The missing Microsoft influence at CES
LAS VEGAS--The company traditionally given the honor of opening CES with a keynote presentation before an audience of thousands hasn't had the best show this year.
That keynote, as you may have read, suffered from weird technical glitches that really shouldn't happen at an electronics show. It was also notable for a lack of impressive or exciting content that drew verdicts like "incredibly boring" and "a complete fizzle."
But the Redmond, Wash., software giant's problems go beyond production values. Its one new hardware initiative, thin "Slate PC" tablet computers that do away with keyboards in favor of touchscreens, looks like nothing more than a rerun of the Ultra-Mobile PC concept that deservedly flopped a few years ago. The very idea of installing Windows 7 on such a machine--with the only major change being the provision of an onscreen keyboard--could be a form of cruelty towards users with anything but the smallest fingers.
Should the Slate PC follow the UMPC into exile to the Land of Misfit Toys, it will have plenty of company from other failed or underperforming Microsoft ventures into new computing markets. Let's see, there's the Auto PC, SPOT watches, Windows Powered Smart Displays, Tablet PCs... at some point, manufacturers may get a little skeptical about the next "build this new concept for us!" sales pitch out of Redmond.
Microsoft's software is also becoming harder to find on the show floor. If a TV connects to the Internet, it's far more likely to run software from Yahoo than any flavor of Windows. And the Windows Media audio and video file formats that Microsoft once tried to persuade vendors to adopt as industry standards have become afterthoughts. Entire families of devices--for instance, e-book readers--are evolving outside the Windows ecosystem.
In short, the electronics industry doesn't seem to need Microsoft all that much anymore.
Don't take this too far: Microsoft's software still runs the overwhelming majority of computers, both on the show floor and in the real world outside. But when the computing business has become one of the least exciting parts of CES, that's not as much to brag about as it once was.
Am I being too harsh here? Let me know in the comments...
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