Ballmer Talks at CES, Underwhelms with HP Slate Tablet

Microsoft’s CES keynote is behind us, and before the thing even started, it was rumoured that Microsoft would unveil a tablet PC together with HP. Well, they did, but to say it was underwhelming would be an understatement. Instant update: El Reg has a nice list of figures presented during the keynote.

I would’ve loved to actually be able to watch the on-demand video of Ballmer’s keynote before writing this item, but Moonlight 2.0 refuses to work in either Chrome or Firefox on Linux, so I can’t watch it just yet. The live blogging article from Ars Technica will have to do for now – the Steve Jobs keynote way, so to speak.

As was to be expected, Ballmer touched upon Windows 7, and how much of a success it has been. He called it the best selling operating system in history, and claims satisfaction rates are at 94% among early adopters. And in what I can only assume is a small stab at Apple, there are apparently 4 million Windows applications.

There was also a lot of talk about Media Room 2.0 on Windows Media Center and XBox 360, including CableCARD setups and the like. Here in The Netherlands, they are switching over from CI to CI+ because the latter allows for better DRM (yup), but so far, the CI+ consortium has not yet certified a PCI or USB peripheral to allow CI+ to work on HTPCs. My ISP/cable company, Ziggo, did state earlier in 2009 that they were talking with Microsoft about this, so I hope Microsoft uses its power to do good here, and allow me to watch/record CI+-encrypted stuff via my HTPC so I can ditch my dedicated HD digital cable decoder.

The reason I’m highlighting my personal problem on this subject is because all this talk about TV on your PC is all fine and dandy, but it’s all for naught because the TV world is such a fragmented mess that even I sometimes fail to grasp, let alone non-geeks and regular people. I hope Microsoft will push the world’s cable companies and ISPs to properly support HTPCs, because I’d rather have Microsoft court them than Apple. At least the former gives me choice and doesn’t lock me into the horrible iTunes.

Anyway, I digress. The next topic was tablet PCs – or, as they are now called by Microsoft and its partners, slate PCs. HP showed off its Slate prototype, which is a tablet running plain Windows 7. “Perfect for reading, surfing web, taking entertainment on the go,” Ballmer said. He showed the Slate running the Kindle software.

Underwhelming, indeed. We had all hoped for a device with a properly designed tablet UI – instead of yet another attempt to cram the (admittedly, very pleasant in version 7) Windows UI into a device where it doesn’t belong. I just don’t understand why Microsoft does not leverage its Surface technology and software to create a tablet-centric interface – I really, really don’t want to fiddle with the default Windows UI on a tablet.

I guess the company thought, hey, our Windows XP tablets were such a massive success, why change a winning formula?

Apple is pretty much laughing its bum off right now – unless, of course, Apple plans on using the default Mac OS X UI on its tablet, which I highly doubt they will. I guess it will be up to Apple, once again, to lead the way on software. Widows tablets will sport horrid touch UIs developed by OEMs, which don’t work, crash, look hideous, and will look like afterthoughts.

CES was the perfect opportunity for Microsoft to pre-empt the tablet market, but they failed to impress anyone. This means that everything’s still wide open for Apple to come in and surprise us with whatever they have in store for us, later this month.

All in all, not a particularly exciting Microsoft keynote.


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