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Liveblogging Steve Ballmer's CES Keynote

LAS VEGAS--The keynote that opens CES isn't like the one that opens Macworld. There's not much surprise--Microsoft traditionally provides reporters an outline of the presentation a few days in advance. But Microsoft is a rather large software developer with a big footprint in the business, and it does tend to make news at these things. See, for instance, my recap of last year's keynote, the final one to involve Bill Gates.

This year, Gates successor Steve Ballmer will do the honors. Sit tight, and I'll bring you the details as I see them.


6:30 p.m. PST: And here we go--CES president Gary Shapiro gives a few opening remarks, and now we're watching a video highlighting Microsoft's products.

6:35 p.m. PST: Ballmer notes how Gates has moved on to his philanthropic efforts (which draws some applause) and then notes some of the advice he's gotten--in the form of IMs on the screen behind him from various people. E.g., Yahoo founder Jerry Yang's "Why do you keep ignoring my friend request on Facebook?"

6:38 p.m. PST:
"No matter how long this recession lasts... I believe our digital lives will only get richer. Not the first acknowledgment of the crummy economy I've heard today.

6:41 p.m. PST: Says "it's no longer just about the desktop"--people get online on the phone and the TV too.

6:45 p.m. PST:
Ballmer avers that "the linchpin of all these things will be Windows." Now we're watching a video clip showing various PC designs, such as Dell's small-form-factor Studio Hybrid desktop, a Sony Vaio with a Blu-ray drive, and a Lenovo with a second, smaller screen somehow hanging offf the side of its regular LCD. (This reliance on what amount to a fusion of extended ad and music video is one of the things that sets apart Apple's keynotes from other companies').

6:50 p.m. PST:
In case anybody's curious, Ballmer is wearing brown or dark-gray slacks and a burgundy sweater over a button-down shirt.

6:51 p.m. PST: Talking about Windows 7: "We are on track to deliver the best version of Windows 7 ever." Says it should boot faster, run longer on a charge and provide better multimedia capabilities. And today, he says, Microsoft is releasing the beta version of Windows 7 to its developers; on Friday, it will be available to anybody who wants to download a copy.

6:53 p.m. PST: Now talking about Windows Live, Microsoft's package of Web services: new Windows Live Essentials desktop software; a partnership with Facebook that lets Live users sync Facebook updates to Live and vice versa; Dell agreeing to install Windows Live Essentials on its computers. (That last move seems to go against Dell's recent efforts to cut back on its software bundles.)

6:57 p.m. PST: Next up, Microsoft's mobile-phone efforts: Verizon Wireless has agreed to bundle Microsoft's Live Search on its Web-capable phones.

6:58 p.m. PST: Microsoft program manager Charlotte Jones is demoing Windows 7. She shows how it offers more ways to deal with multiple open windows and applications, such as the ability to "pin" a favorite program to the taskbar at the bottom of the screen, then right-click them to get "jump lists" of recent files opened in each program.

7:00 p.m. PST: Next Windows 7 demo: a revised home-networking interface that's supposed to speed up home networking and make it easier to share content over a network--for instance, playing one PC's music collection on another. Windows 7 also supports "multi-touch" gesture controls on computers with touch-sensitive screens... though, of course, most existing PCs lack that feature.

7:04 p.m. PST: Jones has moved on to a demo of updates to Windows Mobile. There will be a new mobile version of Internet Explorer (desperately overdue, if you ask me) that will include Adobe's Flash player built in. That segment only lasted a couple of minutes, though--now we've moved on to Internet Explorer 8, the browser Microsoft should be releasing in the next few months. In other news, I'm pretty sure that the phrase "Windows Vista" has yet to escape anybody's lips on the stage.

7:09 p.m. PST: Jones's "favorite new feature" in Windows Live Messenger: the "video tile" she's attached to her account plays different pre-recorded clips--frowning, making "kissy lips" and so on--to match the emoticons she types into an instant message.

7:12 p.m. PST: After a quick airing of a series of "I'm a PC" testimonials, the group Tripod appears on stage to play a humorous song about a guy wanting to finish a level in a video game before spending quality time with his lady. "Could you move a little to the left, baby/ I can't see the TV, sugar."

7:16 p.m. PST:
Robbie Bach, president of Microsoft's entertainment and devices division, has come up on stage. He's talking about a new version of the Sync software that runs in some Ford vehicles, now giving an update on the Zune player. "We doubled the number of people on Zune Social [the device's social network] to 2 million." Next up, the Media Center software in XP and Vista: "The average session time on Media Center is about 90 minutes." The Mediaroom software used to run some "IPTV"--that's TV over Internet Protocol, most widely used in AT&T's U-verse service, but not by any services in the D.C. area--also gets a mention, with news of more interactive applications coming to this software platform.

7:21 p.m. PST: Bach notes that the Xbox's Xbox Live service now has 17 million users worldwide, and has drawn many much more use since a November update that added more social-networking features. Bach demonstrates an interactive quiz show game, 1 Vs. 100, available on Xbox Live.

7:28 p.m. PST:
The Xbox has also become a decent way to watch movie downloads, as I noted last spring; in the fall, it added support for Netflix's Watch Instantly feature, which Bach demos (after a brief misfire with a wireless controller). He wraps up the movie segment by showing a new Windows Mobile application, due later this week, that will let you manage your Netflix queue on the go.

7:32 p.m. PST: After a nod to the Xbox's music-based games like Lips and Rock Band, Bach describes a new Xbox title called Kodu that will let kids create their own games, then publish them on Xbox Live. A kid, Sparrow, comes on stage to show off the game she created in Kodu; it looks like a kind of fairy-tale-ish version of SimCity with some really large glowing mushrooms.

7:38 p.m. PST: Ballmer returns to the stage. "I know that we're on the verge of the kind of technology transformation that only happens every 10 to 15 years." Why? We've gone from faster individual processors to faster multiple processors; screens are getting lighter and more portable; PCs, phones and TVs can all partake in the Internet.

7:42 p.m. PST: Janet Galore, with Microsoft Research, joins Ballmer to demonstrate some of the things that Microsoft is working on in its labs. She leads a tour through an interactive model of the human body that a med student might use, which lets the user zoom all the way down to individual synapses in the brain (Ballmer: "I hope my synapses look that clean!") and then link to studies that address that area--some automatically translated into English for this student.

7:46 p.m. PST: The next phase of this demo involves a look at how Microsoft's Surface technology could be used to browse these resources, after which she demos a prototype of a nearly paper-thin display.

7:49 p.m. PST: And with that, the keynote ends... rather abruptly. Ballmer thanks everybody for their time, and Tripod returns to the stage for another song.

7:50 p.m. PST: I'm not sure what to make of all this. Windows 7 is a big deal, or will be one if it lives up to its billing of being "a Vista that works." But many of the other things showed here seem like tiny, incremental improvements that don't do much to address Microsoft's larger issues, like its eroding marketing share on the desktop (not to mention its far less secure share of the mobile-phone market). And I've seen a few too many demos of things that Microsoft Research is working on to believe that any of these things will be gracing our homes too soon.

If you've been following along on this blog or through anybody else's recap--say, Engadget's, Ars Technica's, or the one written by the guy camped out on the floor next to me, VentureBeat's Dean Takahashi--what do you think? Did you see what you wanted to see?

By Rob Pegoraro  |  January 7, 2009; 6:52 PM ET
Categories:  CES 2009  
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Next: CES Opening Acts: Samsung, Panasonic, Sony


"a Lenovo with a second, smaller screen somehow hanging offf the side of its regular LCD."

That would be the W700ds... which released a couple days ago.

(someone buy me one!)

Posted by: Shiipon | January 8, 2009 12:15 AM | Report abuse

Maybe I'm jaded but none of this sounds revolutionary. I really don't want Windows on my cell phone/PDA, anyway. So, what percentage of CES attendees actually get to see the keynote live? Is it only for the press?

Posted by: AUniqueMyPostID | January 8, 2009 12:54 AM | Report abuse

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