Next week, two decidedly different technology conferences get underway, providing consumers with a sneak peak at the new products and services that will debut in the coming year. First up is the Consumer Electronics Show (CES), which opens Sunday night, January 7, in Las Vegas with a keynote address by Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates. Meanwhile, Apple's much smaller but eagerly awaited MacWorld Expo will open Monday, January 8, with a keynote by CEO Steve Jobs.
The styles of the two men are as different as the styles of the companies they represent. Staid Microsoft still dominates the tech industry, and the company hopes its latest Windows and Office versions touch off a new round of upgrades. Apple, meanwhile, is as brash and hip as ever, despite facing legal troubles such as a federal monopoly case and various investigations into stock backdating.
On Sunday, Gates will highlight Windows Vista, which is being marketed to consumers with a "Wow Starts Now" tagline. Due to launch on January 29, Windows Vista includes a number of improvements aimed at consumers, such as digital video recording, digital music, digital photos, and digital video capabilities, as well as the ability to record DVDs. But Vista is also expected to touch off a new generation of more inspired PC hardware, including portable and desktop devices that combine Windows Media Center with Tablet PC and touch screen capabilities. Microsoft is also going to announce a Windows Home Server product at the show, the details of which have been widely misreported around the Web recently. Expect a full report about Windows Home Server on the SuperSite for Windows as soon as Gates announces the product.
On the Apple side, Jobs is expected to discuss the next version of Mac OS X, dubbed Leopard, and the iTV set-top box, both of which were announced last year at separate Apple events. He will no doubt introduce new versions of the iLife and iWork application suites, but it is Apple's other potential announcements that are causing the most excitement. Rumor has it that Apple might announce an iPod-based cell phone and perhaps a true video iPod with a larger display. These products could extend Apple's digital media dominance further and result in a new round of purchases from existing customers.
Apple will probably make Macintosh-hardware-related announcements as well--this is MacWorld, after all--but those products have far less impact on the wider world. Give Apple credit, though: Its MacWorld show draws almost as much attention as CES, the latter of which involves thousands of companies from the around the world and garners much higher attendance.
Whatever happens, next week should prove to be quite interesting. Stay tuned.