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Where WAS Microsoft -- And Vista -- At CES?

Watching Steve Jobs do it again at Macworld Tuesday, whipping up tech enthusiasm (even though the MacBook Air doesn't give him as much to work with as the iPhone did a year ago), I was struck by the comparison with Microsoft at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas last week. Bill Gates booked in on his Final Farewell Tour, but even with that, the giant software company seemed to barely bother to show up.
Watching Steve Jobs do it again at Macworld Tuesday, whipping up tech enthusiasm (even though the MacBook Air doesn't give him as much to work with as the iPhone did a year ago), I was struck by the comparison with Microsoft at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas last week. Bill Gates booked in on his Final Farewell Tour, but even with that, the giant software company seemed to barely bother to show up.The New York Times Monday published a blog item from reporter Saul Hansell that followed the same line of thought. Hansell summarized Microsoft's announcements at CES (Gates mentioned some partnerships to bring more digital content to MSN and the Xbox, the company's deal to run the 2008 Olympics Web site, new set-top-box software) and concluded, "the largest software company seems to be missing the most exciting game in the world."

Microsoft had its usual sprawling expanse of carpet in prime trade show real estate at the front of the main hall, mostly populated by demo kiosks for business partners. The biggest draw seemed to be the demos of Surface, the "it's a coffee table/it's a tablet PC" concept that was the company's wildest idea of last year.

Outside on the plaza, as usual, were two really big Microsoft tents. Last year these were beehives of activity -- All Vista, All the Time. This year one was closed to the public all week, and the other was meeting rooms where Microsoft product managers met with press people. What a difference a year made.

On the eve of Vista's first birthday, approximately, was it once again Microsoft's flagship product for CES? If you had asked the typical CES attendee, the response would have probably been, "What's Vista?" Microsoft wasn't shouting Vista from the rooftops. It wasn't even whispering its name.

The Microsoft product that got the most publicity in Las Vegas was Windows Home Server -- banners hung from the pillars in front of the central hall reflected a current ad campaign that pokes gentle fun at the idea of a server in the home.

Maybe all this reflected Vista's lack of success in the marketplace. My colleague Paul McDougall dug into the statistics behind Bill Gates' keynote and concluded that Vista has proved far less popular with new PC buyers than Windows XP was during its first year.

Several tech Web sites put Vista on their year-end "2007's biggest losers" lists, and Linux, Mac OS X, and even Windows XP have all enjoyed a surge of attention in the year just past.

Vista wasn't just MIA from CES, it seems to be increasingly MIA from the marketplace.