Gates' CES Keynote Aims at 'Connected Experience'

By Rob Pegoraro and Yuki Noguchi
Washington Post Staff Writers
Monday, January 8, 2007; 2:22 AM

LAS VEGAS -- Microsoft's big push for consumers this year is the "connected experience" and the company sent its chairman and Chief Software Architect, Bill Gates, to Las Vegas to highlight it at the 40th International Consumer Electronics Show.

Gates took to the stage at the Venetian Hotel and Casino for 90 minutes Sunday night, touting technology that can tie together personal computers, stereos, TVs and cell phones.

His keynote speech, Gates' 11th at CES, featured a demonstration of Windows Vista, the long-delayed replacement for Windows XP that will arrive in stores at the end of this month.

He highlighted a series of new computer designs that take advantage of new Vista features, such as a Sony desktop computer that functions much like a digital video recorder, plugged into a TV so it can record shows for viewing later. There was also a demonstration of a new "home server," a squat box to be made by Hewlett-Packard that will share a library of music, photos and movies over a home's network. This server will also automatically back up the files on people's computers and even allow traveling users to log in remotely.

But the crowd pleasers were demonstrations of things such as a Sports Lounge, software for Media Center PCs that delivers Fox Sports news and statistics around a TV broadcast of a game. There was also photo software from Microsoft that lets photographers combine photos to produce the images they wish they had taken, instead of the imperfect images that captured family members with closed eyes. A demonstration of new video screen saver software that brings that old waterfall desktop background picture to life prompted the rare "oooh" from the audience.

It was standing-room-only in the 3,500-seat ballroom on the Las Vegas Strip, when Gates -- in his characteristically fashionless style -- emerged like a superhero on a stage spanning 100 paces. His speeches have become a must-attend event at the annual technology trade show, considered to be the one of the largest events of the year.

Rarely are the demonstrations of a product that can be purchased today. Instead, Gates offers attendees a glimpse of what to expect in the new year -- such as synchronization software that links the cell phone and the car stereo.

Called Sync, the new car computing technology expected in a dozen Ford vehicles this year, will allow users to beam their address books and music files from cell phones to their cars. The Sync software will also be able to read aloud incoming text messages, freeing drivers from having to look down at a phone's screen.

"Our ambition is to give you connected experiences 24 hours a day," he said. "In thinking about that, one of the areas demands special work and that is in the car."

He also offered a peek at Microsoft's latest updates to the home-of-the-future prototype it maintains at its Redmond, Wash. headquarters.

Gates showed how software and hardware embedded throughout the home allowed family members to share entertainment and information and even redecorate on demand -- such as a touch-sensitive wall that, with the tapping of a few buttons, can change an assortment of photos to live video clips of the family dog to an Xbox racing game.

Robbie Bach, president of the company's entertainment and devices division, recounted Microsoft's efforts in cell phones, music players and video-game consoles. Among all those categories, the Xbox 360 game console stands out as one of Microsoft's greatest successes of the last year.

Bach said that Microsoft had shipped 10.4 million of the devices by the end of December, half a million above its own prediction. Sony's competing PlayStation 3, meanwhile, suffered through public, embarrassing supply shortages.

He said that more than 5 million people had signed up for the Xbox Live online service, a game-playing network. Microsoft is now starting to sell digital movies and other non-game content over this service-- much as, for instance, Apple has steadily expanded the scope of its iTunes Store beyond just music.

Bach also demonstrated an Xbox 360 playing an Internet-Protocol television ("IPTV") broadcast.

Many broadband Internet providers, such as AT&T and Verizon, are looking to switch to this technology to deliver TV to homes, since it can carry more channels than a traditional cable setup.

© 2007 The Washington Post Company