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Bill blows it with final CES speech

By Barry Collins in Las Vegas

Posted on 7 Jan 2008 at 04:37

Will Bill Gates provide one last shock in his final CES speech, was the question we posed in our pre-show coverage. The answer was yes, but not in a good way.

Click here for our full coverage from CES 2008

The Microsoft chairman bowed out of CES with a whimper, failing to announce a single new product of any great significance.

The thousands of CES attendees who had queued all afternoon to hear the Microsoft boss were treated to little more than a humorous farewell video, demonstrations of previously announced products and a guest appearance from Slash from Guns N Roses.

After a year in which Vista has failed to impress, Windows Mobile has had its thunder stolen by the iPhone and the Xbox 360 has been usurped by Nintendo's Wii, the CES faithful were hoping for something big from Gates. He disappointed. Massively.

The closest we came to a new product was the announcement that BT is teaming up with Microsoft to use the Xbox 360 as a television set-top box, presumably as an additional part of its BT Vision service.

And to drive a further nail into the HD DVD coffin, the heavily-rumoured Xbox 360 with built-in HD DVD drive failed to materialise.

Computing vision

So what did Gates fill his hour-long speech with? He began by outlining his vision for the "second digital decade". The next ten years will consist of three key elements, he claimed.

Firstly, there will be HD experiences everywhere. "You won't just have a computer on your desk, but in the desk," Gates claimed. "The quality of rendering will be very, very rich... 3D environments will exist for many web experiences, [such as] walking through a store or meeting people in a 3D environment."

The second plank of Gates's three-part vision is that these rich services will all take place in an online environment. "If you pick up a device and authenticate who you are... it will be very simple to get up and running," Gates claimed. He also talked of a "digital memory application" that will collate your photos, experiences and personal landmarks.

The third element is a natural user interface. "The first digital decade was largely based around the keyboard and mouse," Gates said. He then cited Windows Tablet PCs and the iPhone as examples of interfaces that are breaking away from the traditional mould."Pen, touch, visual recognition - all of these come together to create very new experiences," Gates predicted.

Demonstration time

So far, so dull. What about the legendary CES demonstrations? Gates largely left these to his sidekicks. We saw a demonstration of a Windows Mobile service called Tell Me, which allows people to say "movies", for example, into their handset, and the phone uses location-based services to bring up a list of local cinemas and films showing there. Another voice command allows the caller to order tickets, and send a text message to a friend with a map of the cinema.

Microsoft's entertainment division president, Robbie Bach, also demonstrated how the Zune player can synchronise its music with new Ford cars and elements of the Zune Social online music community service. He also let it slip that Microsoft would begin selling Zunes outside of the US for the first time, but only in Canada from this Spring.

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