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Brier Dudley's blog

Brier Dudley offers a critical look at technology and business issues affecting the Northwest.

January 9, 2012 at 6:23 PM

CES 2012: Steve Ballmer’s farewell keynote

LAS VEGAS — Microsoft ended it’s long run of keynote speeches at the massive Consumer Electronics Show with a presentation featuring a rousing gospel choir and entertainer Ryan Seacrest but little in the way of news.

CEA boss Gary Shapiro started the presentation by recalling Microsoft’s first presentation at the show, by Bill Gates in 1995.

“Bill walked into the Hilton by himself with his head buried in a book,” Shapiro said.

“His speech was called ‘the coming revolution in consumer computing,'” Shapiro continued. “Bill said this coming revolution would be social – and that was in 1995.”

Shapiro acknowledged that Microsoft’s not coming back to deliver a keynote next year, a move that he characterized as “a break” for the software company.

“We agreed to a pause,” he said, then introduced Microsoft Chief Executive Steve Ballmer.

Ballmer came on stage and accepted a framed montage from Shapiro, then stepped off, giving way to a funny video mixing up clips of Microsoft keynote speeches over the years.

Seacrest then made a surprise appearance as “host” of the speech. Seacrest said he’s partnered with Microsoft for a number of years on Bing and other products.

Seacrest interviewed Ballmer in a staged interview, similar to the Conan O’Brien interview with Bill Gates in Microsoft’s 2005 keynote, though O’Brien was much sassier.

They paused for a Windows Phone demo by Microsoft manager Derek Snyder, who had a minor demo glitch while showing the voice translation feature. While “speaking” a message for the phone to relay, he said “sounds great” but the message displayed on the big screen only had the word “sound.”

Ballmer then talked up the Nokia Lumia phones coming to T-Mobile and AT&T and the HTC Titan II coming to AT&T, but he didn’t provide ship dates for the AT&T devices.

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Before Windows chief marketing officer Tami Reller came on stage to demonstrate Windows 8, Ballmer showed a video highlighting Windows 7 PCs now available.

Reller appeared on stage with eight Windows 8 laptops of different sizes and four tablets, including a prototype running Nvidia’s new Tegra 3 chip that she used to demonstrate the software’s Metro interface.

Reller reiterated that the next beta version of Windows 8 is coming in late February. She also showed two of the new laptops announced at CES, including HP’s “Spectre” Ultrabook with a glass cover and Samsung Series 9 that’s less than 13 millimeters thick and weighs just over 2.5 pounds.

In response to a question from Seacrest, Ballmer said all Windows 7 PCs will run Windows 8 when it becomes available.

The hands-down highlight of the keynote was the Tweet Choir – a gospel group that sang out tweets about Microsoft’s keynote. It drew and an enthusiastic, standing applause from Ballmer who seemed invigorated by the performance and was especially enthusiastic during the following discussion of the Xbox.

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Over 18 million Xbox Kinect sensors have been shipped, Ballmer said, and the combination of Kinect voice controls and Bing is transforming the TV experience, he said.

The Xbox group announced that a new Fox video app is coming to the system, offering on-demand access to Fox shows and news. Comcast’s Xfinity app for Xbox was also “announced” although it was part of the lineup that Microsoft disclosed last month and the keynote didn’t provide specific arrival dates for either app.

After showing a new video highlighting future ways that Kinect may be used, Ballmer said the voice-and-motion sensor is coming to the Windows platform on Feb. 1.

Seacrest gave Ballmer a chance to close his last CES keynote with a look at what’s next in the world of technology and consumer electronics. Ballmer said the most important thing at Microsoft is Windows and the next big thing at the company is Windows 8 and its Metro interface that’s appearing across the company’s product line.

“In 2012 what’s next?” Ballmer said. “Metro, Metro, Metro, and of course Windows, Windows, Windows!”

And that’s a wrap.

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