Bill Gates kicked off his keynote today talking about the recent successes in the technology space over the last year. "We're just scratching the surface" of technology today, Gates opined - "More and more can be done."
Whilst recanting the various announcements of the past year - terabyte hard drives, LCDs - the Microsoft king said that the key thing missing was the connected experience - and this connected experience was the theme of his speech.
Key to the connected world is Windows Vista. "This is, by far, the most important release of Windows ever," assembled attendees were told. "It's also the highest quality we've ever done."
Gates proceeded on an announcement-a-palooza - here's the details.
Whilst Vista continues to be the centre of Microsoft's vision, the vision is to make the ecosystem work together. A major part of this ecosystem is Microsoft office, and Office 2007 launches alongside Vista at the end of January. Gates suggested that hardware is the major reason for the coincidence - "The last time we released Office and Windows together was in Windows 95, with the arrival of the 32-bit generation, just as Vista is about the new 64-bit generation of hardware."
When it comes to Office, the new interface appears to have been a risk that has paid off, on the back of over a million sessions of work observed. "All these features they used to asked about that we had but they couldn't find, now they find them."
Justin Hutchinson, one of the product managers for Windows Vista, joined Gates on stage to demo the new operating system. He showed off the new search feature, as well as a new feature called Shadow Copy, which keeps previous versions of documents in case of inadvertent error. In a dig at Apple, Justin claimed the feature was "Better than going back in time," a snide reference to a similar function in the upcoming version of Mac OSX, Time Machine.
Full Motion Desktop won some "Oohs" from the audience. FMD allows you to use any video file as your Windows desktop background - sure to be a memory hog, but a good looking one nonetheless! Vista ships with a number of these built in, including a waterfall. FMD also seems like a great way to catch up on your downloaded shows whilst working!
Also demoed was a new app available to those who buy the Ultimate edition called Group Shot. This app takes different versions of the same photo and allows you to combine them together to make a perfect version - so if one group photo has person A's eyes closed and one has person B's eyes closed, you can merge them to create one where neither are closed. Is this a Photoshop junkie's prankster heaven?
Windows Home Server
As Gates took the focus back, he announced the availability of Windows Home Server, a new software package that will launch first with the HP Home Media Server. This is software designed for mass storage of media at the centre of the home. It will backup automatically, connected within the home to PCs and Xbox 360 consoles as well as allowing secure remote access. It features hot-swap RAID technology with zero configuration required. The product is supported by reference designs from Intel, AMD and Quanta.
The emphasis for this product is ease of use - hence the zero configuration storage. The software looks like it could be a great configuration for the power user that has every bit of content digitised.
Xbox Live for Windows
Robbie Bach, head of the Entertainment division at Microsoft, delivered a talk primarily focused on the centrality of Xbox 360 to the entz strategy at MS. Entertainment, he claimed, was about having whatever you want, wherever you want it, and building a community around that experience.
Bach demonstrated Xbox Live on Windows, which will roll out this summer. Using this, gamers will be able to connect to each other cross-platform, using an interface on the PC identical to the Xbox. Titles taking advantage of this will be Shadowrun, Halo 2 and the multitude of casual games such as Uno.
Oh, and we also saw Geometry Wars on the PC. Woohoo!
The HP Media Server and Live software running on Vista.
Microsoft TV on Xbox 360
Confirming that MS had sold 10.4m 360s since launch - beating their 2006 target - Bach also announced that Microsoft would be adding to the 360s feature set with IPTV software designed for HDTV viewing. In the UK, this is supported by BT's new service, and means that your 360 will work as an HD set top box. Nice!
Bach was keen to re-emphasise that Microsoft hasn't 'dropped' its PlaysForSure music devices with the push towards Zune, given recent criticism. "We are continuing to be committed - we think that platform is alive and well and will continue to grow." He called Zune the "Second part" of the music strategy - an interesting shift in emphasis.
Microsoft Auto and Ford Sync
Gates introduced Ford as a partner for Microsoft's Auto platform, and Ford will deliver its Sync product across 12 new vehicles this year. Sync allows you to use your bluetooth phone in car with just voice commands. Text messages can be read aloud, and you can also voice navigate through your music and play back media from Zunes, iPods and USB storage devices.
The home of the future
Gates ended the night with a look at what the digital home of the future might look like. He showed off some outrageous concepts, such as a kitchen where recipes are projected onto the work surface and navigated through via voice, and a bedroom where the walls are made of video screens that change wallpaper - it was a fun, if light-hearted, look at Microsoft's direction.
Stay tuned tomorrow for more CES coverage. In the mean-time, go discuss the big MS announcements over in the forum.