Ballmer opts for casual interview format

When Microsoft announced plans to stop giving the keynote speech at the Consumer Electronics Show, the company implied the reason was because it didn’t have a lot to say. And it certainly backed that up Monday night.

At times entertaining, at times baffling and at times a bit dry, Microsoft’s final appearance at CES was more notable because of the finality attached to it than what was said on stage.

CEO Steve Ballmer abandoned his typical master of ceremonies approach for a more casual interview format with American Idol host Ryan Seacrest steering the conversation, though never deviating too far from the script.

Rather than offering brand new looks into the future, the company instead mostly recapped recent announcements, such as the release of Windows Phone 7 and the inclusion of Bing voice search on the Xbox 360. The keynote also a rather in-depth look at the user interface for Windows 8, which will be out in 2012.

There were a few minor new announcements, such as a pair of new Windows Phones – including the HTC Titan 2, which will boast a 16 MB camera – and the introduction of Sesame Street TV on the Xbox 360, which will offer free interactive episodes of the popular children’s program as the console looks to increase its appeal to families.

Microsoft will not host a booth or deliver a keynote at next year’s show and the company has implied that its absence could be a lengthy one, but Consumer Electronics Association CEO Gary Shapiro tried to downplay those impressions, saying onstage “I would be shocked if a Microsoft leader does not return to the keynote stage in the next few years.”

He also offered thanks to the company for serving as the show’s kickoff for the past 14 years.

“Microsoft took a risk on us early and we both benefited,” said Shapiro. “But as much as our human inclination is to protect the status quo, … we realize that change is the only constant, so we agreed to pause. … I offer gratitude and goodwill towards Microsoft.”

Ballmer was appreciative of the kind words, but offered no sign that the company was planning a return after its absence next year.

“Thanks for a great partnership,” he told Shapiro.

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