Opinion: Ballmer blew it

Ballmer keynote
Ballmer's keynote failed to get people interested

Every day, Apple shareholders wake up and thank their lucky stars that their chosen firm's CEO isn't Steve Ballmer. The Gordon Brown of tech could make even the Apple Tablet as desirable as some horrible bum disease.

Think we're being unfair? Check out Ballmer's CES keynote, where he managed to turn some pretty amazing technology into something with all the excitement of a wet Wednesday in Bridlington.

And Microsoft does have some pretty cool stuff. You know that 3D Apple patent everyone's getting excited about this week? Microsoft already has a 3D interface: Project Natal, which ships later this year.

Wouldn't it have been awesome if Ballmer had shown Natal working on Windows as well as on the Xbox, which we're reliably informed it does? No such luck.

The most exciting thing about Natal this year was Ballmer's carefully chosen words: Natal "will work on your existing console", which could, maybe, possibly mean that there's a new kind of Xbox heading for the High Street.

Show off the tablet!

3D isn't the only thing Microsoft's unveiling before Apple does: there's the tablet, too. Apple may or may not be showing a tablet computer at the end of this month, but Steve Ballmer was definitely standing on stage with not one, not two, but three tablets.

How are they different from the tablets Microsoft has tried and failed to interest us in for aeons? Ballmer didn't say. What's so great about them? Ballmer didn't show us. Why should we care? Ballmer didn't appear to know.

Again and again Ballmer apparently preferred to talk for ages about things we already know about – Look everybody! It's Windows 7, and I'm going to talk about it for a week! – rather than things we'd like to know more about.

We know Windows Mobile 7 is coming, and it's a proper new mobile OS rather than the stopgap Windows Mobile 6.5. "We'll have more to say about phones next month," Ballmer said.

The next generation of Windows' in-car systems was glossed over, too, as was the gaming power of DirectX 11 – but the Mediaroom video on demand service was demoed for seventeen billion years. And so, interminably, on.

Today, Twitter is largely laughing about it – if it's being discussed at all. As legendary tech pundit Andy Ihnatko put it: "You can tell that your industry keynote didn't do its job if an hour later, it isn't a trending topic on Twitter."

He's absolutely right: as we write this, Google's Nexus One is in the trending list. Microsoft products and people aren't. We're not surprised: if Steve Ballmer can't get excited about Microsoft's stuff, why should anybody else?

Carrie Marshall

Writer, broadcaster, musician and kitchen gadget obsessive Carrie Marshall has been writing about tech since 1998, contributing sage advice and odd opinions to all kinds of magazines and websites as well as writing more than a dozen books. Her memoir, Carrie Kills A Man, is on sale now and her next book, about pop music, is out in 2025. She is the singer in Glaswegian rock band Unquiet Mind.