Bill Gates, Conan O’Brien Open CES

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LAS VEGAS — Microsoft founder Bill Gates shared his pre-CES keynote stage with “Late Show” host Conan O’Brien, but unlike past shows there were no blockbuster product announcements.

During past shows that saw Gates unveil the Xbox, Tablet PC and SPOT technology, this time around he centered his thoughts on new relationships Microsoft is building with various service providers. Gates eschewed his usual solo standup keynote act. Instead, his comments on the industry provided a hilarious backdrop for O’Brien, who brought along his late-night talk show set and interviewed Gates like one of the regular celebrity guests on his show.

While seated next to O’Brien, Gates explained how the digital lifestyle that has been hyped by Microsoft for the past several years is coming to fruition with updated set-top boxes, the booming digital music business and Media Center PCs starting to catch on with the general public.

Gates said Philips, Logitech and Niveus Media will all introduce Media Center remote controls and announced a Media Center certification system for vendors interested in producing those products.

Gates announced a joint project Microsoft is conducting with SBC Communications and BellSouth to bring IPTV to consumers. IPTV will give consumers the opportunity to view any show at any time through four data streams.

Lee Ann Champion, SBC’s senior executive VP, said it will offer a store to buy movies, instant channel change and, through a deal with Major League Baseball, a sports package that allows viewers to track four games at once.

While the SBC demonstrations of this new technology went off without a hitch, several of Gates’ did not fare as well, giving O’Brien a wealth of material to rib Gates. A decidedly unhappy Gates had to endure two failed digital imaging demos along with an Xbox show that locked up the game platform.

The event enjoyed one of the largest draws in its history, with CES attendees lining up more than three hours prior to Gates taking the stage.

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