An often irreverent look at some of the week's other CES 2005 news...
Gates Keynote: O'Brien Was Hilarious, Gates Was ... Gates
Microsoft Chairman and Chief Software Architect Bill Gates's keynote address at the International 2005 Consumer Electronics Show (CES) dispensed with the usual routine in which he blathers on for 90 minutes and puts everyone to sleep. Instead, Microsoft brought out late-night TV talk show host and comedian Conan O'Brien to "host" the keynote address, ad lib, and prompt Gates when appropriate. O'Brien, it should be noted, was hilarious, and although we can't begin to relay the number of times he had the crowd rolling on the floor, a few select quotes might help: "The theme this year is that gadgets are no longer just for geeks. If you look around \[this room\] now, they're also for nerds and dweebs." And: "I was just checking out the show, and this convention is not exactly for the ladies. I think I saw more women at Elton John's bachelor party." Needless to say, Gates's appearance onstage brought the humor and fun level down a notch or 10. Gates was his usual stiff self, and as O'Brien continued to ad lib, Gates kept trying to get back on track. Sigh. But we'll leave you with another great O'Brien line: "It was fun watching Bill walk through the casino this morning. All the slot machines starting chanting 'All hail the Chosen One.'"
Gates Keynote: What Can Go Wrong Does Go Wrong
And speaking of the Gates keynote ... my, my, my. Several technical glitches had audience members wondering whether Microsoft had even prepared for the event. Demos didn't work. The Internet connection wouldn't work, ruining another demo. A Media Center photo slide show refused to launch ... on three separate occasions. An Xbox game crashed, hard, to display a weird text debug screen that's no doubt unique to the special Xbox machines that programmers use. The net effect was embarrassing for the company and, as we discussed with people the next day, the problem is that consumer electronics don't ever break down. When was the last time your DVD player didn't boot? But the secret about these technical glitches is that none of them had anything to do with Microsoft software problems. The photo slide show problem was a result of interference from the show lights, which hadn't been on at full blast during the many rehearsal sessions and made Gates' remote control malfunction. And the Internet connection failure started the second the presenter walked away from the demo to start another part of his talk.
The Real Problem with the Gates Keynote Address
So while the Microsofties were freaking out about the technical problems during the keynote address and the way the public might perceive those problems, we thought that the Microsoft faithful were missing the point entirely. Technical problems are horrible but the keynote address contained much bigger issues that we think speak volumes about the divide still separating the consumer electronics and PC industries. Specifically, Gates and presenter Sean Alexander, who otherwise did an excellent job despite some technical problems, blurted out the names of various complicated technologies without pausing to explain what they were. PlaysForSure? Windows Media Connect? IPTV? These types of terms might be commonplace in Redmond, where everyone is living the digital lifestyle, and they might even be acceptable at more technical events, such as developer shows. But Microsoft needs to understand that the wider outside world isn't hip to the company's crazy technical terms. Bring it down a level, Microsoft. CES is about real people, and you're just confusing them.
CES 2005: Bigger Than Ever
And what's up with all the norms? In the 5 years that we've been attending CES, the show has been getting bigger and bigger, but this year's event takes the cake. Not only are hundreds of thousands of showgoers clogging the hotels, streets, and convention space in Las Vegas, Nevada, but an unheard of number of "normal" people ("the norms") are here as well--a first for such a major show. The result is bedlam. Taxi lines rival those at Disney World. Lines for the newly reopened monorail stretch two city blocks in some locations. The traffic leading up to the convention center is so thick we could write Short Takes while driving the car (theoretically, of course). In fact, CES is so big this year it almost isn't fun to be here. Almost.
Panasonic Teams Up with Microsoft
Panasonic has teamed up with Microsoft to bring the software giant's Windows Media Digital Rights Management (DRM) technology to the popular Secure Digital (SD) flash memory-card format. The idea is that customers should be able to securely transfer music and other content from any of the dozens of Windows Media-compatible online content stores and play it back on SD-compatible devices, such as Panasonic portable digital media players. Today, SD cards use a form of copy protection called Copy Protection for Recordable Media (CPRM); under the new scheme, Windows Media DRM-encoded content that's copied to SD cards will automatically be converted to CPRM format, without any user intervention. Panasonic, along with SanDisk and Toshiba, is a codeveloper of the SD format.
Security Problems? What Security Problems?
One thing we're not hearing a lot about at CES is security problems and what Microsoft is doing to fix them. Although the company publicly issued its Microsoft Windows AntiSpyware Beta just moments before Gates started his keynote address Wednesday night, that product wasn't mentioned once during the presentation. And in a day of meetings with various Microsoft groups yesterday, the subject didn't come up, either. Meanwhile, security holes in Microsoft Internet Explorer (IE), WINS, and other Microsoft products and technologies are raising eyebrows around the industry. But this week is supposed to be fun, right?
DirecTV Goes It Alone with DVR
If you were wondering why TiVo's new TiVoToGo service is available only to non-DirecTiVo customers, wonder no more. Although TiVo partnered with satellite giant DirecTV on the DirecTiVo product, DirecTV has decided to navigate the digital video recording (DVR) waters itself. This week, DirecTV revealed that it's developing its own DVR technology, which the company will market in a new product later this year. DirecTV says it will still market the DirecTiVo product, but that it will concentrate its core marketing and sales efforts on its new DVR. Put more simply, DirecTiVo is dead.
Microsoft to Phase Out Pocket PC, Smartphone Branding, Not Products
A Microsoft executive said this week that the company will gradually phase out the Pocket PC and Smartphone brands and will instead concentrate more heavily on the Windows Mobile branding. Scott Horn, senior director of Microsoft's Mobile and Embedded Devices group, said this week at CES that the move is a natural one to take because the devices were converging. "We are emphasizing Windows Mobile as device categories are coming together," he said. However, because the different device types--Pocket PCs, Pocket PC Phone Edition devices, and Smartphones--have confusingly similar, yet different, functionality, the company will try to do a better job of differentiating them. In the future, Horn said, most Windows Mobile devices will offer phone capabilities, which isn't the case today.
Microsoft Smart Watch Finds Its Way Onto Our Wrists ... and Into Our Hearts
Well, not really. But both of us received Special Edition CES 2005 Swatch Paparazzi Smart Personal Object Technology (SPOT) watches, which feature the Windows colors and some cool Las Vegas-inspired watch faces, so we're checking them out this week. The latest-generation SPOT watches are much smaller and more svelte than the first-generation designs, which is nice because the first-generation products were humongous. Microsoft is randomly giving away 3000 SPOT watches at the show, which, as Keith noted, will likely triple the number of people who use the devices. (Keith wants to point out that he is, in fact, the owner of a first-generation SPOT watch, and his comment is meant only to be humorous. However, I'd like to point out that Keith's watch was a Christmas present--from me.)
CES 2005: More Coming Soon ...
As we write this, it's early Friday morning and we still have a lot of show to experience, so we'll be back on Monday with a rare second edition of Short Takes that will cover the rest of our time at the show. Have a great weekend.