Steve Ballmer just presented his first keynote at CES 2009. He did a fair job, about as good or a tad better than Phil Schiller did at Macworld. Ballmer is quite a character, but was rather reserved for this occasion. He recapped 2008 and gave some insight into Microsoft’s path for 2009. No earth shattering news and no Zune phone (damn.) There were a few interesting tidbits, though…
The first was a date for the public Windows 7 beta: Friday, January 9, 2009. The beta will be available as a download from the Windows 7 site. It will be available as an ISO in 32 or 64 bit ‘ultimate’ flavors. By the way, what the hell is Ultimate going to be? Vista Ultimate was quite a letdown…just what are they going to offer now? Anyway, the download will be available to the first 2.5 million people to download the ISO. The beta will expire on August 9, 2009. So…I’m guessing the release for Windows 7 retail will be sometime in June or sooner.
The next thing Ballmer talked about was Live Essentials. All but the Movie Maker application are now live and available now. He said that they had a deal with Dell to pre load Essentials on all new Dell Windows machines. Microsoft also has a deal with Facebook that allows your photos and Facebook updates to be posted to your Live network. They have also inked a deal with Verizon to offer Live Search on Windows Mobile phones from Verizon.
On the XBOX side, they announced XBOX Live Primetime and Kodu, a programming environment aimed at children. A really smart 12 year old girl demo’ed this cool tool and then proceeded to beat Robbie Bach at the game she created. Cool stuff.
Finally, they gave a demo on some new UI technology. Surface was, of course, part of the demo as was this really cool flexible display. The UI’s themselves were underwhelming, but the hardware was cool. Touch and multi touch have a tremendous amount of potential, but I’m not sure how innovative or appealing you can make them in relation to personal computing. The problem I see is that the objects used to interact with these devices tend to get in the way. For example, using both hands to zoom in or out something…well, your hands are not transparent and block the screen. I can just see myself clumsily zooming in and out and spending inordinate amount of time just getting something ‘right’ for me. I guess it will just take some getting used to. We’ll see.
Windows 7 will definitely be the star of Microsoft technology this year. During one of the demo’s, a young lady was showing off some of the new features in Windows 7. Two of them, Play To and the home networking, look like killer apps. Play To, for example, will allow you to play any media item on your computer, another Windows 7 machine or a compatible device (Roku was mentioned.) That’s pretty killer, I think. I’d love to have a media extender in the bedroom and create a play list in my office and just feed that extender device and not worry about it. 7’s home networking looks much easier as well. Between this demo, the write ups I’ve read and listening to Paul Thurrot, this is going to make home networking MUCH easier-as it should be. It’s appalling that it is so bloody hard now.
All in all, the keynote was OK. Nothing over the top but not really a snoozer either. At least Bill put a bit of schlock in the keynote with the funny videos. Maybe Ballmer was just playing it safe. I was waiting for a little ‘Developers! Developers! Developers!’ to sneak in there. Maybe next year.