Part of my New Year's resolution was not to spend much time on opinion pieces and stick more to programming and technical topics. I can't let last night's disaster of a CES Keynote go without at least a brief comment, however. Watching Steve Ballmer on stage felt like watching QVC, only that comparison does a grave disservice to the QVC sales professionals who actually understand their audience, if not necessarily all the products they sell.
Things go wrong in live presentations, but they don't go as wrong as they did last night unless you really fucking try. It was a fail of epic proportions. From the constant technical problems, like tablets and mobile touch phones not detecting touches, to the use of Twilight to showcase the ability of the "slate" PCs to display eBooks (ZOMG, really? They can do that without a keyboard!?). You're presenting to the Consumer Electronic industry - a room full of geeks and press geeks, and you choose to showcase Twilight? Wow, talk about not knowing your audience.
Now, I know I bash Ballmer and Microsoft more than I probably should, but every year, Ballmer and Microsoft (with the exception of the Xbox division) look more and more buffoonish and less and less relevant. I've said it before, and I'll continue to say it until it happens: Microsoft needs a new leader. They need somebody who really groks technology (Ballmer clearly doesn't) and understands the way people use technology (ditto). The company has a huge number of incredibly talented and smart people. With the right leadership, Microsoft could absolutely knock our socks off and out-Apple Apple.
And that would be awesome for everybody. I can think of nothing better than having Microsoft create truly compelling products across their product lines. But they can't do it the way they are structured and with the present leadership. I'm not saying it would be easy for Microsoft to find the right leader, but almost anybody would be a step in the right direction from where they are now, and the right leader can make all the difference. Look at Apple ten years ago if you doubt that.
Last night's keynote was, quite literally, too painful for me to watch. After a while I just had to turn it off. I don't like watching people embarrass themselves. I really don't, and the press release was already available before the presentation started (oops!), so the salient points could be had without the agony.
Please, Microsoft, please… find a new leader. You owe it to yourselves and your customers to stop this painful decline at Ballmer's ham-fisted hands. Go watch Dr. Ed Catmull of Pixar explain how success masks problems and then find somebody who's got the brains, balls, and sense of showmanship to get you back into a leadership position.