Bill Gates' traditional International CES keynote address contained less flash and more meat and potatoes compared to previous speeches, with the Microsoft chief hyping the upcoming Vista operating system along with all things HD.
Gates' keynote, which was presented Jan. 4 on the eve of the show, also touched on an agreement with DirecTV to have its content ported directly to Media Center Edition PCs, along with a potential video-on-demand service at a future unspecified date. Other areas given a quick glance during the address were new smartphones, Tablet PCs and Media Center computers, but for the most part Gates focused on demonstrating how Microsoft's various software platforms will help better utilize HD content and spread it around the home.
Gates announced that Vista, which will replace XP, will ship in late 2006. Microsoft traditionally releases new product in the October-November time frame, but no exact shipping date was given and he was mum on pricing.
From what Gates showed, Vista represents a dramatic shift from XP. The user interface features a new sheer appearance where the user can see through one application to see what another is doing. Instead of having links to open programs listed along the bottom of the screen, Vista places some in a special “Sidebar” area along the right side, while others can be viewed and scrolled through in a manner similar to looking through folders in a filing cabinet.
Microsoft improved the operating engine's ability to search for data and content, Gates said. The Media Center Edition version of Vista will give users the capability to look up data on music or video content while being played and can access the extra material that will appear in HD DVD movies.
Vista will support HD content, primarily through the use of CableCARD devices, allowing protected versions of HD DVD movies to be ripped to a hard drive.
Improved music and photo storage and management are also part of Vista.
Vista is also optimized to work with a new music service Microsoft is launching in partnership with MTV called Urge. Urge will offer up to 100 CD-quality radio stations and give consumers access to more than a million songs via a subscription service. MTV will supply detailed background data on the artists that can be accessed from the service's main page. The service fee for Urge was not disclosed.
The Urge demo set the background for the keynote's lone celebrity walk-on. Justin Timberlake made a brief appearance to give his support for the service.
Since the Xbox 360 is already shipping, gaming did not have its usual centerpiece spot in the show. However, it was announced that later this year Microsoft will release an external HD DVD drive for the game console. Gates and Steve Ballmer, Microsoft's CEO, did give a demonstration of the upcoming HD Xbox game Fightnight Round 3. This saw the rather diminutive Gates pummel the burly Ballmer as they reenacted a Muhammad Ali-Joe Frazier fight with Gates assuming the role of Ali. The new game will ship during the first quarter and Gates expects about 50 HD Xbox titles to be available by June.