CES 2009: Summing up Ballmer's first keynote [day 2]

Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer just wrapped up his first CES keynote, and I left feeling...vaguely satisfied.
Written by Andrew Nusca, Contributor

Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer just wrapped up his first CES keynote, and I left feeling...vaguely satisfied. Not excited, or bored, but mildly hopeful.

Clad in a burgundy v-neck sweater, a sprightly Ballmer kicked his speech off with gusto, proclaiming, "I'm ready to go and I'm here," and cracked a few jokes ("People are wondering why I keep ignoring [deposed Yahoo CEO] Jerry Yang's friend requests"), too.

Some talking points in the order they came up:

  • Last year, Microsoft invested more than $8 billion in research and development.
  • The primary goal: To converge the PC, phone and TV ("Life Without Walls")
  • 1 billion people in the world have a PC -- which means 5 billion don't have anything. Important: OLPC, Netbooks
  • More than 1 billion mobile phones were sold last year, and for many, that's their first experience with a computer. Next year, 50% of the market will be smartphones.
  • "The boundary between the PC and the TV will dissolve."
  • Soon, the PC will be able to hear and see you -- with the cloud as the connecting fabric among the three aformentioned devices.
  • Ballmer, with a straight face: "The linchpin? Windows." At this point, the crowd produced a muffled laugh. Ballmer continued, mentioning the "choice" and "value" of PCs.
  • "I am a PC...and proud of it!"
  • "We are on track to deliver the best version of Windows ever." That means it will boot quicker and use less battery life.
  • NEWS: Windows 7 Beta available NOW and it will be available for public, worldwide online trial on Friday.
  • NEWS: Windows Live Essentials will be available globally for free, there's a partnership with Facebook with it, and another partnership with Dell to have it pre-installed on all their machines.
  • Eleven different mobile phones have sold 1 million or more units.
  • NEWS: Partnership with Verizon: Live Search on phones.

It was at this point that Windows 7 Beta was demoed. Cool tricks:

  • When comparison shopping in IE, snap windows to each side of the screen and they'll automatically be sized to fit the screen together (think customized "tile" function).
  • Networking - the "Home Group" makes networking a two minute process, rather than two days, and you can send info around (example: sending music to the XBox in the living room).
  • Windows 7 touch support: a Google Earth-like "globe" map was shown and manipulated.

Other demos: Windows Mobile phones that can advise (with real-time suggestion boxes) and stitch together panoramic shots; home.live.com and its "What's New" feed, tying the social networking cloud together on one site, as well as a right click "inline menu" that helps you do related items, like translating selected text; and some XBox 360 and XBox Live features, including the ability to stream video titles thanks to a partnership with Netflix.

The keynote finished up with some cool education-ready R&D tech, including "digital textbooks" using touchscreens and paper-thin, flexible displays (hello, New York Times 3.0!).


It was overall a good presentation. No barn-burning products, no Microsoft Zune phones, no direct swipes at competitors, save for some of the info at the beginning -- Microsoft is still at its goal of tying all its products on various platforms together, but the challenge for them is to do so without being too proprietary. Partnerships were a large part of the presentation, which is encouraging -- but I'm still not convinced.

As for Windows 7, the big debate is, "will it win over WinXP users?" As I type this on that very OS, I can say that my heart had little flits of excitement for what's to come -- the strong focus on "intuitive" features is quite reassuring. No one wants innovations that aren't useful in a big way, which has been Microsoft's problem in the past. If the company keeps that mindset without drinking the Kool Aid too much (newsflash, guys: If I have to use IE to get all this functionality, it ain't gonna happen unless you really show up Firefox and Chrome), they'll be in good shape, economy be damned.

For those of you who saw the webcast: what do you think?

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