Microsoft CES keynote fails to excite

January 7th, 2010 at 8:28 AM  No Comments

If you couldn’t get a chance to watch the Microsoft CES pre-show keynote last night, you didn’t miss much. If you were actually at the event, I feel sorry for you, it must have been hard to stay awake.

After starting late due to power issues (which fried one of the Microsoft demo units on stage) the keynote got off to a rather boring start with Steve Ballmer, Microsoft CEO, giving various statistics about how well recently released products like Windows 7 and Bing are doing. For the first half hour, the audio stream for the webcast was so bad, it kept cutting out and then required constant volume adjustment. Note to Microsoft, hire a decent sound engineer next time.

If you’d like to watch the keynote for yourself, you can see the saved version on the Microsoft website.

It was all pretty much downhill from there. The much discussed “Courier” tablet that many in the tech press was excited they would announce never came, and there were no details about Windows Mobile 7… at all. Only “we’ll have more about mobile at Mobile World Congress.” So overall, the keynote failed to deliver much of anything that we didn’t know or have not seen already. But, here is a breakdown of what was covered, after the break.

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  • Microsoft has three goals in 2010: screens everywhere (meaning more PC and other devices), cloud services and natural UI.
  • Since it’s launch, Microsoft has sold over 39 million Xbox 360s. No data was provided on how many of those are replacement units after the first one suffered from a RRoD (red ring of death) — in addition, there are currently 500 million games for the console, generating retail spending of over $20 billion.
  • Xbox Live membership is now at over 20 million people.
  • Project Natal, the natural motion capture interface for the Xbox 360, will be available for the holiday season of 2010.
  • One interesting bit of news, is that HP and Microsoft will be teaming up to make Bing the default search engine and MSN the default homepage on their newly sold systems. Although it would seem that the agreement is something like “don’t change the Internet Explorer defaults to Google.”
  • In the world of car multimedia: Ford will be rolling out updates for the next version of their Sync platform that include HD radio tuners that feature iTunes tagging. Blue&Me has now been sold in 1 million FIAT cars and KIA announced their UVO system rolling out in late 2010. Both Blue&Me and UVO are based on the same Windows Automotive embedded technologies as Ford Sync.
  • While Windows Mobile 6.5 came out last year, it has generally been received with tepid enthusiasm. Ballmer refused to talk about Windows Mobile 7 last night, which is seen as the last ditch effort to save the platform. We shouldn’t have very long to wait for more information though, as MWC is February 15-18 and Ballmer promised to have more during that time.
  • What Ballmer did focus a lot on was Windows 7, which he said (and I would agree) is “faster, leaner, less busy… simpler to complete common tasks” – while we learned most of this during the launch back in October, it’s still interesting that there were 3,000 engineers, 50,000 partners, 8 million beta testers for Windows 7.
  • According to Ballmer, NPD says PC sales jumped 50% at the Windows 7 launch, and Black Friday was up 64% over last year. Gardner also says that in 2010 there will be a 12% PC growth over 2008. While Microsoft believes that has a lot to do with Windows 7, and they may be partially right, it should probably also be considered that the economy in late 2009 wasn’t quite as bad as the “OMG! PANIC!” economy of late 2008, and that consumer spending was stronger last year overall.

“The range of PCs with Windows 7 is virtually limitless … it has broadest ecosystem of developers in the world … over 4 million Windows applications, 800,000 of them unique to Windows 7 just since the beta was released”

After Ballmer came Ryan Asdourian, Senior Product Manager for Windows, who came out to highlight all the different devices that run Windows 7. Sort of a “hey Apple, look we have cool and sexy hardware too!” A couple of the ones I liked were the Dell Adamo XPS notebook, which isn’t new, but it always great to look at. Asdourian highlighted the fact that the notebook is thinner then a poker chip and also wakes up from sleep mode faster then you can open the lid. Another system I wouldn’t mind getting my hands on was the HP Envy 15, which features a DirectX 11 video card with 1GB of memory. Not bad for a notebook.

Watching Ballmer on stage with Asdourian was almost painful though. Seeing poor Ryan get teased and attacked by his boss in a failed attempt at humor. It was uncomfortable to watch, and makes me wonder what it’s would be like to have to deal with him on a regular basis.

One of the things that I did see some significant benefit to was the new collaboration feature of Windows Live Skydrive and Office 2010. In it, files that are stored and shared out of Skydrive can be opened by multiple users, and changes merged back into one document. The example that Asdourian used was students working on a PowerPoint presentation, in that each student could be simotaniously working on the same file, without having to share one computer. I can see this being useful at work, where all of our students already have Skydrive accounts though Live@edu.

Next Microsoft turned it’s keynote focus to uniting software with the cloud, which is an approach I tend to be a fan of. My view, and also that of Microsoft, seems to be that the best approach for software going forward is having locally installed applications that communicate back into the cloud to instantly receive data. This is in contrast to Google’s approach to the cloud which tends to be “put everything there and use a web browser to get it” … which works for some applications and users, but not all, especially when access to an Internet connection is slow or non-existent.

Microsoft also announced last night that their Mediaroom 2.0 software will be available for IPTV operators to start testing next month. Mediaroom is the world’s most deployed IPTV platform, powering such operators as AT&T U-Verse. The new version will allow providers to offer on-demand TV service to Windows 7 based PCs using Windows Media Center as well as on the Xbox 360. They can also offer on-demand programming to any web-browser on the PC or Mac, as well as compatible smartphones in the near future.

Mediaroom 2.0 will also add support for Silverlight and IIS Smooth Streaming.

Again, if you’d like to watch the entire keynote, you can do so over on the Microsoft site, but I wouldn’t suggest it. As more information comes out of CES that is Microsoft related (or if I see something interesting that comes from someone else) you can be sure to read about it here later this week.