All day, we've been at press conferences here at CES 2009 in Las Vegas, and they've been getting larger and more intense as we've gone along, but, by far, the biggest of all of the first day events here is the keynote speech delivered by Steve Ballmer, the new CEO of Microsoft...otherwise known as the man who replaced Bill Gates.
There are a couple thousand people here, and a giant stage to be trod upon...so let's get to it.
6:30 PM - Our first guest? Marcus Fenix. At least, as a part of a full-screen video (and when I say full-screen, I mean, like five screens totalling about a tenth of a mile of video space) accompanied by a beatbox artist who, sadly, is not Mr. Ballmer. It's cool enough, but both these guys look like Turtle from Entourage. There is a hip-hop refrain that just goes "C-C-C-CES!" AWESOME!!!
Gary Shapiro, head of CES, comes on to make the introductions. He runs down who and what we're going to see, and talks about how now is a time for optimism, even in the wake of economic collapse.
We welcome Mr. Ballmer.
6:35 PM - But first, a video. We're going to be looking at 'seamless integration' again. Seems to be a big thing at this year's CES. There is some wooing when XBox Live appears on the screen, and at no other time.
Ballmer looks relaxed. Sweater and button-down shirt sort of thing. Talks about Bill Gates and what he's doing for our society, now that he's no longer running Microsoft.
After a pretty funny joke about the text messages he's received today, we get to the red meat of the speech. It's going to be about the tough world we live in, and how Microsoft wants to help.
6:40 PM - In this time of recession, Ballmer says, people seem to be scaling down their expectations, but the pace of technology will not slow down, and people are going to innovate, even in these tough economic times. Talks about MS investing over $8B in R&D last year alone.
It's the power of ideas, Ballmer says, that drives our society and how people live. He's optimistic.
There will be, he says, a convergence of the three screens that people use every day...the computer, the phone, and the television. They want to make computing more accessible and cheaper for people all around the globe. These three mediums are folding into each other to make a seamless computing experience.
The border between computer and television will dissolve. Natural user interfaces will become native to each device, including speech and touch. UI will evolve to be more intuitive.
There are going to be 'connected experiences,' which will strive to connect all of your devices and all of your media togther no matter where you are and what you're doing.
And Windows is going to be at the center of it all. Ballmer maintains that it's going to be the language that we use to tie all of this stuff together.
6:45 PM - Video rolls. Shows off all of their partnershops. Samsung X360 laptop, the Dell Studio Hybrid, the Toshiba Protege, Minew 510, the Acer Aspire 893OG, the Sony Vaio TT, UGV's Bamboo, the Lenovo Think Pad.
There are phones, too. The Sony Xperia, the Samsung Omnia, and the HTC Touch Pro. Whew. That's a lot of technology in a two-minute video.
Ballmer prefers PCs. Go figure.
And then he explains why.
6:50 PM - Windows 7 is not only coming, it's here. The beta is open now for some users, and will be open to everyone by the end of the week. And there's more. Windows Live is here, and available now, with Windows Live Essentials, which will show off the mail, messenger, and photo services of the new platform. This is available for Windows XP, Windows Vista, and Windows 7.
They've made a deal with Dell to pre-install Windows 7 on all of the new Dell computers rolling out this year. Also, a partnership between Windows Live and Facebook will allow you to update your Facebook on all Microsoft services at once.
Ballmer then quotes mobile phone sales figures, and says that Windows have sold over 10 million phones and have reached a deal with Verizon to offer search on all their phones.
7:00 PM - Charlotte Jones, Group Product Manager comes onstage to give us a look at Windows 7. You can peek through all of your windows to the desktop with a click, do side-by-side comparisons of websites which you can drag between, 'pin' programs to the taskbar...a lot like the Mac dock, and there are jumplists that make shortcuts easier and lists things you were just using.
Also, you can use Windows 7 to set up networks a lot easier. You can use any computer as a hub for any other computer in the line, and you can tap those other computers to be able to get media from them. You can also grab music from another computer and sling it to your XBox in the other room. Amazing.
Then, Charlotte shows off the touch technology in Windows 7, by spinning a globe and finding Manhattan, and then tilting the globe to show you perspective on the map.
New Internet Explorer will be available on cell phones beginning this year, and it has Flash technology. There's also a pretty awesome camera functionality, which allows you to take pictures, crop them, upload them, and more.
7:05 PM - Charlotte shows us Windows Live, which will allow you to aggregate all of your social networking in one place, and allows you to manipulate it. There are pictures with a pretty cool slide show. There's a 'What's New' feed, to tell you what your friends are up to online at that moment.
'Quick Add' functionality in Hotmail allows you to insert links to restaurants, businesses, etc. to your email conversations with one quick search and click.
Windows Messenger will allow you to change your avatar to match your emoticon, depending on your mood. If you put a smiley face in your conversation, a picture of you being happy can appear to your friend, and then a frowny face will show a sad picture of you.
7:15 PM - Tripod comes onstage, a low-rent Australian version of Flight of the Conchords. Seriously, could Microsoft not afford Jemaine and Bret? This is so much a rip-off that I expect a lawsuit in the middle of the song. The song, however, is about gaming...could we be talking XBox next?
Robbie Bach is onstage, the President of Entertainment for Microsoft. He's here to talk about television. So, looks like XBox will have to wait.
MS and Ford will release a new version of Sync this year. Zune will continue pushing the idea of social music in 2009.
Media Center is kicking butt, with the average user session lasting a whopping 90 minutes. 2.5 million people are subscribers to Mediaroom, as well.
FINALLY XBOX NEWS!!!!
7:20 PM - Best year for XBox sales since it was released. They have the leading attach rate among all the consoles there are. XBox Live has 17 million subscribers, including 3 million over the course of the last three months.
Bach touts Halo, and tells us that the average Halo player has played over 150 hours of the game on Xbox Live. Halo Wars' release date of February 28th is reiterated, and Halo 3: ODST ships in the Fall.
We recap NXE. Downloads are up 60% since the release of the New XBox Experience. There have been 10 billion hours of gameplay on the service since its release. Friend adds are up 33% since the service launched.
XBox Live Primetime is coming this Spring. It will allow you to go online, find friends, and experience events together. He then demos 1 vs. 100 which allows him to team up with friends for appointment game time. It's kind of fun looking, actually.
We see a recap of Netflix on NXE. New Windows Mobile app will allow you cue up your Netflix movies from your phone, to have them waiting for you when you get back to XBox.
7:35 PM - 60 million music track downloads for music games like Lips and Rock Band, and XBox accounts for 80% of the track downloads in the market.
We get a talk about XBox Live Community Games, and get introduced to Kodu, which teaches people to code games on their own and upload them. A 12-year old girl named Sparrow comes onstage and shows us how she can design a game. It's nearly incomprehensible. She's got braces. The adults are impressed.
Sparrow whips Robbie at a game that has to do with rocks. It's what you might call a 2-out-of-5 game, but it's cool that you can make it yourself.
7:40 PM - Ballmer's back, and he's talking about a sort of general overview of what the whole keynote has been about up to this point.
He introduces Janet Galore, who is a part of the Microsoft research team, to tell us about some of the innovations they're working on. She shows us a digital library that will allow the user to learn many things in many different ways, through association, through video, multimedia, and social networking. There are also touch screen elements that allow you to virtually offload your notes and files onto a 'desk.' Pretty sweet.
Then, Janet whips out a prototype of a flexible display that's less than a millimeter thick. Awesome. Simply awesome.
7:50 PM - Ballmer closes by talking about how excited he is to be in this industry, and how optimistic he is about the future.
You will be able to watch this press conference online at a later time. Please come back and check it out. You're going to see some things that will blow your mind.