LAS VEGAS -- This is two days late, but, really, what in the name of Windows 95 was going on in Microsoft's keynote speech at CES 2012? Of all the wacky, weird, strange gadgets, gizmos and ideas on display here in Las Vegas, Microsoft's final appearance as the keynote presenter at the Consumer Electronics Show just might take the bat-poop-crazy cake (available at Baskin-Robbins), as for a little under an hour, the megalithic corporation that has made much of its money on enterprise and corporate machines marched out one bizarre surprise after another, launching a disorienting whirlwind of jaw-dropping absurdities.
At the end of the presentation, when Steve Ballmer and co-host Ryan Seacrest (which, by the way -- what?) exited the stage, I was left glued to my seat, mouth open as though I'd seen "Springtime for Hitler" performed for the first time, unsure of whether I'd just viewed something brilliant, mad or unhinged. Part of me thought Ashton Kutcher might pop out and tell us we had been punked.
Alas, there was no Kutcher, only Seacrest and Ballmer, our tour guides on the Presentational Cruise Ship From Hell, curating what felt like an hallucinatory nightmare voyage through the feverish imagination of an acid-tripping Microsoft product manager. A Microsoft employee once accused Google of throwing spaghetti at the wall and seeing what stuck; about halfway through Ballmer's ultimate keynote at CES, I'm pretty sure I was struck in the face by some half-cooked linguini.
Below, relive the madness of Microsoft's CES keynote, with video and photographic highlights of Ballmer's odyssey.
Hide your kids, hide your wife. Seriously. Microsoft kicked off its final keynote at CES with a video montage of its 15 previous presentations at the conference. Rather than offering a touching tribute, the company opted for an "Auto-Tune the Bill Gates" approach, condensing its efforts into a Gregory-Brothers-esque hip-hop video featuring a bebopping Bill Gates, multiple appearances by professional wrestler The Rock, and Steve Ballmer clapping his hands like a maniac. At one point, Gates repeats the phrase "69 million hours," which is how long this little ditty has been stuck in my head.
Ryan Seacrest found some time in between filming the 13 television programs he appears on to co-host Microsoft's final CES keynote. His job took the form of a table-side chat with a manic Steve Ballmer, making a couple of "American Idol" jokes and staring off into space during presentations, likely contemplating firing his agent. From the beginning of the keynote, when Ballmer gave him a bear hug that must have crushed at least two of his ribs, something tells me that Ryan couldn't wait to say "Seacrest out" at the end of this one.
Continuing his mission to prove to the world that he is crazier than Dennis Hopper's character in "Apocalypse Now," Steve Ballmer was his manic, hammy self at Microsoft's keynote, over-emoting, yelling, frightening small children, stomping around like an ill-tempered man-baby and generally over-estimating the extent to which the crowd shared his volcanic, nigh-rabid enthusiasm for all things Microsoft. Here is a brief clip of Ballmer at the end of the keynote, threatening to punch Ryan Seacrest in the stomach.
Midway through the keynote, Microsoft marched out something called a Tweet Choir, a troupe of gospel soul singers from a local church, to -- and I am not making this up -- praise to Jesus the best tweets celebrating the Microsoft keynote thus far. Never mind that at least one of the tweets was from an employee of the Microsoft marketing department. But who thought of this? Who green-lit this? How much and what strain of peyote was involved in the formulation of this idea, and where can I buy some? To quote the top two comments on the YouTube video precisely: 1. "What the hell Microsoft." 2. *facepalm*
Children's ability to interact with their favorite TV shows using Microsoft's Kinect is actually very, very cool, and if I ever have children (keep dreaming!), I hope they can occupy themselves with that technology in the same way that I occupied myself with Face from Nick Jr. during my mostly recumbent youth. However, the way this was presented at CES was so odd: There was the clearly scripted dialogue, the over-rehearsed child actress and an eternally long dancing scene with Elmo that looked like it emerged from a Hunter S. Thompson memoir. At one point during the presentation, the little yellow-haired girl excitedly cries, "We're in Elmo's World! Rainbows!" I think my roommate said the same thing the first time he tried mushrooms. Microsoft Kinect for Kids: Turn on, tune in, drop out.
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