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Ballmer reacquaints Microsoft with its PC past

Windows without risk

Reinforcing Microsoft's position was Ballmer's video of 10 or so partner OEMs. The list was dominated by the familiar names of desktop and laptop companies, with just a trio - Sony (Xperia), Samsung (Omnia), and HTC - coming from the mobile market.

When it came to the PC and Windows 7, Ballmer and his demonstration assistant Charlotte Jones missed the point. They pretty much glossed over what's arguably one of the most interesting features for this kind of crowd and that's been something of an open secret in Windows 7: touch. Windows 7 has been engineered so that many of the mouse and key-based commands can be executed by putting finger to screen. Sure, that's a niche market but it's got the cool factor, and cool is important in a demanding and fashion-driven market like consumer electronics.

Instead, Ballmer gave an overall introduction to Windows 7, while announcing the first beta like this was some kind of Microsoft developer conference, where people actually care about betas.

There were few frills, and many Windows 7 capabilities we've known about since last October's Professional Developer Conference (PDC). New icons, easy navigation, faster start times and performance, and fewer of those annoying alerts. Also, easier home networking - that at least drew a CES reaction.

It was a telling indication of what the CES crowd was really after, by the response given to the news around Xbox and Xbox Live. Microsoft's president of entertainment and devices Robbie Bach did what Ballmer didn't - demonstrated the really shiny goodies, provided roadmap details, and presented an appealing combination of Windows, device, and online service that got people excited.

Steady does it

To whoops and applause, Bach announced a strategy version of its run-away Halo game that's coming on February 28, with a preview on February 25. He announced the next installment in the Halo library, Halo 3 ODST, that's coming in the fall. Also, appealing was Xbox Live Primetime, a service that lets you - the gamer - enter an online quiz show and pit yourself against other contestants on Xbox Live.

But maybe there was a method to Ballmer's dullness. By introducing Windows 7 and taking partners through the solid but unremarkable features, Ballmer was reassuring OEMs it's safe to trust Microsoft and Windows.

And that was important. Windows Vista saw many burned by Microsoft's empty promises of technical capabilities and market adoption. Ballmer's presentation came at a time when OEMs are investigating alternatives to Windows, such as Linux, for those new markets Ballmer believes in. Ballmer needed a no-nonsense presentation to at least convince partners that Windows on the PC is a safe bet once more.

Maybe he delivered. ®

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