Microsoft Provides Muted Opening to 2010 CES

Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer opened the 2010 Consumer Electronics Show (CES) almost 30 minutes late Wednesday night in Las Vegas after a small power outage wreaked havoc with the PCs and TVs that were set up for his keynote address. The snafu was a harbinger of things to come: Despite a few interesting tidbits, Ballmer didn't have anything truly dramatic to announce or counter the swelling interest in an eventual tablet device from its chief consumer competitor, Apple.

Ballmer talked up all the expected Microsoft products--Windows 7, Bing, Office 2010, Xbox 360--and even a few unexpected ones, like a long-forgotten IPTV solution called MediaRoom and a new eReader and bookstore application called Blio. And there were quick references to poorly performing products like Zune and Windows Mobile, though if you blinked you'd have missed them.

But the few chances at excitement were quickly doused. Yes, Ballmer showed off a slate Tablet PC from HP, as was rumored. But it won't ship until the end of 2010 and is hardly revolutionary. (A competing hybrid notebook from Lenovo is far more innovative and interesting and will ship sooner, but wasn't highlighted in the keynote for some reason.)

And yes, Microsoft announced that its Project Natal add-on for the Xbox 360 will ship late this year as well. But the demo they provided of the technology was techie and boring, and the company actually tried to convince the keynote audience that it wasn't a reaction to the popular Nintendo Wii, but was rather the result of years of R&D and effort.

Windows 7, of course, provided any easy bright spot, though Microsoft declined to provide any sales figures while claiming that the release is the "fastest selling operating system in history." Ballmer then beat the company's one bit of good news to death with an interminable series of Windows 7 demos, which might have been interesting a year ago.

Microsoft's MediaRoom software is aimed at the cable set top box market, but as had few takers, especially in the United States. But version 2.0 of the solution provides a way for cable companies to deliver the experience to their users PCs, Xbox 360s, and even mobile phones. It looks nice, but the limited distribution of MediaRoom somewhat overshadows the possibilities.

In short, it was a muted started to a humongous and influential tradeshow, though of course there are still many miles of show floor to walk, meetings to attend, and pictures to take. If you're curious about the many goings-on at CES, please stay tuned to the SuperSite for Windows. I'm in Las Vegas covering the show through Saturday night.

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