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Ballmer Highlights Two Screens at CES Talk

What's a high-tech trade show without a glitch? In this case, it was a power failure that delayed the opening keynote at the 2010 International Consumer Electronics Show (CES).

The outage in the Las Vegas facility on Wednesday night kept the crowd waiting for a talk by Microsoft's CEO Steve Ballmer. Event personnel had to scramble to reboot a slew of Windows 7 machines.

Ballmer's talk consisted primarily of incremental announcements and positioning statements, but there were no major surprises. Ballmer referred to filling "all of the screens of our lives," powered by Microsoft technologies, but his talk mostly centered on TV broadcasts, video-on-demand, and games running on televisions and Xbox 360 consoles, as well as PCs. The third screen, the mobile phone, was somewhat of a no-show at this kickoff talk.

For instance, there were no announcements about the forthcoming Windows Mobile 7. Details on Windows Mobile 7 may come some time in March at MIX 2010, according to a hint dropped at the Professional Developers Conference (PDC) by Microsoft Chief Software Architect Ray Ozzie. During the CES keynote, Ballmer simply noted the launch of Windows Mobile 6.5, which took place in October, although only a handful of devices based on that release are available.

Microsoft did announce a partnership with HTC and T-Mobile USA on a forthcoming HTC HD2 Windows phone. Ballmer said that Microsoft would reveal more at the Mobile World Congress, which is scheduled to take place in Barcelona on Feb. 15.

Ballmer's silence on Windows Mobile 7 was overshadowed by Google, which launched its Nexus One touch-based smartphone on Tuesday. Google's timing might have been intended to preempt Microsoft's mobile talk at the CES event.

Manufacturers have been producing new form factors for so-called "slate PCs," which Ballmer described as almost as portable as a phone but as powerful as a phone running Windows 7. On display during the CES talk was HP's touch-screen enabled slate PC, which is thin but large enough to serve as an electronic book-reading device (it was running Amazon.com's Kindle software). The HP slate PC will be available some time this year, Ballmer said.

A New York Times story had speculated that the slate PC would be Microsoft's big announcement at CES because Apple is expected to unveil its competing tablet device some time this month.

Ballmer also touted the arrival of Windows 7, which was released in October. He claimed that Windows 7 is "the fastest-selling OS in history," and that it bumped up retail sales on Black Friday compared with last year's retail sales. Microsoft's partners have delivered more than 800 unique Windows 7 apps so far, he added.

Speaking to the gadget-loving crowd in Las Vegas, Ballmer said that "Windows 7 is the rising tide that has helped lift many boats in our business."

Through Windows Media Center, Windows 7 can tap into TV broadcasts and even serve as a digital video recorder of programs. Ballmer claimed that "TV becomes a lot more fun when it's powered by a PC." Service providers can use Microsoft Mediaroom 2.0 technology to sell broadcast and on-demand video services that can now be received through a TV, PC and even certain compatible smartphones.

Mediaroom 2.0, a solution for IP-based TV transmissions, got its debut announcement at the CES talk. Mediaroom 2.0 allows broadcasts to be delivered in high-definition format due to Microsoft's integration of IIS "smooth streaming" technology. Microsoft describes smooth streaming technology as capable of adapting to the varying bandwidths of end users. Mediaroom-based services are currently available to more than 4 million users around the globe, according to the CES keynote.

Ballmer also touted Microsoft's Bing Internet search service. The company has struck a deal with HP, which will offer Bing as the default search engine installed on HP's PCs.  Microsoft added 11 million Bing users in 11 months, Ballmer claimed. Bing uses Microsoft's Silverlight multimedia technology and Microsoft's Photosynth photo-stitching technology, particularly with Bing Maps.

Microsoft Sync technology is being used by the automobile industry. Ford plans to use Microsoft Sync and Microsoft's embedded auto technology in some of its cars. Kia Motors' UVO service will include Microsoft's speech technology, which will be seen in the 2011 Kia Sorento automobile some time in the third quarter of this year. Fiat has partnered with Microsoft on a carbon dioxide-reducing technology called EcoDrive.

Ballmer also touted the success of the Xbox 360 game console, which integrates with Facebook, Twitter and Project Natal technology. Natal is Microsoft's showcase "natural user interface" technology that allows human movements to control the computer. Ballmer said that there are more than 39 million Xbox 360s around the world. More than 500 million games have been sold for Xbox, generating more than $20 billion in game revenues, he said.

Robbie Bach, president of Microsoft's entertainment and devices division, concluded the keynote by revealing some upcoming game releases, including Microsoft's "Halo Reach" title, which is scheduled to be available in the fall of 2010. Microsoft currently has more than 20 million Xbox Live members, and they can now get live direct TV through their game consoles. Video-on-demand service is also available through the Xbox 360 as Microsoft has partnered on the service with Netflix.

Bach said that Natal -- which has been seen in Microsoft's demos -- will be available by this year's holiday season. No new device upgrade will be needed as Natal will work with existing Xbox 360 consoles, he said.

About the Author

Kurt Mackie is senior news producer for the 1105 Enterprise Computing Group.

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