Microsoft's final CES keynote: A lot of talking, not much said

Microsoft plays it cool with no major announcements as the company and CEO Steve Ballmer make their break from the technology confab.

Roger Cheng Former Executive Editor / Head of News
Roger Cheng (he/him/his) was the executive editor in charge of CNET News, managing everything from daily breaking news to in-depth investigative packages. Prior to this, he was on the telecommunications beat and wrote for Dow Jones Newswires and The Wall Street Journal for nearly a decade and got his start writing and laying out pages at a local paper in Southern California. He's a devoted Trojan alum and thinks sleep is the perfect -- if unattainable -- hobby for a parent.
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Roger Cheng
3 min read

LAS VEGAS--Microsoft had one last shot to go out with a bang at the Consumer Electronics Show today but instead opted to take a victory lap or two.

Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer and a Sesame Street demo. James Martin/CNET

Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer did a lot of shouting and talking, but didn't say anything too substantive in his final keynote address at CES. Instead, the company chose to run through a number of its upcoming--but previously announced--projects, from Windows Phone to Windows 8.

The company, however, did say it would bring the Xbox 360 peripheral Kinect to Windows on February 1, and Ballmer said the motion-sensor device has sold 18 million units, offering up just a little nugget.

While the CES keynote offers a huge platform for a company to unveil a new product, in reality Microsoft has shied away from big announcements at the event. There were low expectations that the company would change that trend this year. That's probably why it made sense for the company to break away from CES and end its 15-year run in the keynote role.

"We have a chance to raise our game," Ballmer said, without offering any real specifics on exactly how it would do so.

Microsoft actually had some big things to announce but ceded much of the news to its partners in earlier press conferences. The biggest news was the unveiling of the Nokia Lumia 900, which was shown off at a conference held by Nokia earlier today. The company also showed off a number of sleek new Windows 7 laptops, but they were announced by the likes of Samsung Electronics at their own conferences.

The company has had its share of CES flops (remember the Slate PC or the Hewlett-Packard Slate?), so it likely wasn't going to gamble with any major announcements of its own. Instead, Microsoft played to its strengths, emphasizing its Metro user interface, the user experience of Windows Phone, and of course its successful Kinect peripheral. Really, the last big product announced at CES by Microsoft was the original Xbox in 2001.

The overview of the company highlights the significant changes ahead for Microsoft. Metro represents a new way of looking at the operating system, and the company is already trying to get consumers to take a chance on its radically different Windows Phone platform.

"Things have changed," Ballmer said. "That's the essence of this industry. But people don't want to compromise on what they have today."

"No compromises" was a repeated mantra for the event, as executives took the audience through a number of different initiatives, including Windows Phone, Windows 8, Kinect, and its Skype acquisition.

Ballmer, Microsoft bid CES adieu (photos)

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One highlight: a Sesame Street video/game that showed off the interactive capabilities of the Kinect, which Microsoft wants to be more than just a gaming accessory. A little girl on stage "threw" a virtual coconut up in the air, only to have the Sesame Street character Grover catch it on screen. Ballmer said developers are creating more apps for the device, which is poised to control your entire home entertainment center and PC environment.

Beyond trotting out Ryan Seacrest as a moderator for Ballmer, Microsoft also hired a "tweet choir" to come out and sing about its various products in a bizarre display. One second, they were singing about Eddie Murphy, Arsenio Hall, and "Coming to America," in reference to Nokia's reentry in the U.S. smartphone market, the next they were referring to the Twitter hashtag "nerd alert."

It was certainly an interesting way for Microsoft to wrap things up at CES.

Ballmer highlights Windows phone, Windows 8, Xbox Kinect
Watch this: Ballmer highlights Windows phone, Windows 8, Xbox Kinect