Ballmer Touts Windows 8, Phone In Microsoft's CES Farewell

In its final keynote Monday night at the Consumer Electronics Show, Microsoft didn't do anything out of the ordinary -- unless bringing in television personality Ryan Seacrest to moderate alongside CEO Steve Ballmer counts as extraordinary. No, anyone expecting a big splash, or perhaps an appearance from Bill Gates, had to be content with remembered glimpses of Microsoft's CES past glory.

There was some news, however: Microsoft said it plans to release Kinect For Windows hardware and software on Feb. 1 in the U.S., Australia, Canada, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Mexico, New Zealand, Spain and the U.K. Its suggested retail price is $249.

Microsoft is working with some 200 companies on developing "mindblowing" Kinect for Windows applications, including United Health Group, American Express, Mattel and Telefonica, among others, Ballmer told CES attendees.

That was about it on the news front, but Microsoft did give CES attendees an update on where things stand with two of its most precious jewels, Windows 8 and Windows Phone.

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When Microsoft launches the Windows 8 beta in late February, it will also open its Windows app store, called Windows Store For Apps. It'll be available in 100 languages and 200 markets worldwide, and businesses will have the option of using the store to deploy applications for their employees, said Tami Reller, Microsoft's CFO and CMO of Windows and Windows Live division.

On at least two occasions, Reller noted that Windows 8 works great with touch as well as with a mouse and keyboard. As Microsoft looks to straddle the line between tablets and PCs with a single OS, this messaging is aimed at creating the impression that there's no difference between the two from a user interface standpoint, and that customers can easily make the transition.

With Windows 8 looming large, and expected to arrive later this year, Ballmer took the opportunity to explain to the CES show crowd how Microsoft plans to position the forthcoming OS compared to its predecessor.

"With Windows 8, we re-imagined Windows, all the way from the chipset to the user experience, to be the best of the PC and the best of the tablet," Ballmer told attendees.

Meanwhile, after a slow start, Microsoft is starting to feel its oats with Windows Phone, and Ballmer's first mention of the product triggered a round of excited yelps in some of the presumably Microsoft employee-populated areas of the crowd.

"We have a chance in the next year to raise our game across phones, TVs, tablets and Xbox," Ballmer declared. "I'm really excited about where we are. We definitely took a different approach than everyone else and came up with a unique experience."

Ballmer showed off Nokia's Lumia 900 Windows Phone, which features a 4.3 inch AMOLED clear black display, 1.4GHz processor, 512 MB of RAM and an 8 megapixel digital camera. It'll run on AT&T's "blazing fast" LTE network, Ballmer said, and will be available at the carrier's 2,400 U.S. stores "in the next few months".

Another new Windows Phone, the HTC Titan II, comes with a 4.7 inch touch screen display, a 1.5GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon S2 processor, and a 16 megapixel still camera with 720p video.

Toward the end of the keynote, Seacrest pressed Ballmer to talk about what's coming next after the Windows 8 beta, and what Microsoft's focus for the coming year will include. It's all about Windows and Metro, he responded cagily, declining to offer the kind of high profile closeout that some attendees were likely hoping for.

"There is nothing more important at Microsoft than Windows," Ballmer said.