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CES headman: 'Microsoft not gone, just on pause'

Ballmer's final (?) keynote a crashing bore

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CES 2012 When Microsoft said in December that this year's Consumer Electronics show would be its last, it failed to convince the president and CEO of the Consumer Electronics Association, the organization that produces CES.

"I would be shocked if a Microsoft leader did not return to this stage again in the next few years," said the CEA's top dog Gary Shapiro before introducing CEO Steve Ballmer for what Microsoft claims will be its final CES keynote.

When announcing that Microsoft was abandoning CES, Redmond's communications headman Frank Shaw was unequivocal about the pullout. "We have decided that this coming January will be our last keynote presentation and booth at CES," he said.

But according to Shapiro, the 2013 absence will be merely a "pause".

Shapiro waxed sentimental about Microsoft's long history at CES, recalling how Bill Gates inaugurated Microsoft's public face at at the show in 1995 when he spoke to what Shapiro called "a small group of attendees at something we then called a CES Workshop." CES keynotes began in 1998, with Gates as one of the first presenters.

"For 14 great years," Shapiro said, "Bill and his successor at Microsoft, CEO Steve Ballmer, have taken to the stage to tell the world about Microsoft's next great innovations."

According to Shapiro, not only did Microsoft use the show to flog its goods, but CES benefitted as well. "Microsoft's keynotes drove press and international attendance to this show," he noted. "Microsoft took a risk on us early, and we both benefitted."

That beneficial relationship is now on hold. "As much as our human inclination is to preserve the status quo," he said, Microsoft and CES have "agreed to a pause."

Shapiro then took his panegyric to absurd heights, recalling that in one of his introductions to a Microsoft keynote he had compared the company to the US's revered founding fathers, the architects of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. "Both were revolutionary changers of human history," he said at Monday night's keynote. "America has been blessed by our founding fathers, and by being the home of Microsoft."

Shapiro might have been a wee bit less over-the-top in his praise had he reviewed an advance copy of Ballmer's presentation. For over an hour, the Microsoft CEO, joined by his interlocutor American Idol host Ryan Seacrest, trotted out a series of over-rehearsed, marketing-mouthed product punters who extolled the virtues of Windows Phone 7, Windows 8, the Xbox, and the Kinect controller, but who provided little that was new and noteworthy.

To be sure, there were a few news tidbits: Windows support for Kinect will become available on February 1, content from News Corporation – Fox broadcast programming, The Wall Street Journal, and more – will be added to the Xbox later this year, and the Sesame Workshop is working with the Kinect team to develop interactive TV for kids.

Ballmer also reminded the crowd about the 4G LTE Nokia Lumina 900, which runs Windows Phone 7, that had been introduced earlier in the day by Nokia CEO Stephen Elop, with Ballmer in attendance.

But other than those few moments of interest, Ballmer's keynote was one long infomercial, featuring presentations by sincere, well-meaning Microsofties who, in the main, were about as compelling as watching paint dry – really annoying paint.

If Shapiro is wrong, and this really was Microsoft's final CES keynote presentation, few in attendance at Monday night's swan song will miss it. ®

An earlier version of this article identified Ryan Seacrest as a judge on American Idol when, in fact, he is the host of that most recent US successor to Ted Mack's The Original Amateur Hour.

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