Kara Swisher

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Live From Redmond: Microsoft's Turner, Bach, Mundie Talk Strong, Play Games and Introduce Us to HAL

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While Microsoft COO Kevin Turner did a kind of modified cheerleading act at Microsoft’s annual Financial Analyst Meeting, Entertainment and Devices President Robbie Bach played the teenage boy and Chief Research and Strategy Officer Craig Mundie the voice from the future.

During his presentation at the event at the Microsoft (MSFT) HQ in Redmond, Wash.–a series of presentations for Wall Street analysts and the media–Bach showed off the Xbox’s new Project Natal motion-sensing technology, which lets you play games and more without a controller.

Bach spazzed out nicely playing a game called Ricochet, with a storm of virtual red balls coming at him, although I was slightly worried the exertion might cause him to collapse on stage.

Turner was on before Bach, pretty much doing cleanup after CEO Steve Ballmer’s presentation, talking up all of Microsoft’s various businesses, while talking down its competitors’.

Said Turner, whose mantra was building market share for Microsoft: “Strong innovation, strong innovation investment, as well as strong operational excellence that we’re driving to compete and grow our market share.”

Strong, got it? (Frankly, I know companies always put their best foot forward at events like this–but after Ballmer’s own He-Man speech, BoomTown is a little worried that Scary Microsoft could be making a comeback, after a few post-antitrust years of Kinder-Gentler Microsoft.)

Bach, given his job, was a lot more entertaining and had more to show off, although he could not be as positive about the software giant’s mobile experience, given the juggernaut of the iPhone from Apple (AAPL).

“First of all, in Windows Mobile, as Steve pointed out, we had a challenging year from a share perspective,” said Bach. “Much tougher competition in the U.S. and certainly there is plenty of competition in this space.”

No kidding!

Natal is, of course, the pretty one for Bach’s division.

“It is about technology innovation and experience innovation. I think it will lead to a bigger and better business as well,” said Bach. “It is certainly an opportunity for us to build something new.”

Mundie also showed a lot of new futuristic stuff, which borrowed from the Natal technology, including a demo of a gesture-rich “office of the future” experience.

Said Mundie: “But as far as Microsoft, one of the greatest opportunities going forward is to realize there will be a successor to the desktop. It is the room. It is the fixed computing environment. The question is what can you do with computing when you have a much more robust man-machine interaction model and you don’t have to fold it in half and move it and run it on a battery.”

In the midst of it, though, he chit-chatted with a very scary “digital assistant” named DAG (I think it must stand for Digital Assistant Golem) on the screen, whose voice freaked me out in the exact way HAL from “2001: A Space Odyssey” always does.

After helping Mundie with a bunch of stuff, I am guessing DAG went off into the computer to work on a secret plan to kill off the human race.

Well, it was nice being here for this long on our little blue planet, Earth!

So, while we wait for DAG to destroy us, here’s the video demoing Natal that Bach showed to the audience, which is not new, but still pretty cool:


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Just as the atom bomb was the weapon that was supposed to render war obsolete, the Internet seems like capitalism’s ultimate feat of self-destructive genius, an economic doomsday device rendering it impossible for anyone to ever make a profit off anything again. It’s especially hopeless for those whose work is easily digitized and accessed free of charge.

— Author Tim Kreider on not getting paid for one’s work