It always has been...
As Bill Gates executed his last CES keynote address, I, like many people, read a few wrap-ups and my share of tech-journalist's reviews. I was bored witless - not with the keynote, but the press following it.
When they get it wrong, they get it all wrong...
Paul Thurrott really blew it, I thought. He opined that CES was well past its prime and that Mr. Gates had long worn out his welcome. He went so far as to crown Steve Jobs and Apple king and queen of the CE ball - suggesting that CES should chase Jobs and Apple in order to save itself.... from itself...from irrelevance...
I think the recent snows up north have frozen Paul's brain, or at least the part responsible for recognizing what is right in front of him.
What Paul held out was totally wrong and exactly one hundred and eighty degrees south of where consumer electronics are headed. Paul continued with his opinion that Microsoft, long the center of the CES universe, was the wrong company to anchor it - dismissing the entire event as leaderless and lacking direction.
Paul did get a few things right - namely, that CES needs leadership and it does. Well Duh! Everything needs good leadership and everyone deserves it, but that is not the focus of this piece.
What shocked me about Paul's review was well... it was written by Paul Thurrott... - the guy that has had his eyes on Microsoft for a very long time. He, above all people, should "get it" but he doesn't... or so it seems.
Ok, Paul... this one is just for you...
It's all about the software. It always has been and most certainly always will be.
Microsoft is first and foremost a software company. It always has been and always will be.
Consumer electronics, now more than ever, and certainly forever more, will be about SOFTWARE. What will make consumer electronics unique, powerful and compelling, is SOFTWARE!
My first job, at age three years, was to clean phones. Really old, and very heavy phones. They did not have any software at all and for the next 80 odd years, they remained that way - dumb as a brick.
Today, the phone is smart and one day soon, it will be brilliant. Software made it smart and it is software that will make it smarter.
A few years ago, the television set was dumb. It had no brain and it had no voice - it was receive only and it was limited. Today it is different and the television is becoming smart - very smart and software is the difference.
The same theme is playing out no matter where we look - our cars, boats, houses, even the picture frames and lights in them... yep... all getting smarter and downright social - they are all running software and the software is getting oh so smart.... playful, even.
Not many things will remain dumb. In fact, nothing dumb will survive in the CE space.
The fridge, the mailbox, even the home hot water heater, will all get a brain - even a small one is enough - enough to talk to services and the people served by them. Think not...? How many of you have asked your spouse: "Did you get the mail?" We all have. Why not just "know" if the box was full, or had been emptied, or when it was last opened - as in a moment ago, by the mail carrier...? It is possible now. It seems trivial, but it isn't - if the mailbox is smart, I bet the driveway is a genius - and it is... melting snow just as fast as it falls...
Software will do that. Software - the stuff that Microsoft makes more of than any other company on the planet.
Don't forget... Microsoft doesn't just make software - it makes the software that makes software and the software that others use to make software and the factories that make yet more software... <you get the point...>
Software will unify all things around us and present us with choices. To be human after all, is all about having choices - or it should be, in any case.
Software will provide the means for all the things in our lives to communicate with one another and with all of us. Software will allow us to control them and manage them as a useful whole - the glorious sum of all those CE parts.
Software will drive the convergence of all things - all things electronic and all things, like the old phones I used to clean, that are still dumb and destined for brilliance. Nothing will remain dumb.
With software driving everything, Microsoft is more relevant than ever and its significance as a leading company, populated with leaders at every level, will shape our world for hundreds of years.
A lot of people watching Mr. Gates speak, thought he was merely stepping through the motions of yet another address. He wasn't and he wasn't at all bored. I think Mr. Gates felt something else... that it was all inevitable - it would all play out exactly as he had seen it. It was and is, all about the software...