd.
        • I was thinking the same thing

          It sounds like those complaints about the default color of Ubuntu's desktop. Like they would know the difference in Windows and Ubuntu if they couldn't change the appearance of their desktop.

          Much ado about nothing, while completely ignoring really important factors. Like the onerous implications of Microsoft's EULAs and business models.
          Ole Man
          • What does EULAs have to do with BING?

            I have never had to agree to anything to use BING or any other search engine.
            Business has proved they want a single solution from a single provider that is unified and integrated that can be plugged into a businesses goals and business processes which no other vendor comes close to providing.
            If the EULA was really a problem for any users or businesses, the use of Windows would never have continued to grow with all of the choices abounding. Apple, Oracle, thin clients and linux, Unix, and don't forget those many entrepreneurs and venture capitalists that have seen the sense in building a Linux supply chain including new hardware OEMs. Nothing proves the mettle of a product more than the people who risk huge amounts of capital, time and energy, who are professionals as seeing emerging markets and invest in making those markets flourish.
            But the fact remains that businesses can't afford a system that has hundreds of thousands of legal copyrights attached to any one piece of the system as a whole (OS, LOB apps, Databases etc) and want to avert the huge risk that creates. Any one of those hundreds of thousands of copyright holders can sue their pants off for any mistake outside the onerous licensing, which won't even allow a company to integrate Linux and Windows when and where they want, the most onerous possible licensing considering the ubiqutiousness of Windows and it's continued growth. They want Windows or at best for Linux, the ability to combine the two at their strengths.
            Too big of risk for most and that has not changed.
            And a system that is created and run in a communal fashion with hoardes of Woodstock casualty types with a PC and a bong being the main development force and nobody holding true responsibility for ultimate ownership.
            Service is not guaranteed because of no true ownership, unless you go with a RH solution that is far more than Windows after 3 years and continues to grow in cost both for service contracts and reqired expertise hiring or outsourcing to craft some faxsimile of an integated system, no where near the plug and succeed of a proprietary vendor, and in teh end the cost is always higher and value less.
            Additonally you can't write down service charges that keep coming year after year, where with a system that practically runs itself you don't need expensive service contracts and high priced employees added by the handfuls and can write off the capital expensives for the software, not just the hardware.
            You don't fool the true entreprenuers and continually successful businesses that have and continue to run on lawsuit exempt, one source code.
          • You, the expert of every Microsoft orifice that exists

            Don't know what Bing has to do with your EULA?

            Is Bing part of your Microsoft software? Then I give you, ta da da daaaaaa! Your EULA. Read it! It will make you smarter.
            Ole Man
      • Yep, no HP for me either.

        Well, the decision is made for me. Since Microsoft has bribed HP,
        no HP for me.
  • Wait are you aware that it just became 2010?

    WM7/W8/IE9 Are you expecting any of those to come in 2010? I wouldn't be surprised if those are all still previews at 2011 CES. If you don't like rehashes then you should be glad they weren't shown this year...
    Johnny Vegas
  • RE: Microsoft at CES: The elephants in the room trample the actual announce

    You are spot on. I was expecting something new and
    exciting so Microsoft could generate some buzz in
    competition with Google and apple. But I guess
    Microsoft's innovation wheels are turning slower and
    slower. If they had nothing new to announce they
    should not have at least made a fool of themselves on
    stage. It was a poorly rehearsed forced banter between
    Ballmer and the product manager with nothing to show.
    Microsoft is losing the buzz factor to Apple, Google
    and even Sony and soon enough the same is going to
    happen to Microsoft's products and market share.
  • RE: Microsoft at CES: The elephants in the room trample the actual announcements

    Very biased and poor analyses. Microsoft has recovered momentum with Win 7, Bing, XBOX and soon new WM7. Win 7 is enabling an imense diversity of devices. Imense. Bing is better than Google in the US only today. New Maps features are better than Googles. XBOX and all its exclusive game launches, Zune content and Natal are leading edge. Integration of Zune's content across XBOX, Zune HD and PC is cool. The new annouced tablets seem pretty cool. Why do we need a dedicated eReader if you can have a full PC to also read texts in a much richer way than eInk technology ? Windows mobile embeded in cars is also gaining momentum now with Kia. Ok, they didn't launch a super cool stuff as you analysts expect, but is tough to deny that the "Elephant" is back, big and strong.
    • Did you watch the keynote?

      Steve was verging on bonkers - throwing random comments into the
      other guys presentation and overstating comments already made, Unable
      to operate the HP slate it was worse than embarrassing.

      Even MSNBC - who I think are owned by Microsoft reported: "First the
      power went out Wednesday night, and when it came back up, Microsoft
      Corp. Chief Executive Steve Ballmer did little to add to the electricity."