Conspicuous by its absence, Vista is a no-show at CES

Scott Fulton, BetaNews: One of the consumer electronics industry's biggest brands has had an ever-diminishing presence at CES, and the trend continued this year. It's Windows, which this year moved from the backseat into Microsoft's trunk, as even Bill Gates himself touted products such as Mediaroom, Silverlight, and the Surface prototype while only mentioning Windows Vista in passing.

Last year, Sharon Fisher and I noticed the trend, and here's what we said about it at the time:

Sharon Fisher, BetaNews Senior CES Analyst: There's a number of reasons why there's not a lot of buzz about Vista at CES. First of all, it's hardly new; Microsoft has been talking about the operating system as "Vista" for more than a year, and as "the next version of Windows" for even longer. Plus, with all the delays it's been suffering, and will probably continue to suffer, it's hard for people to get excited about it.


And frankly, it's not like a lot of people are going to have a choice about going to Vista. You don't have the competitive aspect like you do between Xbox and Playstation 3, or Blu-ray vs. HD DVD. It's more like that classic line from The Who: "Meet the new boss, same as the old boss."

Scott Fulton: Sharon, like you said, for years, CES has been more of a gadget show than a software show, and yet Bill Gates has so often been the man up front with the keynote, even during those years when you know pretty much what he's going to say ahead of time. It's as though he's comfortable, reliable, like a pair of slippers. When the Gates Keynote era ends, as it looks like it might this year, and there's no one reliably plain up there to take the helm, will it change the flavor of CES substantially, or will it just change the way journalists who often leave the show on Monday anyway look at CES?

Sharon Fisher: Well, it symbolizes the way the computer industry itself is changing. There's no longer going to be one monolithic person, or company, who has so much of a major role. And the charisma factor, the 'star' factor, is definitely going to be lost a little -- no matter how popular the Wii or the Playstation 3 are, I don't think you're going to see the chairman of Nintendo or Sony up there because those guys aren't so closely identified with the technologies of their companies.

Who knows -- maybe next year it'll be Steve Jobs.

Scott Fulton: Well this year, it looks like Steve took the week off, though we'll get a good chance to see him in a few days' time.

Anyway, Sharon, last year we wondered whether Vista wouldn't matter like we thought it would earlier in 2006. This year, it's pretty obvious Vista isn't even a sideshow attraction, let alone the main event. I'm wondering whether you have any thoughts about whether that's because the PC is more of a commodity than a big-ticket consumer item, or whether it's really because the market is burned out on operating systems and bloated software.

Sharon Fisher: Scott, what we said last year holds even more true this year. CES is all about the new and shiny. If Vista wasn't "new" last year, when it was just starting to ship, because Microsoft had been talking about it so long, it surely isn't "new" this year.

CES is also all about the innovative, and as we discussed during the Bill Gates keynote, Microsoft may be a lot of things, but it's not really all that innovative a company. It's good at packaging ideas, but not necessarily good at coming up with ideas on its own.

Also, CES is really more of a hardware show. Gadgets. Even during the Bill Gates keynote, he didn't talk about Vista. And while it is true that consumers use Vista, it's also a business product. You use it at work. It's not sexy.

The thing is, though, Bill Gates had been doing the CES keynote since the late 1990s, and regardless of how innovative or trendy or appropriate his products were, he gave an entertaining show - his "last day" video is a great example. So he kept being invited, even as Windows, and now Vista, became increasingly irrelevant to the CES audience. But would you want to be the person to tell Bill Gates, "No, we don't want you to speak this year?"

Scott Fulton: Well, I actually think Gates may be ready to let go of the Windows-related speaking engagements, and devote his public appearances to the causes he and his wife, Melinda, are championing. For those, you'll note he doesn't have to rely upon talking point slides so much, and he can speak from the heart.

Still, you'd think if Microsoft wanted a new face and a new voice to represent Vista to the general public, they would have had a "passing the baton" ceremony to someone like Ray Ozzie. And since we didn't see one this year, I actually get the impression that we may see more of Bill Gates next year anyway, Vista or no Vista.

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