More than two decades ago, then-Microsoft CEO Bill Gates began showing up at Comdex in Las Vegas to talk about using Windows to deliver information at your fingertips. Yesterday, in what is being billed as Microsoft's final keynote at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas, Microsoft finally began delivering on that promise.
Comdex is now a virtual memory, but current Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer yesterday at CES used his opening keynote address to highlight the new Metro user interface that Microsoft is in the process of extending from Windows Phone 7 to the forthcoming Windows 8 operating system. Metro is a touch-enabled user interface that borrows heavily from concepts that Apple initially pioneered for the iPhone and the iPad. But in Microsoft's rendition of a touch-enabled interface, the overall environment has been extend to include support for tiles that provide real-time views into data that is constantly streaming into next-generation Windows applications. In addition, those tiles can be linked in a way that allows Windows 8 applications, which will be available online via a new Microsoft Store, to dynamically share data.
In effect, Microsoft is trying to turn Windows into a dashboard for managing data across a range of devices, including a new generation of smartphones and ultra notebooks that are already in use. At CES, Microsoft specifically highlighted new Windows Phone offerings from Nokia and HTC and ultra notebooks from Hewlett-Packard and Samsung.
In addition to x86 systems, Windows 8 will also be able to run on a new generation of systems based on ARM processors. Ballmer also promised that every existing PC that is running Windows 7 would be able to upgrade to Windows 8, which he added has already been downloaded over 3 million times. He also noted that in terms of market share, Microsoft still dwarves Apple. Microsoft, by way of example, says Ballmer has already sold 500 million Windows 7 licenses, which is roughly equivalent to seven new copies of Windows 7 being sold every second.
As part of the company's bid to expand the reach of Windows by "reimagining Windows," Ballmer also noted that the Kinect gesture recognition technology originally developed for the Xbox gaming console will be available next month for Windows. In addition, he said sales of Microsoft Office 365 in the cloud are brisk, the company share of the search engine market in partnership with Yahoo is now 30 percent, and that there are now over 200 million users of Skype.
In essence, Ballmer is really saying that 2012 is the year that Microsoft intends to strike back, which ironically is going to be driven largely by a Metro user interface that fulfills a Microsoft promise that is older than most people really want to remember.