WinInfo Short Takes: Special Report from CES, Part II

An often irreverent look at some of the week's other news...

What Gates Didn't Say
Friday's edition of Short Takes covered some of the highlights from Microsoft Chairman and Chief Software Architect Bill Gates's keynote address, but the speech was most interesting because of what Gates didn't say. For example, during an overview of the Microsoft-oriented hardware products that are now shipping or will ship soon, Gates conveniently skipped over the Windows Powered Smartphone devices, which have had disappointing support and have been slow to market. In the United States, AT&T has committed to the release of Smartphone devices by the first half of this year, but precious little other news is available, including which company or companies are making the phones and which carriers will support the system. Gates and company have been pushing Smartphones for 2 years, and Microsoft continues to tout this technology at every trade show I attend. Will it ever happen?

SPOT Success Unclear
Aside from Microsoft's Media2Go devices, the Smart Personal Object Technology (SPOT) wristwatch platform, which at least three major watchmakers will support, was the company's big announcement. However, the SPOT watches are enormous, especially the first-generation devices that go on sale later this year, and how much SPOT services will cost is unclear. Those services will feature a new Microsoft-created one-way networking scheme called DirectBand that uses the extra bandwidth on FM frequencies. The network is already running in several US cities, the company said. Some of the SPOT watch scenarios, such as sports fans at live games getting other teams' scores, are pretty exciting.

Don't Get Too Excited About Future Windows Technology
At the end of his keynote address, Gates dragged out Steve Guggenheimer, cryptically identified as a Microsoft director, whatever that is. Guggenheimer, you might recall, gave the infamous MSN demonstration in mid-2001 at the Microsoft Financial Analysts Meeting that caused many rumor sites to excitedly publish what were purportedly Longhorn and Blackcomb screen shots and movies. Guggenheimer was at it again last week, demonstrating future UIs designed for home-networking interactivity. As with the earlier MSN demonstration, however, none of the UI features he demonstrated will appear in any future Windows product, and the company has been using similar UIs in the Microsoft Home project, which I recently visited again at the company's campus. In other words, if screen shots from this demonstration appear on the Web purporting to be Longhorn, I'm going to scream.

Microsoft Sells Smart Displays Home
One of the most exciting demonstrations this year was the Windows Powered Smart Displays exhibit, which involved a house erected in the Las Vegas Convention Center's parking lot. And it wasn't a scale model: After visiting the home, I can tell you that it was a livable abode, and Microsoft said that a local contractor purchased the home and will erect it on a lot somewhere in town.

Crowds Continue to Dominate
Unlike crowds at COMDEX, the CES crowds continue to get bigger every year, and long cab lines, fully booked hotels, and impossible-to-get dinner reservations dominated Las Vegas, Nevada, last week. CES remains a big show with big crowds.

Being the Butterfly Isn't Better
A host of Microsoft people dressed as MSN butterflies plied the show floor with giveaway CD0-ROMs and MSN gear. This year, they weren't wearing roller blades, which was probably for the best, but you have to feel bad for the people who had to dress up in those skin-tight costumes.

And the Show's Theme Was ...
TV. This year's CES was all about TVs. Big-screen TVs. Wide-screen TVs. High-Definition Television (HDTV) TVs. Flat-panel TVs. Plasma TVs. LCD TVs. Digital Light Processing (DLP) TVs. Wherever I looked, there they were: Screen after screen in an ocean of screens. TV technology is improving dramatically for the first time in many years. The sets I saw at CES featured amazing clarity; I overheard one attendee say, "It's like my eyes just got better." I couldn't explain it better myself. All over the show, crowds formed at each large-format TV display. The long-awaited HDTV technology will finally happen when people can see just how good these sets look.

Don't Forget Convergence
Convergence was another big theme, with companies combining technologies in interesting new ways. Many companies featured combination DVD players and digital video recording (DVR) devices, for example, or set-top boxes with integrated HDTV and DVR capabilities. Toshiba announced a TiVo device with a DVD player, and Polaroid showed off a DVD player with hardware support for Windows Media Video (WMV) 9-encoded data DVDs. Cell phones are also going the convergence route; new models feature built-in digital cameras, digital photos, music, videos, and support for games.

Question of the Week
Where was Sony? Last year, the company dominated CES with a huge booth and several side areas. I'm sure the company attended the show, but I never saw it, even though I walked the entire show floor.

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