Thursday, January 7, 2010

CES Keynote

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.


MattBD said...

How about Ray Ozzie? The guy clearly does understand their products and how to get people excited about them in a way Steve Ballmer doesn't.

Vargo said...

Watching the Bing Maps demo, I was waiting intently for them to demonstrate something that wasn't invented first and already functioning by Google Maps. I was extremely disappointed that the only differentiating feature that I could find was a cheesy "snowing" effect to represent the current weather.

Why spend all that time setting themselves up for criticism by showcasing features that already exist on other platforms?

I clearly got the feeling that he didn't know his audience also. He could have more sharply focused on the fact that Windows has way more hardware available for *much less*. And aside from the pre-built rigs, you can build your own custom powerhouse if you choose to from countless components. Sure, that may scare a lot of people but its also a strength of the PC industry and an advantage that can be exploited.

Jeff LaMarche said...


Well, I'm not sure if Ray Ozzie could bring about a Steve Jobs-like renaissance at Microsoft, but he would be a HUGE improvement over Ballmer. He can talk coherently in front of a group, he knows his shit, and he believes in what Microsoft is doing. So, yeah, I can definitely think of worse people, and he should definitely be on the short list. My main concern with him is simply that he's part of the establishment, and MS is far enough gone that they might need an outsider with no attachment to the existing structure.

It's more than just replacing Ballmer, though - it's empowering his replacement to do what's necessary. Nobody fucking tells Steve Jobs "no", which can make life hell for some folks at Apple, but it's part of the reason they've been able to take chances rather than play it safe. It's risky giving somebody that much power, so you better make darn sure it's the right person. But when you do give that power to the right person...

K. A. Barber said...

We all found it quite Freudian of M$ to have the "Twilight" book cover with the apple held as if it was being presented for the world to see, as the demo screen for the tablet device.

Was it on purpose?

maniacdev said...

Without Ballmer (with the exception of the Xbox division) there would be no reason to blog about Microsoft.

So Ballmer stays!

Jeff LaMarche said...


You know that it's possible to blog about cool stuff as well as about mistakes, right?

maniacdev said...

but we need to talk about Microsoft too Jeff...

flocked said...

Hi Jeff,
I just wrote you an email and would be happy, if you could answer me.


Jeff LaMarche said...


Sure we do, and I'd love to be talking about all the amazing cool shit they're doing, but I'm convinced that it's not going to happen under the current emperor.

Neil said...

totally QVC - with Ballmer walking around pretending to be excited about what the other dude was presenting, FFS. I think this and the Google phone presentation show what a disadvantage these companies are at when competing with a company that does both software and hardware. Bing, bing, bing - is he the only one who likes that product name at Microsoft? (excuse the cynicism, it's just really difficult not to).

Jim Schmidt said...

Erm, I thought "Ok, I'm going to see if the keynote was good, bad, or average." -- no link? Come on!

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