Steve Ballmer spoke at the annual Consumer Electronics Show (CES) on Jan. 7, "taking over the baton from Bill Gates," according to the CES show organizer. From an IT/enterprise-software point of view, there was no news that we had not already heard at the Microsoft Professional Developers' Conference.
In my opinion, the press and analyst community consistently underplays one of the key parts of Microsoft's future technology strategy when they analyze such events. (To be clear, I believe Microsoft's business strategy is much more important to you in IT than Microsoft's technology strategy, for the reasons explained in this recent IT Business Edge article. But it's worthwhile to understand where Microsoft is going with technology because market research says that the odds are that Microsoft technology makes up from half to 100 percent of your IT infrastructure.)
From a technology point of view, Ballmer talks about "three main areas:"
Not surprisingly, Windows brings all of this together in Ballmer's opinion. He urged his audience - the people that embed operating systems into consumer electronics - to not think of just PCs when they think of Windows but to think of all three screens, as well as connected experiences (cloud computing, blah blah blah, and so forth).
It's the "natural user interface" aspect of Microsoft's technology plan that tends to get overlooked. Maybe it's because Ballmer devoted only a minute of a 90-minute-long presentation to the subject (a Dolly Demo also showed a bit of this stuff at the end). Ballmer says Windows will be able to see you and hear you; react to your gestures, handwriting, etc. More near-term, this relates to touch screen and surface computing.
From an IT staff and management perspective, this means you need to re-think how employees will interact with the information and infrastructure you develop, mash-up and maintain. Starting very soon, the people you service will expect the same kind of interaction in the enterprise that they are getting from the consumer devices they use in their non-work experience. Recently on one of the technical publications Web sites I saw a back and forth among IT staffers or consultants comparing the benefits of browsers in terms of printing, saving pages on to a hard disk, and similar 20th century aspects of IT. You need to start thinking 21st century, the way Microsoft is thinking.
I go into the IT investment research aspects of Microsoft's natural-interaction strategy here (although I didn't call it that because that blog post predated the CES). My post illustrates why all the blogoblather about Firefox and Chrome is so meaningless.
As an aside, Ballmer quoted a statistic something along the lines that only a billion people in the world are "experiencing connection" at this time. He also says a half a billion of them are using Windows Live. That gives Microsoft four billion people to go.