Microsoft

Microsoft is pulling out of CES, and it's not a good thing

CES won't be the same without Microsoft. But Deb Shinder is not even sure Microsoft will be the same without CES.

In a couple of weeks, I along with well over 100,000 other folks, if last year's attendance numbers are any indication, will be heading to Las Vegas for the annual Consumer Electronics Show (CES). The trade show/conference has been around for a long time, since 1967, and it's one of the largest gatherings in a city that caters to conventions.

Microsoft has had a strong presence at CES and COMDEX (a more computer-specific trade show that was held in Las Vegas each year from 1979 to 2003). For many years, Bill Gates appeared there to give a keynote speech and demonstrate the company's latest and greatest products. Steve Ballmer has been delivering the CES keynote since 2009, after Gates officially retired from Microsoft in 2008.

So it came as a bit of a surprise to hear earlier this month, Microsoft's announcement that CES 2012 would be its last year to have a booth at the show and that Ballmer would no longer be giving those traditional kick-off speeches.

"But ... I thought we were so happy together"

As someone who is heavily involved in Microsoft technologies, I look forward to Ballmer's keynotes as one of the highlights of my week at CES. I admit I was taken aback by the news, sort of like the spouse who didn't know there were any major problems in a marriage and is stunned when the other participant, out of the blue, asks for a divorce. Maybe, I should have seen it coming.

The wording of the blog post by corporate vice president Frank X. Shaw that dropped the bombshell felt like the kind of thing a deserting spouse says to let the other down easy.

"Our product news milestones generally don't align with the show's January timing." It's nobody's fault; we've just grown apart.

"We're looking at new ways we tell our consumer stories." I'm tired of being tied down to you. I want to get out there and play the field.

"It feels like the right time to make this transition." It just hit me that I'm not getting any younger and if my dream of buying a Corvette, dying my hair, and dating younger women/men is ever going to come true, it's now or never.

"We'll continue to participate in CES as a great place to connect with partners and customers." I hope we can still be friends.

As always when a long-time relationship breaks up, there is plenty of speculation about who did what to whom. There were rumors that Microsoft didn't leave at all, but rather got kicked out of the house -- perhaps for being old and boring. But other sources say that's not the case, that in fact the CEA asked Microsoft for a three-year commitment last year and got only a one-year deal. That indicates that Ballmer and Company have been thinking about ending the relationship for a while now.

Emulating Apple again?

Maybe I'm like that guy with the hammer to whom everything looks like a nail, but I can't help noticing that once again Microsoft seems to be following Apple's lead. Steve Jobs dropped out of the Macworld Conference & Expo in 2008, and the company pulled out altogether the next year.

In past articles, I've written about my frustration with Microsoft's copying many of the behaviors and practices that I like least about Apple, and it seems as if they're doing it again with this decision to leave CES. Apple's recent distain for trade shows, its insistence on announcing its new products at super-hyped "special events," where it could be the one-and-only star, is a manifestation of the arrogance so often attributed to the company (and to Jobs personally).

Going head to head with CES? Probably not

I've seen some suggestions that Microsoft should go Apple one better. Instead of holding ad hoc "single star" events to introduce its new stuff, Microsoft could actually compete with CES by holding its own regular annual consumer-focused trade show, bringing in vendors whose products run on Microsoft technologies. I like the idea, but I don't think it's going to happen, for a number of reasons.

First, by all counts Microsoft does intend to stay involved in CES in the future, through its partners. Even though the company won't have its own booth there, the place will be full of products that are based on some form of Windows, from computers to phones to network devices to audio equipment to entertainment products to car systems. Many of those that don't run Windows themselves are designed to work with Microsoft technologies or within Microsoft infrastructures.

Another reason I don't think this is realistic: Microsoft seems to be cutting costs all over the place; this has been going on for the last three years, since the "business realignment" memo from Ballmer in 2009. Taking on the hosting of a new, big, expensive event doesn't seem like the sort of thing Microsoft would do right now.

On the other hand, I think the probability that Microsoft will hold more one-off events partnering with hardware vendors (as they did in New York in November for Windows Phone) is very high. And there's nothing wrong with that -- but does it have to be an either/or proposition?

The end of CES as we know it

Some pundits are saying that CES has outlived its usefulness, and Microsoft is basically just deserting an already-sinking ship. If that's the case, maybe the decision makes sense from Microsoft's point of view.

On the other hand, CES certainly doesn't appear to be dying. Attendance last year was almost 150,000 (149,529, to be exact, according to an independent audit performed by Veris Consulting). Attendance of industry professionals from outside the U.S. was up 30 percent over the previous year. Sure, the show had a couple of bad years during the worst of the recession, with the numbers falling to just over 113,000 in 2009, but it made a big recovery in 2011 -- with Microsoft intact as a major presence.

But some in the industry are asking if Microsoft's departure as a key presence at CES will, itself, lead to the deterioration and eventually discontinuation of CES itself, citing the gradual demise of COMDEX after IBM opted out. The fear is that Microsoft's leaving will start a trend and other large tech companies will follow suit. Even if CES survives, it could end up a shadow of its former self (as happened with MacWorld).

As someone who has suffered from the inevitable sensory overload that comes from spending a few days walking about the Las Vegas Convention Center, being pummeled with visions of gadgets of every kind and color, I can admit that there might be something to be said for a leaner and meaner CES. A smaller show would allow us to actually process a larger percentage of what we see and remember where we saw it. It might mean smaller crowds to fight our ways through. Maybe, if the tech giants did all dump their CES booths, there would be more room for real innovations coming from smaller companies that often get lost in the shuffle.

Still, I'm not pleased with Microsoft's decision to call it quits at CES. I have fond memories of gathering at the Microsoft booth to see demonstrations of Windows Media Center and a new thing called IPTV. I remember watching other attendees play with Windows CE-powered watches and being fascinated by laptops with SideShow displays. No, none of those became wildly popular (although some, such as WMC, certainly deserved to), but the point is that many folks wouldn't have ever seen them at all if not at CES.

CES won't be the same without Microsoft. I'm not even sure Microsoft will be the same without CES.

About

Debra Littlejohn Shinder, MCSE, MVP is a technology consultant, trainer, and writer who has authored a number of books on computer operating systems, networking, and security. Deb is a tech editor, developmental editor, and contributor to over 20 add...

25 comments
trentreviso
trentreviso

...and there will be a CES long after Microsoft has left. Microsoft has been embarrassed year after year, announcing products at CES which never seem to materialize, or which materialize years later. What was featured at CES 2010? Upcoming Windows tablets! What was featured at CES 2011? Windows 8 and upcoming Windows tablets! What will be featured at CES 2012? Windows 8 and upcoming Windows tablets! I think Microsoft is embarrassed to keep showing up at CES without any real products in the pipeline. It's beginning to give the impression that Microsoft has no viable plans for its future.

jimmeq
jimmeq

A long, long time ago...CES was held with nary a computer in sight. Why? Computers were not a consumer product. From 1968 through say 1978, I could hardly wait for news of what new Hi-Fi* gear would be unveiled. And that took a month or two before my copy of Stereo Review arrived with the news of the event. Back then, consumers could not get into the show. (Don't have a clue as to how it works now.) It seems doubtful that CES is really dependent on any one company for its success. * Is there slang today for "sound systems"? i.e. 5.1 surround, etc.

YetAnotherBob
YetAnotherBob

CES (Consumer Electronics Show) will not be threatened by this move on Microsoft's part. CES is and always was about the devices. Windows is after all is said and done, just a way of getting the devices to work. I would suspect that the new Sony and Samsung HDTV's won't be hurt by Microsoft not being there. The same can be said of Panosonic and other manufacturers. Even in Computers, Apple and Linux providers just don't need Microsoft. But, the providers like HP and Dell that do use Windows will be there to flog their wares. Windows will be there, just not the developers to tell you why you need Microsoft. Here's a thought, Maybe the CES can go back to being about Consumer Electronics. Wouldn't that be nice?

tonycopp
tonycopp

M$FT will boost their productivity if they relax with their one out of ten cash cows Office and X-Box and not bother to waste their time doing anything but toll-gating Windows better than ever. Its just so liberating not getting into serial expensive clunkers with 1 out of ten chances for success. Ballmer gets better odds at the crap table and Bill knows it by now...and he be bye-bye

jcarter
jcarter

When you consider that from 100,000 to 150,000 people visit CES, vendors spending a large amount of resources (people, money and time) to sell this group consumer products (XBox, cell phones, etc.) is probably difficult to justify. Eons ago there was PCEXPONY in New York City. Early on Microsoft had a large portion of the space. As PCEXPONY shrank, Microsoft's presence was in the form of Microsoft vendors under the Microsoft banner. Things change, I remember when Windows finally exploded on the market and was everywhere, the joke was that COMDEX was going to change its name to "WINDEX". As big as COMDEX was, it couldn't keep going without change. If CES goes under because of the departure of Microsoft, CES has "broken" the first basic business rule to never have a single client (vendor) represent more than 10% of your business (activity). CES can continue but may have to consider some options, such as rotating the location each year to another part of the country. Microsoft apparently has done its reconsidering already.

jim.lonero
jim.lonero

If Microsoft leaves, then this would be a great opportunity for Apple to come aboard. They have some of the hottest selling consumer gadgets. And it is a "Consume Electornics Show". Not so much for business. Besides the Apple store and MacWorld, what better place to show their wares.

JimiKay
JimiKay

One of the most important aspects of this article is the fact that MS is cutting back on it's budget, and has been annually for the past few years. Other companies should heed the warnings seen through the congratulatory controls implemented here. Not only does MS prevent itself from spiraling operations costs, but keeps itself inline as well as an industry leader in setting prices as low as possible. In keeping the economics working for profitable ventures and cutting the fat, Microsoft will remain "on top" well into the future.

blarman
blarman

Trade shows are an opportunity for companies to show off their offerings, yes, but they have to compete with everyone else there to do it. It isn't arrogant to not be at CES, it's simply a sign that you are big enough to do product launches on your own schedule and at your own expense without relying on the 100,000+ enthusiasts and media folk to be wowed by your grandeur at a booth. I don't fault either Microsoft or Apple (or any other large company for that matter) for not being at CES. I'm even more grateful that it's one less speech from Ballmer.

oldbaritone
oldbaritone

It would be interesting to know Microsoft's rationale on this decision. One cannot downsize to greatness, but CES is much more than just computers, and perhaps MS wasn't getting the bang for the buck. OTOH, [i]Our product news milestones generally dont align with the shows January timing[/i] is just completely bogus. The show has been at the same time for many years; if MS set their product launch calendar and ignored CES, that's not CES's fault.

Dr_Zinj
Dr_Zinj

Quite simple really. CES was costing Microsoft more than they were making off of it.

fjp
fjp

Perhaps this represents the late realisation by MS that it doesn't (and never really did) do innovation?

BALTHOR
BALTHOR

This is Microsoft bullying.You would think that they would be in their element and at pure joy there in CES.They're being called to task on this code stuff."On the aside how does this code really work?".I see Microsoft as it is as a big fraud.(They were booted out by CES.)

robo_dev
robo_dev

...they make software, more or less. They used to make Ethernet switches and routers (badly) and make a mouse not nearly as good as Logitech, and that's about it. I'm sure CES gave Microsoft a free ride if Gates was keynote speaker, but sorry Steve Balmer, you're no Bill Gates. I bet CES wanted somebody other than Balmer to be keynote, and for Microsoft to pay actual money to show up. Sam Diaz at ZDNet: "Last night???s on-stage presentation by CEO Steve Ballmer and crew was, quite frankly, embarrassing. The company didn???t have any real news to share, aside from some talking avatars, Kinect technology in a Netflix app and an update to Microsoft Surface. And they insulted the intelligence of those in attendance by trying to mask a keynote speech with highlights from the past year" "The Ballmer show is definitely getting old. In every keynote it???s the same formula, the same forced enthusiasm, the same droning tones that make even the occasional exciting announcement sound boring. And as usual, this keynote was all about Microsoft Promise, and Microsoft ReHash, but no Microsoft Deliver. Although a new website popped up with more copy/paste promises, at least it is called ???January-Update.aspx???, giving us a little hope for something concrete coming soon from Redmond, which must be the smoke and mirrors capital of the world."

information
information

Microsoft, whether you love them more, or less; the company has joined the realm of being to big to fail. This will not hurt them.

adornoe
adornoe

to justify holding their own, all Microsoft convention. Perhaps, a CES didn't do enough justice to the giants, like Microsoft and Apple and IBM. Why should those almighty powers in computers and electronics have to share the stage with the other "lesser" players?

Mark W. Kaelin
Mark W. Kaelin

Is Microsoft's decision to decrease the company's presence at CES a good decision or a bad one?

adornoe
adornoe

showing up without any real products in the pipeline, and so, they opted out? Does that begin to give the impression that Apple has no viable plans for its future?

Realvdude
Realvdude

I remember going a couple of times in the 80's, though the show in Chicago was a different time of year. According to a Time magazine article they started having CES twice a year, then it went to alternating between the Vegas and Chicago every other year, then just Vegas in 1995. Even way back to the second time I went, there was industry buzz about whether manufacturers would be at one or both shows, and when they would be announcing (and displaying) their new products. I don't know about now, but back then you had to have some CE trade affiliation to attend; though it was pretty loosely verified.

JimiKay
JimiKay

For many of the corporate contributors, trade-shows are nothing more than an opportunity to get away from the family, party it up at the bars, find sexual pleasures and maybe pass through the show for a brisk walk. It's become the new mini-corporate executives sin vacation.

adornoe
adornoe

when the attendees to the event would later go home and vilify Ballmer or anything Microsoft did. That occurred in a bunch of blogs right here in this forum, with people always saying that Ballmer was uninspiring and out of touch and not fit to be a leader of anything. Why should anybody subject him(her)self to that kind of abuse when they don't have to? Ballmer and Microsoft were doing CES a favor, and not the other way around.

Zorched
Zorched

So why should they go to a consumer electronics show? The only device they make that's and significant success is the Xbox, and that doesn't even make them money other than on Live and the games themselves. The hardware is sold at nearly cost, and had reliability problems that make even the faithful gnash their teeth in frustration.. The Zune died. They make Keyboards and Mice. Whoo hoo. They had a tablet that had promise, but killed it. Windows Phones? Those are another disaster that hasn't fully materialized. Microsoft just can't make hardware and yet they keep trying, without actually going all-in and innovating. They keep trying to tether it to their old software like Windows or Office, and end up falling flat because if it. Xbox succeeded I think simply because it was a decent product that didn't try to tether itself to their flagship products. Had it forced users into a windows like environment, it wouldn't have been relevant. Microsoft has shoehorned itself into a shoe that's growing smaller by the year and this is just a symptom of a bigger problem. Right now, they've made themselves an OS and Office company and the world is beginning to find alternatives to both those. Yes, windows 7 was a success but can they keep the momentum for Windows 8? From what I've seen, no.

GAProgrammer
GAProgrammer

And what about Windows Phones? C'mon people, let's keep up here.

JimiKay
JimiKay

Hey robo: The bile you're producing in the MS descriptions are surely anti-conglomeration, but hold on to your horsey! Just like any other product that was introduced at the right time, with nearly all the people wanting it, Gates and Co. took off. This is no reason to go out on the limb. Sure, they charge for things that used to be a courtesy now, but let's be a little empathetic. I have found (as my company product procurement manager). MS is a staple of reliability, along with state-of-the-art technology. Hate them or love them: reality does not bite. I've found MS as well as 3rd party peripherals that last and some do not. Last month I threw my Microsoft mouse in the trash. This product (your right, the paint wore off on the clicker) did not hold up forever. I purchased that mouse in 2001 for what turned into an annual cost of 3.27,. How much do competitive mice cost and how long do your mice last otherwise? Most of the time, to buy MS is to buy for less in the long run. The numbers don't lie. Like any other product, if you're lucky they last beyond expectations, if you're not, they don't.

adornoe
adornoe

Love them or hate them, they can make you or break you. CES is on the way out, and if not, there won't be much of significance occurring there.

adornoe
adornoe

aren't even aware of? Your own prejudices is not how a market is judged, especially when the market is proving you wrong in the areas that Microsoft does have a presence in, and Windows 7 and XP before it were huge successes, and XBox is now a runaway success too. Also, why judge MS in the area of hardware when they're not really that much involve in that area except in a couple of areas, like Xbox. The fact is that, MS cannot, or has opted to not enter into the hardware arena, because, they have a huge number of partnerships which would be destroyed. Microsoft is the provider of the OS for most PCs, and the PC manufacturers would be hurt by Microsoft becoming a competitor with building their own PCs. MS is content, for now, with being "just" the OS provider to the vast majority of PCs. Something tells me that, you haven't heard about all the other areas that MS is a major player in, like office software, and its huge on-line presence, with its cloud offerings and its Bing and other online properties. BTW, are you aware that, most tech gadgets need OSes and other software in order for them to be useful. As such, the presence of the software makers at any tech show, is as crucial as that of the actual hardware makers. Android smartphones, as an example, would be nothing without the Android software; PCs would be nothing without the underlying software inside; and so on. Your simple-minded approach to Microsoft is that of someone who is determined to not have MS succeed in anything.