CES 2007: Bill Gates keynote – the basics (Xbox, Vista, Windows Live)

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Forget combo Blu-ray / HD DVD players, 1 terabyte hard drives and ridiculously large LCD televisions. Obviously what CES attendees were really looking forward to was hearing about Windows Vista and the Xbox 360. Securing seats within heckling distance of the Microsoft big cheese took a lot of skill, some good old-fashioned British queuing and just a bit of skillfull pushing in. Two hours of my life were wasted in anticipation of a keynote speech that ended up being lots of Xbox live pimping, news of an in-car entertainment centre in conjunction with Ford, and about three thousand uses of the word ‘connected’.

Bill Gates’ keynotes are notorious for their celebs and David Brent-esque facepalm moments. What surprised me is what an amiable chap Gates actually is, though. It’s just a shame this year we had no moments like we saw in clips of previous events – notably an appearance from Justin Timberlake or a Napoleon Dynamite dance lesson featuring the big man himself. This year there were no celebs and very little comedy bar a few crap jokes. Instead we had a big talk on the theme ‘connected experiences’ and far too much of a font that looked eerily like Comic Sans.

Since Kat liveblogged the event, I’ll keep my synopsis as short as I possibly can, and will try to cut up the tech talk with some of the ridiculous notes I took as the show went on. By the end I was flagging a little, and, as I wrote, “dreaming of $1 margaritas at Casino Royale.”

The Bill Gates video intro, of course, contained no Bill Gates. Three seconds in and we saw a quirky teenager blogging. That was me five years ago, kids. She’s back minutes later with her music player (a Zune, of course) and then taking cameraphone pics at a gig. I’m loving this. She then emails said pics to her boyfriend (who’s playing Xbox 360 games, even though we all know he’s got a Wii now…)

Then senor Bill hits the stage. “Truly, the digital decade is happening,” he says. ‘You’re preaching to the choir’, I think. After a short intro about connections, connecting, and all manner of words that start with ‘connect’, the guns are ablaze. It’s all about Windows Vista, “The most important release of Windows ever” (I bet they said that with XP).

We’re given a tour of Vista of course. Most of us gave it a go in the press room previously, but for those who didn’t, it’s a good look at some amazing software, as well as some very superfluous if very lovely added extras. Considering all the talk of how it’s Absolutely Nothing Like XP, I’m surprised how much of it looks identical but with more transparency. A sidebar column down the right hand side is the windows alternative to my beloved Google desktop, and I’m taken by the ability to use a video as the desktop background (even if I do write “this is so self-indulgent I feel ill” in my notes). With the concentration on connectivity and file sharing, we’re also givenna tour of the vista media centre. It’s impressive, even if it does look freakily similar to the PS3 alternative. It has amazing support for sport (especially if you like fantasy leagues) and all your usual photo, video and music players and organisers. Who needs a telly and DVD player when you have this?

Windows Live Search is a big hit in the room, especially when we see it integrated into an office document. The new MS Office will launch with Vista, which is good news for Microsoft and bad news for anyone who’s just bought the old one. Like Google Map and Google Earth combined, we also see the fun you can have when plugging the Xbox 360 controller into vista. Fly down a 3D Las Vegas strip? Fun fun.

Connected entertainment is the next top, presented by Robbie Bach, who has ‘the best job in Microsoft’ according to our Bill. He discusses the obvious – how Zune’s popularity is going to take over the iPod (honest) and why windows mobile phones are better sellers than blackberries (because there are more models?). Then we move on to gaming talk, and news of how Vista and Xbox 360 will connect together so you can do all kinds of exciting things. In Summer you’ll be able to join your Xbox pals via your vista PC on Xbox live, playing games like the new Halo 3, of which we get a sneak preview. I’m not a gamer (unless you’re talking Animal Crossing Wild World) but this looks – to quote my notes – bloody amazing.

Moving on to TV and Movies, it’s all about High Definition. In case you’ve been living under a rock, Microsoft are firmly in the HD DVD camp, and sell a HD DVD player as an Xbox 360 ad-on. Vista Media Centre will also be able to play HD content (on the right screen) and Microsoft’s iptv service (which is explained fairly really badly) has now got the support of BT in the UK, and will hopefully be available to us before, oh, 2012 or something like that (they say holiday 2007).

And then comes news on a project in conjunction with Ford, which sees the first voice activated in car service to integrate all your media devices with your car. Obviously new to these kind of events, Ford’s representative accidentally says the word ‘iPod’ in the middle of a Microsoft talk. Loving it! The basic premise of this amazing service is that you can connect up your phone, your mp3 player and your flash / usb drives with your car and control them with easy speech commands. It’ll even read your text messages out loud to you (even l33t speak, apparently).

Finally, Gates gave us a tour of the house of the future. Though it was all interesting to see, it doesn’t translate brilliantly to text. Projecting recipes onto kitchen work surfaces, putting screensaver type videos above the bed and playing Xbox games on your living room wall…all fun stuff but it’ll be a long time before any of that comes to the mass market (Gates reckons 5 years, it’ll take the UK at least three times that long).

Check out the rest of our CES coverage.

Ashley Norris