Microsoft CEO Ballmer Keynote Touts Kinect, Windows Phone 7

Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer touted Kinect, Windows Phone 7 and Windows 7 during his CES keynote, but Windows-powered tablets were a no-show.

LAS VEGAS-Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer used his Jan. 5 keynote at the Consumer Electronics Show here to highlight the company's forays into the consumer realm, including the Kinect hands-free controller for Xbox 360 and Windows Phone 7.

Microsoft's product line is the result of "big technology bets that we've made," Ballmer said, including "bets on the cloud" and "natural user interface." Thanks to those innovations, he added, Kinect and the Xbox 360 are expanding from pure gaming platform to household entertainment hub, integrating offerings such as Netflix and Hulu.

"As we speak today, millions of people are enjoying their TV, their music and their movies on demand through Xbox Live," he said. In coming months, Microsoft will roll out Avatar Kinect, which will allow users to interact with others in virtual environments via gesture.

Although Ballmer's presentation focused primarily on consumer innovations along the lines of smartphones and gaming, Microsoft has already made some significant announcements in the opening hours of CES. Hours before Ballmer's keynote, the company used a Jan. 5 press conference at the Consumer Electronics Show to announce that the next version of Windows will support system on a chip (SoC) architecture, in particular ARM-based systems from partners such as Qualcomm, Nvidia and Texas Instruments. ARM chip designs dominate much of the burgeoning mobile market, which Microsoft is anxious to penetrate.

Windows currently dominates the x86 platform used by traditional PCs, but the rise of powerful mobile devices such as smartphones and tablets-powered largely by ARM chip designs-has effectively created a whole new market for the operating system, provided it can work out the engineering details.

"Under the hood there's a ton of differences that need to be worked through," Steven Sinofsky, president of Windows and Windows Live Division, told the media and analysts assembled for the press conference. "Windows has proven remarkably flexible at this under-the-hood sort of stuff. We work on storage from flash all the way up to terabytes of storage" and "Windows kernel on alternate architectures."

During the keynote, Ballmer delved into the ARM development a little more. "We made the announcement now in order to allow all of our partners to work together and build upon this innovation," he said. "We're very excited about the full set of partners for the next version of Windows."

He added, "Windows support for SoC is an important step for Microsoft and for the industry." By emphasizing the need for what he termed "the full range of capabilities for any device," Ballmer seemed to be drawing a contrast between Windows and the lighter operating systems backing mobile devices from Google and Apple.

"The power and breadth of software, the always-on capabilities of a mobile phone, great browsing and productivity in addition to the basics like printing," Ballmer said. "Windows has the breadth and depth and the flexibility to define and deliver this next generation."