Steve Ballmer has never had a problem letting us see him sweat. On Wednesday, he had no reason to. For as troubling as new technology demos can be, Microsoft
Rather than just skiing through the moguls -- from mishap to mishap -- Mr. Softy demonstrated products that weren't just the same old point upgrades. Consider the Xbox: On stage, a Microsoft product manager showed off a voice-activated interface that danced between music and movies with little effort.
Microsoft's Windows Phone 7 also looked good. We don't know anyone making odds on the success of the Windows Phone here in Vegas, but we'd guess they'd be fairly long. Yet from what we could see, it was a well-designed, attractive, and even fun-looking device that contrasts nicely with competitive offerings from Apple
So should investors get excited about Microsoft again? Does it matter that you're no longer a dollar short when you're still a day late?
Sure, sometimes being late isn't as bad as it seems. For example, Microsoft has sold more than 8 million Kinect controllers in its first 60 days on the market. When it came time to chase Nintendo and its Wii motion controller, Sony
But perhaps nothing accentuates a change in the company's traditional thinking more than a newfound willingness to part ways with its traditional Wintel alliance and design a version of Windows for ARM Holdings'
Why this won't stay in Vegas
There's much to like about Microsoft's product direction with each of the products it showed at CES. But will any of these feel-good stories change the way investors see the company? Here's our take:
Windows Phone 7. Will it move the needle? Not really. For those who really want a Windows phone, Microsoft has given them a lot more to love. For those on the fence, the handset is an attractive choice, but it's hardly a no-brainer alternative to either the iPhone or any of the many Android winners currently on the market.
Xbox, Xbox Live, and Kinect. Will they move the needle? Yes. The fight for the figurative "remote" in the entertainment center of America's living rooms is messy and by no means over. What Microsoft showed us is among the best interactive TV offerings we saw.
Windows 8, Sandy Bridge, and ARM. Will they move the needle? A little. It's far too early to say Microsoft has put a shot across Apple's or anyone else's bow (pardon the metaphor; we were staying at Treasure Island), but these systems are clearly fast and functional, and the two-screen Acer Iconia laptop that Ballmer and his team demonstrated was as slick as anything we've ever seen in an Apple demo.
The Foolish bottom line
Microsoft already has a lot of fans among value investors, and for those who already like the company's market dominance, healthy cash position, and reasonable valuation, this week's CES announcements may have given you more reason to get excited.
For growth investors, there still isn't much to love here. But the story is about as good as it's been in a decade. And that's saying something.
Now it's your turn to weigh in. What do you think of Microsoft's CES announcements? Would you buy the stock at current prices? Use the comments box below to let us know what you think.
What will be the big trends of the next five years? We asked our top equity analysts that question, and they came back with five stocks we've put real money behind. We profile all five picks in a new special report. Get instant access by clicking here -- it's free.
Google and Microsoft are Motley Fool Inside Value picks. Apple and Nintendo are Motley Fool Stock Advisor selections. Google is a Motley Fool Rule Breakers recommendation. Motley Fool Options has recommended that subscribers open a diagonal call position in Microsoft. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days.
Fool contributors Tim Beyers and Karl Thiel are members of the Motley Fool Rule Breakers stock-picking team. Karl owns shares of Apple. Tim had stock and options positions in Apple and a stock position in Google at the time of publication. Check out Tim's portfolio holdings and Foolish writings, or connect with him on Twitter as @milehighfool. You can also get his insights delivered directly to your RSS reader. We Fools don't all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool owns shares of Apple, Google, and Microsoft. The Fool is also on Twitter as @TheMotleyFool. Its disclosure policy isn't voice-activated, but it's far from unspoken.