Comdex Fall 2001: Day One Wrap-Up

The first day of the Comdex Fall trade show officially began with Bill Gates' Digital Decade-themed keynote address, which he delivered to 15,000 people at the MGM Grand Garden arena last night. After his snoozer of a speech at the XP launch 2 weeks ago, we weren't sure what to expect for Comdex. But Gates was right on track, snoozing up the joint again. The sheer number of announcements Gates and others made (and, interestingly, didn't make) during the keynote made taking it all in--and staying awake--difficult. Nevertheless, some of the announced products are exciting.

Gates started with the official name of the Tablet PC OS--Windows XP Tablet PC Edition. He introduced six more companies that will make Tablet PC hardware, bringing the total number of OEMs working on these devices to 13. Tablet PCs will ship in two basic forms--the standard slab design and a cool new convertible laptop that Acer pioneered. The Acer device is a laptop with a flip-around screen that we think will be popular with customers. When the Tablet PC ships next year, Microsoft will release an Office XP update that will add "pen-and-ink" capabilities to the suite, along with other Tablet-specific features. Good stuff.

Speaking of XP, Gates announced that Windows XP has sold more than 7 million licenses in its first 2 weeks of availability--double that of Windows 98 in the same timeframe (Windows 98 was the previous best seller out of the gates--pardon the pun). In other statistical news, Group Vice President Jeff Raikes of the Business Productivity Group, on stage for the Tablet PC announcement, mentioned that Microsoft Office has roughly 300 million users.

Generally, Gates punctuates his keynotes with humorous, high-quality movies created inhouse at Microsoft. Last night, Gates treated us to only one such movie, a fairly lame piece starring Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer dressed up as Star Wars' Luke Skywalker and Gates as popular children's-book character Harry Potter. We won't bore you with the details, but Gates did mention that he pioneered the Harry Potter look of round glasses and a bowl hair cut long before Potter was born. The Microsoft movies are always goofy and self-deprecating, but over time they seem more and more phony, as if the company is trying to say, "Look, we're funny. We aren't just a dominant monopoly."

Gates mentioned that Microsoft will release Windows .NET Server Beta 3 "sometime this month" but didn't say much else about the subject. However, a later press release and an announcement lifting a nondisclosure agreement (NDA) embargo that was originally slated to end Thursday lets us mention a few pressing details today: Windows .NET Server Beta 3 will ship this week, probably Thursday, and will include a new low-end Web-server edition that supports two processors and 2GB of RAM. For more information about Windows .NET Server, refer to my Beta 3 overview, available today on the SuperSite for Windows.

In a distressing moment, a .NET product manager came on stage to present a Web-services demonstration, including a free Pocket PC tool for recording expenses (available today for free download) and an Office XP Web-services add-on that will ship in the spring. Unfortunately, bowed by stage fright, she had to leave early.

Gates wrapped up the keynote on a positive note with an Xbox demonstration by Shamus Blackley, who provided the only personable moments of the evening. Blackley came on stage bellowing, "Xbox," and then proceeded to demo a few games, including Microsoft's NFL Fever 2002, which frankly doesn't look much better than competing titles on the Sony PlayStation2 and Sega Dreamcast, and Dead or Alive 3, which features an amazing, photorealistic background. Blackley noted that the ball in NFL Fever and the heads of the characters in Dead or Alive have more RAM than the Nintendo Gamecube has video RAM. We get the message: Xbox is better. A short demo of a future title, Activision's Wreckless, was far more impressive. Wreckless features a realistic Hong Kong street with fast-paced racing and car crashes. Microsoft then gave out four Xbox units to people in the audience; the units weren't, contrary to reports, under the audience members' seats.

Today, we have a full schedule of meetings and hope to spend some time on the show floor. We'll have more COMDEX Fall 2001 news in tomorrow's WinInfo Daily UPDATE.

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