Ballmer CES Keynote: Xbox Live Steals the Stage


The Consumer Electronic Show (CES) in Las Vegas is opening today and the opening keynote is designed to set the tempo for the annual show. Microsoft (s msft) CEO Steve Ballmer took the stage to a packed audience and laid out what we might expect from Redmond this year.

Windows 7 is doing great according to Ballmer, due to the largest development process in history. Microsoft used 3,000 software engineers to bring Windows 7 to final form, worked with 50,000 partners, and had over 8 million beta testers to make sure that Windows 7 was ready for release in 2009. It is the OS that can work on screens of all sizes, from handheld slates to massive displays like that used in the keynote address.

The focus of Ballmer’s talk was directed more to the new philosophy that the consumer wants Windows on every screen in the house. It was clear that Microsoft is dropping the Tablet PC product name, in favor of the hot “slate” name that has been pushed into the media by the Apple (s aapl) tablet rumors. Ballmer didn’t mention Apple at all during his lengthy keynote, perhaps an unspoken acknowledgment of the competition Microsoft is feeling from those in Cupertino.

Ballmer demonstrated three slate computers that are in prototype stage, the primary focus being an unnamed slate from HP. The device looked to be a simple slate with few controls on the gadget, simply a touch screen for interaction. This slate is scheduled to hit the market later this year. It was clear from the demonstration that the media buzz about this mystery slate probably overshot the reality. It is simply a slate running Windows 7, without a keyboard. Nothing truly earthshaking. We saw a far more interesting slate yesterday from Lenovo.

A large focus of Ballmer’s keynote was the Xbox Live ecosystem, and it has definitely turned into one of huge proportions. Xbox Live will work with games, of course, but Pay TV is expected to provide a huge market for consumers. AT&T (s t) – runs on Microsoft Mediaroom software, and it all works seamlessly with Xbox Live. There is a concerted effort at Microsoft to get Pay TV totally integrated with Xbox, with all the revenue that represents.

Xbox Live will see the release of a new genre of game that Microsoft deemed the Psychological Action Thriller, in the form of a game dubbed Alan Wake. This game will tread in the waters of a new revenue model for games, with episodes being released over time that consumers can get through Xbox Live.

The entertainment business will be huge for Microsoft, with over 100 million songs and games having been downloaded to date. Zune video is now available in 18 countries, and that should continue to grow in 2010.

Microsoft is going to debut a new Xbox Live gaming ecosystem this year that focuses on retro arcade console games from the past. Over 1,000 games will be released over the next few years, and Live members can pick them up to build personal arcades. The goal is to provide a social network aspect to these personal arcades, with members able to invite others to play in their virtual arcades.

Microsoft is expecting 2010 to be the biggest year ever for Xbox Live. This was reflected in the amount of time spent during the keynote discussing these new efforts. There is a massive effort to merge TV consumption with gaming, and Xbox Live is Microsoft’s ticket to bring MS technology to every screen in the house.

Bringing the content to all screens includes the small screen of the Windows phone. Ballmer was proudly carrying the HTC HD2 around the stage during the keynote. He pointed out that Zune content and Xbox Live content will soon be appearing on the Windows phone screens. No timetable was given for this effort. Interestingly, that was the only Windows phone that was shown by Microsoft, despite their intention to release Windows Mobile 7 late this year. WM7 was not discussed at all, a rather telling example of where it fits in Microsoft’s overall strategy.


Vern Hurd

Microsoft has NOTHING to promote. ALL they can do is say ME TOO years late with mediocre third rate copies of what was hot six generations ago. That’s even more exiting and certainly more intelligent than Steve Ballmer.


I’d like to correct a couple things in the article:

First a correction to Ballmer’s words: People don’t want “Windows on every screen”. I’m sure MICROSOFT does, but not the masses. What the masses want is their MEDIA via every screen. MS needs to switch to that paradigm, otherwise they will lose out to Apple who are calling it the much more “masses” friendly “Home Sharing”.

Second, a correction to the article’s writer, who wrote: “This game will tread in the waters of a new revenue model for games, with episodes being released over time that consumers can get through Xbox Live.” This is not new. In fact “episodic games” has been a major buzzword in the games industry for at least the least 5 or 6 years (if not longer). And so far, it hasn’t turned out to be the great saviour everyone was hoping it would be.

Some of the bigger franchises have found success on Xbox Live, selling “episodes” (Grand Theft Auto, Fallout 3, etc) however the key still lies in making a great full-featured, full-length game first. We’ll see how this pans out with “Alan Wake”.

Anton P. Nym

Arby, the reason that “episodic games” haven’t succeeded is (IMO) because the studios trying it try to put too much into each episode… not content, but behind-the-scenes stuff like engine tweaks and new shaders and other stuff. That greatly lengthens development time, which means that episodes don’t come out regularly (*cough* Valve *cough*) which means there’s more pressure from fans and publishers to put more content in to justify the time and expense.

I have yet to see a game studio actually adhere to the “smaller, faster, cheaper” rubric that was supposed to be episodic gaming’s competitive advantage over full-featured/full-length titles. No wonder it keeps failing.

I very much hope that Remedy (the studio behind “AW”) can resist the temptation to do too much in each episode.


I was hoping for more news on Windows Mobile 7, the WinMo app store, and a clear sense of where Windows Mobile is headed and how it’s going to compete with Android, WebOS and the iPhone.


Although this seemed to be a fairly lack-lustre keynote I’m not sure that your closing statement about WM7 is fair or accurate. With Mobile World Congress just around the corner it would be pointless to do a big WM7 announcement at CES when the company has other things to talk about. Besides, if they don’t make an announcement at MWC then the rumour has it that they’re planning a special presentation in May when the software hits RTM.

It makes much more sense to give WM7 as much clear space as possible given the current focus on smartphones and Ballmer has repeatedly said that WinMo is just as important to Microsoft as Windows.

James Kendrick

Fair enough, but I still expected to see a little more information about WinMo, especially given the big release of the Nexus One. It’s about getting the message out.

I agree with you they will be hitting the global shows coming up, but this is the big US show. I just want to see them promote it more, something they just don’t seem to ever do.


That’s Microsoft’s biggest problem, they never promote any of their products.

Johnny B. Late

Looks to me like MS is fishing for a hit, but they really have never had a clue on how to harness the power of the internet and especially the interwebs.

I think most people now look towards Google and Apple for the vision of the future, one in which MS slowly becomes irrelevant.

MS is the most non-innovative technology corporation in the history of computing. 99% of everything they have ever sold has been copied, stolen or bought from others. I only give them marginal credit for making other people’s products slightly easier to use (usually after several software updates).


“99% of everything they have ever sold has been copied, stolen or bought from others.”

Even if this statement was true, would you care to point out how it doesn’t apply to Google? With the exception of a search algorithm I can’t think of anything that they came up with themselves.


Why bother reply… just notice his name – he is just “Late” in understanding things.

Every freaking body copies others. It is just a race of who copies in the best way, wins.

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