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Consumer Electronics Show (CES) 2009

I am covering CES remotely for the third year in a row, so stay tuned to this page for news updates, reviews, and photos from the show.

CES 2009 news

Ballmer Announces Windows 7, Windows Live, Live Search Milestones

January 8, 2009

During his first-ever Consumer Electronics Show (CES) 2009 keynote address last night in Las Vegas, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer announced the pending public availability of a feature-complete Windows 7 Beta, the final version of Windows Live Essentials, and crucial business agreements for Live Search, among other milestones. The speech, which spanned almost 90 minutes, also involved numerous other Microsoft product groups, and provided a sort of "State of Windows" briefing for attendees.

"At Microsoft, we're continuing to drive innovation to really make a difference in people's lives," Ballmer said, launching into a discussion about the economic recession and the effects it will have on Microsoft and the tech industry. "It feels like we've entered a period of reduced expectations, a time when we may be tempted to temper our optimism and scale back our ambition. But ... I believe that companies and industries that continue to pursue innovation during tough economic times will achieve a significant competitive advantage positioning themselves for growth far more effectively than companies that hold back."

To that end, Microsoft is upping its research and development expenditures in the coming year to more than $8 billion. And it will expand into what the company sees as "the three screens that people use every day": The PC, the phone, and the TV. These three screens formed the basis for much of Ballmer's talk, with Microsoft's focus on Windows 7 and Windows Live for the PC, Windows Mobile (and, unspoken for now, Zune Mobile) for the phone, and Xbox, Media Center, and Media Room (IPTV) on the TV.

The bulk of Ballmer's keynote centered on Windows 7, the eagerly awaited follow-up to Windows Vista, which has sold well but been is dogged by bad publicity. Windows 7 is "the best version of Windows ever," according to Ballmer (of course), and a combination of "simplicity, reliability, and speed." Ballmer announced that the feature-complete Windows 7 Beta is immediately available to MSDN and TechNet subscribers. And starting Friday, the first 3 million people who sign up for the public beta at will be able to download the beta version for free.

"Windows 7 should boot more quickly, have longer battery life, and fewer alerts," Ballmer said. "Windows 7 makes entertainment better with a new Media Center experience, and the ability to easily access your media across PCs and play it on other devices. And Windows 7 enables cool new user interface things like touch."

Microsoft also announced that the Beta version of Windows Server 2008 R2, which is being developed concurrently with Windows 7, is now available for public download.

On the Windows Live front, Microsoft issued a final version of its Windows Live Essentials application suite, which Ballmer described as "an essential companion to Windows and your PC." The final version is identical to the release candidate version that shipped a few weeks ago. Microsoft also announced a Windows Live tie-in with Facebook, a deal with Dell to ship both Essentials and Live Search on all of their consumer and small business PCs, and a deal with Verizon to offer Live Search on all of that company's mobile phone offerings. That last deal is particularly important for Microsoft as Google had been vying to get their dominant search service on the phones as well.

Microsoft president Robbie Bach, who heads the company's Zune, Xbox, and other devices and entertainment products, came on stage and only briefly discussed Microsoft's Ford Sync, Zune, Media Center, and Media Room efforts. He then touted last year's Xbox 360 sales and talked up future entries in the Halo game franchise. But Bach declined to discuss the upcoming Zune Mobile platform and barely mentioned Windows Mobile at all. In fact, the only Windows Mobile discussion in the Bach segment centered aroundon an application for the Netflix DVD rental service.

Ballmer ended his keynote with a largely pointless look at some Microsoft Research projects, one of which was a vaporware flexible display. "This could become the future Surface," Microsoft Research's Janet Galore said. "It's a possibility." Sure it is, Janet.

All in all, Ballmer's keynote was at least as entertaining as the last several Microsoft CES presentations, all of which were given by Bill Gates. OK, that's not a very high bar. But compared to the boring and pointless Macworld keynote address earlier in the week, Microsoft's presentation was both more interesting and relevant to the world at large. And that's perhaps the most amazing thing that came out of CES last night: For once, Microsoft was more entertaining than Apple.

Here comes the Windows 7 public Beta

January 9, 2009

Today, on Friday, January 9, 2009, Microsoft will make the Windows 7 Beta available to the general public as a free ISO download from its Web site. As I write this, it's early in the morning, but the download could become available as early as 9:00 am EST, and since Microsoft is making only 2.5 million copies available, my advice is to download it as early as possible if you are interested. In an earlier briefing, the company told me that there would be four main portals for the download on their site, each based around a different kind of customer, but I think it's safe to say that the main Windows 7 site is the place to check. Get that downloading finger ready, people. Here it comes.

Microsoft unveils new application at CES ... Songwriting software??!?

January 9, 2009

I often mock Apple for releasing niche products like GarageBand and iMovie because, a) they spend way too much time talking about them in conference keynotes, and, b) because, well, so few people actually use them. So allow me to turn my sarcastic industry lens for a moment back towards Redmond, Washington, where Microsoft has just announced a silly little niche application of its own: Songsmith, a Microsoft Research application that will create music as you sing into the PC. Yes, you read that right. And in case you think I'm either making this up or not describing the application accurately, go see the promo video for yourself. You'll either laugh or cry. Or both. It's unbelievable, and I double dare you to watch the whole thing.

So much for the Switcher effect: 77 percent of Mac users still use Microsoft Office

January 9, 2009

You'd think that the less than 4 percent of computer users worldwide who have moved from Windows PCs to the Mac platform would be able to take that final step and divorce themselves entirely from Microsoft. But breaking up is, apparently, hard to do: According to Microsoft, fully 77 percent of Mac users run Microsoft Office on their Windows-less machines instead of competing offerings like Apple's lackluster iWork and the free Man, that's gotta really burn Mac fanatics, but in the end it proves that most computer users--Mac or PC--are more pragmatic than religious. And bravo to that.

Bach: MP3 market is "declining"

January 9, 2009

Microsoft president Robbie Bach told the "Seattle Post-Intelligencer" this week that the market for MP3 players is "declining." That's bad news for Microsoft because, in case you hadn't heard, the company launched a multi-billion-dollar Zune initiative a few years back and now employees countless Zune-ites in an airplane hanger-sized bunker in its Redmond campus. But wait, there's good news to this shift, too. "I think you'll see some flattening and even declining in the stand-alone MP3 player market continue," he said. "As phones get more capable, as battery life gets better, people's desire to have their music with them along with their phone is certainly going to go up." Oh, so that's OK, then. Microsoft also makes a smart phone platform called Windows Mobile. Oh. Wait...

Microsoft: Windows Mobile will be on fewer phones

January 9, 2009

The thing is, another Microsoft executive, Todd Peters, told "The New York Times" that Microsoft is the midst of responding to changes in the smart phone market (read: Success of iPhone) by "retooling" and putting Windows Mobile on ... gulp ... fewer devices. Eh? How will that work in Microsoft's favor you ask? "I'd rather have fewer devices and be more focused," Peters said. That way, Microsoft will get "better integration" between the phones and Windows Mobile. Yes, I suppose that is true. Taken the extreme, Microsoft could get the best integration by making the phone themselves. And then they could add the Zune software to it in order to capitalize on that system's digital media prowess and UI navigational niceties. And here's a thought. You could call this thing Zune Mobile.

Bach: No Microsoft phone

January 9, 2009

That said, Mr. Bach also told the Seattle PI that the company has no plans to make a phone of its own. "Our Windows Mobile strategy is not about Microsoft making a phone, he said. "Diversity is going to be necessary in the marketplace." Which makes me wonder. Is Microsoft's Zune Mobile strategy to make a phone of its own? I hope so. Because the iPhone is eating your lunch, Microsoft. And if you wait until "2009 and 2010" to make the transition to a "more general purpose and consumer phone," as Bach said, the game will already be over.

Microsoft: Xbox 360 will be with us for years to come

January 9, 2009

Like that creepy guy who graduates from high school but keeps hanging around the school yard, the Xbox 360 will be with us for longer than expected. Microsoft says that's because fewer people want to upgrade their consoles. But let's be serious: Consoles are expensive to develop (well, unless you're Nintendo) and with Sony retrenching for a decade-long recouping of its own bloated PlayStation 3 investment, Microsoft clearly feels it's safe to do the same. So could the Xbox 360 actually end up being a wash financially, if it's kept on the market long enough? I doubt it, to be honest. But I'm more fascinated that, in just a few short years, we may finally get that quiet, cool, and reliable Xbox 360 we've always wanted. Too bad they didn't ship it back in 2005.

Ballmer: "No mas" on Yahoo!

January 9, 2009

One gets the feeling that Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer is tired of discussing Yahoo!, but it seems that every time he gets in front of a microphone, someone asks him about Microsoft's failed acquisition of the company. This week, it was Fox News. Will Microsoft try for Yahoo! again? I mean, their stock price has got to be hovering around 33 cents a share these days. "An acquisition is a thing of the past," Ballmer said, no doubt basking in the glow of Microsoft's Live Search recent market share gains. Oh, wait. Well, I'm sure he has his reasons.

Palm finally unveils next-generation smart phone. Is it too late?

January 9, 2009

And in a final bit of non-Microsoft news, let's cast our attention, briefly, to Palm, which this week unveiled its next-generation Pre (as in "premature") smart phone. The touch screen device runs Palm's next-generation WebOS (as in, "let's downplay the geeky Linux internals), and looks like a curious cross-section of the successful parts of every other smart phone on the market. Palm says it's time for a change and notes that the Mac OS at the heart of the iPhone is a decade old (it's actually at least double that), Windows Mobile is over a decade old, and RIM's Blackberry is several years old. "This is sort of a rebirth of our company," Palm senior VP Brodie Keast said. "It means a lot to us." And you know, it looks cool. I just wish they had gone with a name that isn't reminiscent of IKEA furniture.

CES 2009 articles

HP MediaSmart Server (2009) Review
Windows 7 Beta Availability
Introducing the 2009 Windows Home Servers

CES 2009 blog posts

Recap of Microsoft CES announcements
Windows 7 product keys appear on MSDN
Tonight: Live blogging the Steve Ballmer CES keynote

Live Blog: Steve Ballmer's CES 2009 Keynote

I live-blogged Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer's keynote address at CES 2009 with Mary Jo Foley and Tom Warren. Live coverage is now over, but the transcript is still available:

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