LAS VEGAS — CES 2012 formally kicked off this evening with Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer's keynote address which, after many years of speeches, was the company's last at the trade show. Microsoft and CES are going their separate ways after this year's show ends, with Microsoft taking a much more low-key role at the show from now on (if at all). On a stage set against a background of sprightly Metro live tiles, we heard speakers talk about the Windows Phone, Windows 8, ultrabooks, Xbox, and there was (inexplicably) an autotuned Bill Gates bit, a tweet choir, and oh—our host was Ryan Seacrest.
"We'll try this conversationally, where we'll talk about what's happening in the tech industry and what's next for Microsoft," Seacrest said.
The keynote commenced with the reiteration that Microsoft's opening speech at CES had always been the usual custom, dating all the way back to the mid-90's. It's the end of a tradition! To commemorate the milestone, CES President Gary Shapiro gave Ballmer a scrapbook-like plaque of Microsoft's best CES moments. We moved on to speeches detailing how different Microsoft technologies worked—like Windows Phone and Windows 8—as well as notable product announcements relating to Microsoft made over the press days so far (ultrabooks; Nokia's high-end Windows Phone, the Lumia 900; and the first LTE Windows Phone, the HTC Titan were among those remembered).
Helped along by Seacrest's humor and Ballmer's frenetic energy, the keynote remained quite entertaining throughout. Granted there were a few gimmicks, including a barely tolerable, heavily autotuned video of Ballmer screaming, "Bing!" and a tweet choir singing live tweets about the keynote with the #CES2012 hashtag. But all in all, the keynote was a fairly enjoyable time that gave a good overview of Microsoft's recent—and significant—strides in the industry. One particularly remarkable demo was when a mother and daughter pair presented how a Kinect-enabled Sesame Street episode might work on TV—when the young lady threw imaginary coconuts into a box held out by a character on the television, cartoon coconuts appeared and landed in the carton onscreen a few seconds later. Admittedly, most of the technology they presented onstage has been in the works for a while, nothing new, but it was definitely very neat to see it done live on a big screen at the event.
"So what’s next?” Seacrest asked towards the end of the keynote.
"Windows 8 is what’s next,” Ballmer said. “There’s nothing more important to Microsoft than Windows… Metro will drive the new magic across all of our user experience. In the new math at Microsoft: one plus one really does equal three.
"What’s next at Microsoft in 2012? Metro, METRO, METRO! Windows, WINDOWS, WINDOWS!"