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Thursday, 06 January 2011

Microsoft's Lackluster CES 2011 Keynote address lacked ... well, luster.

Microsoft touts the performance of Xbox Kinect and Windows Phone 7 and reveals plans for a Windows OS for ARM systems.

For the third year running, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer got up in front of a jam-packed audience and started off CES with Microsoft's keynote address. After a full day of press-conferences revealing the latest and greatest devices being released by different consumer electronics manufacturers, Microsoft's keynote address seemed very lacking. Most of the hour and half long session was spent touting the wonders of Xbox Kinect and at least seven features of Windows Phone 7. The unfortunate thing is that we already have all that information and those products are already released. We expect a little more from CES.

Don't get me wrong, Xbox Kinect is making a huge splash. The technology leap-frogs on the Wii consoles wireless gaming functions, but it tracks the person, not a controller. Although most of the Kinect features talked about during the keynote address are things that are already well known, there were a few new points. Avatar Kinect will be making an appearance sometime this year, allowing users to basically web-chat as their avatars. It's sort of like video-chat, except no one has to see the real you. It sounds like a great environment for online dating. Avatar Kinect Dating... I can see it now. Also, after showing off the great motion controls for non-gaming aspects of Kinect, Microsoft announced that its Netflix app will have the ability to be controlled via Kinect later this year.


The bulk of keynote not spent talking about Kinect (did I mention Kinect is already released?) was spent talking about Windows Phone 7 (also already released). Rather than showing off some cool new features that are in production for Windows Phone 7, Microsoft spent the time telling consumers about 7 features of Windows Phone 7 that are already available. Apparently there isn't enough hype about Windows Phone 7 and Microsoft needed to advertise it. What better place to do that the biggest consumer electronics show in the world?

Microsoft did eventually get to some new stuff. It's just that most of it wasn't theirs. Mike Angiulo got up on stage to show off some of the cool new systems running Windows. Many of those systems had already been announced at CES 2011 by their respective manufacturers during the press-conferences. The basic idea of the whole show-and-tell was that Windows runs on all types of platforms and form factors. One of the systems was an HP laptop built on AMD's Fusion platform. There was the Samsung PC7 tablet/netbook with a collapsible screen that folds on top of the keyboard. Some of the cooler looking machines included a dual-screen Acer Iconia laptop and a 12" Windows 7 tablet by ASUS equipped with a Core i5 processor. Quite honestly, it was a little confusing that Microsoft showed off Windows 7 running on PCs and laptops.

Moving along with the new stuff, Microsoft showed up a new version of Microsoft Surface. As far as announcements go, this was Microsoft's only real debut. The new version of Microsoft Surface is a lot thinner than the older version and uses a new technology called PixelSense to see the person interacting with it. Mike explained it as infrared sensors that are part of each and every pixel in the device. This allows the device to "sense" touch for the interface as well as to read materials placed next to it. He gave an example of a bank using the surfaces to allow customers to interact. Customers could place mailings up against the surface which would read it and give feedback. Surface isn't a totally new concept, but the new variations and upgrades are about the most revealing thing Microsoft announced during the address.

To finish off the Keynote address Mike and Steve talked a lot about Microsoft's implementation of a Windows OS for ARM devices. ARM (advanced RISC (reduced instruction set computer) machine) devices are the big thing at CES 2011. Tablets and smartphones are numberless and nearly every computer hardware manufacturer has one to show off. Most of these devices at CES 2011 are running Android implementations and a lot of people expected Windows to showcase their OS for ARM devices. In a way, that's what happened. Obviously Windows can't run on an ARM device as it is, so Microsoft is coming up with a different implementation of Windows to run on them. Details were very scant. Microsoft showed a version of Windows that looks just like Windows 7 running on ARM systems built on Qualcomm, Texas Instrument, and NVIDIA SoCs. While all Windows applications will have to be re-written for ARM architecture, it appears they have a version of Office that worked with their ARM OS as well as a media player. Microsoft basically said that, sometime in the future, there will be a Windows OS for SoCs.

To finish it all off, Steve Ballmer wrapped up ensuring everyone that Microsoft is still relevant and that the consumer will still be bombarded by it wherever they turn. With all the hype about tablets at this year's CES, it seems like Microsoft may have missed the mark.

Leave your comments and tell me what you thought of Microsoft's keynote address.

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