Microsoft is in for a snooze of a year if these CES 2011 rumors are true

In less than 24 hours Steve “except in Nebraska” Ballmer is scheduled to take the stage for the Microsoft keynote at CES 2011. In less than 24 hours we will know if Microsoft will be go through 2011 by marching to a steady drum beat or a by futzing to a sad trombone. And if the rumors are true, it looks like the sad trombone will be sadder than ever. However, there is hope for Microsoft to avoid the inevitable “Microsoft is dead” stories that will drizzle the media outlets for the next 12 months, and that hope lies in Windows 8.

Microsoft came out swinging in CES 2010 with the Kinect and a heavy focus on tablets. Before the awe had time to settle down, Microsoft packed another punch with Windows Phone 7 at the Mobile World Conference in February of that year. It’s no surprise that the Kinect and WP7 dominated Microsoft’s news bubble through the course of 2010. Tablets on the other hand sort of dug their own grave, as Windows 7 just wasn’t ready to hit the tablet scene. CES 2011 is not the time to rehash the 2010 keynote, however. The tsunami of buzz and anticipation that surrounded the Kinect and Windows Phone 7 has died down and splashing your hands in the water to make new waves does just that…makes new waves. It does not recreate the tsunami.

Windows Phone 7 in its current form has established itself in a way that iOS 1.0 did. Microsoft will save the major update it is planning for MWC next month because it makes more sense to do so. That leaves us with tablets and more Xbox stuff, in particular Xbox Live integration of some sort with Windows Phone 7. Rumors of a Microsoft TV box have also surfaced, but that will most likely parallel the Xbox media center foundation and be geared to those who don’t want a gaming console, but a media center. And while it is great that Microsoft is re-tackling tablets yet again (third attempt now, right? Tablet PC, Windows 7 tablets, and now the ARM based system), at this point it is playing follow the leader, just like Android is. None of these will garner Microsoft enough PR momentum to sail smoothly through 2011. Which is why Windows 8 needs to be Microsoft’s K.O. punch at this year’s CES.

Although Windows 7 is being hailed as the best Microsoft OS since XP, the last big Microsoft OS revamp came with Vista. With the increasing advent of social media’s grip at the core of our lifestyles and the cloud with its promises of “everything here, everything now” nipping at the heels of modern operating systems, Windows 7, which is an extension of Vista, is already starting to feel outdated. By showcasing a Windows 8 that not only embraces what today offers but also hints at changing the way we will do computing in two years, Redmond will successfully ride the waves of hype and intrigue through 2011. In order to do that the Windows 8 showcase should make the following statements at the keynote:

  1. Horizontal streamlining – The line between Windows, Windows Phone, and Xbox should blur considerably while still maintaining each as a separate entity. Total consumer dominance comes in the form of a multi-sided attack by making transference and utility between its three household commodities seamless and friendly.
  2. Implementation of Kinect technologies – Kinect is in its infancy and there’s no better village to raise that child than the one it was born into. No, I don’t mean you’ll be doing YMCA dance moves in front of your PC in order to use Word. The possibilities that can be incorporated with the Kinect camera and its underlying technology are endless. Facial recognition to enhance security, such as logins? Check. Gesture and expression recognition computing? Check. The list goes on…
  3. Everything here, everything now – Lightweight kernel, instant-on, your files accessible and editable in real time from anywhere, social media built in… We now live in a society in which we are so spoiled that if our connection speed slows to 1Mbps we not only become annoyingly livid, but we publicly bitch out our ISPs to anyone who will listen on the Internet.
  4. You’re the underdog now, man – Microsoft fell into this one. The roles with Apple have reversed. What once was a synonym for evil, Microsoft has suddenly become the good guy. Bill Gates has handed over Beelzebub’s trident to Steve Jobs. This is Microsoft’s chance to be Microsoft again, to inspire and change things “for the better.” Windows 8 has the chance to leave OS X in the dust due to the arsenal of technology Microsoft has amassed over the last few years and can implement into its flagship OS. Microsoft may be playing catch-up in the tablet scene for a few more years, but it definitely has the opportunity to cut Apple’s stride in the computing sector and in the living room.

Of course, we’re not gonna see all of this spelled out to us at the CES keynote, but Microsoft doesn’t need to spell it all out. All they have to do is hint strongly at each thing, and they can do that without revealing too much. I just hope for Microsoft’s sake they don’t rely heavily on tablets and a re-hashed CES 2010 keynote to get by this year, especially when they’re living in the most exciting era of tech ever with the weapons to usher in an even newer and more exciting era. Your move, Ballmer. Make it a good one.

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