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Ballmer Shows Slate Portables, New Halo Title

Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer tried to steal a little thunder from Apple when during his traditional pre-International CES keynote address he showed off several “slate” portable computers powered by Microsoft software.

Industry rumors at CES had Apple unveiling a slate-type device in the very near future.

Ballmer revealed three slate devices, by Hewlett-Packard, Archos and Pegatron. The HP device will be available later this year, Ballmer said. Pricing was not discussed. The slate devices appeared somewhat larger then a Kindle and had several similar functions to the e-reader. In addition, it could act as a tablet PC.

In another HP-related deal, the computer maker will make Microsoft’s Bing search engine the default search engine on all HP computers, Ballmer said.

The other big news came from Microsoft’s gaming division. Robbie Bach, president of Microsoft’s entertainment and devices division, said the latest installment of Halo, entitled Halo Reach, will debut this fall. It presents a prequel to the storyline.

Microsoft this year will also roll out Natal, which is Microsoft’s attempt to create gesture-oriented game playing. Instead of using a controller, the player uses hand and body gestures, which are picked up by the hardware and then turned into moves by the avatars in the game. Bach said Natal will be available by the 2010 holiday season, and the technology will be backward compatible with existing Xbox 360 consoles.

Ballmer was more energized during his keynote this year compared with the 2009 keynote. He was quite excited over the healthy reception Windows 7 has received, calling it the most quickly adopted operating system ever and adding that it gave a hefty boost to computers sales when it was released. He did temper that last remark by noting that computer sales in the fall of 2009 were rather low.