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Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates has learnt his lesson. At this year’s CES opening Keynote nothing ran in live mode. Instead everything was a canned demo. Last year everything crashed for the IT supremo.

However he did take the wraps off the company’s next-generation operating system, Windows Vista, in front of a packed audience. Gates’ opening keynote speech has become a tradition at this Las Vegas trade show, but this time it offered little beyond updates of what Microsoft has already announced. In demonstrations, Gates showed that the personal computer is still the foundation for Microsoft’s flagship products. A big highlight of his presentation was the live apearence of Justin Timberlake.

 In his 10th keynote to kick off the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas, Gates displayed the hitting features of this upcoming version of Windows: connecting and managing different digital home entertainments, from Hi-Fi stereo systems, game console to High-definition digital video content.

    Features of Windows Vista will include faster, improved searches for media files and data, challenging the search giant Google, Gates said. The software will also install an updated media player allowing users to more easily playback digital content from any PC in the house.

    Gates defined the Windows Vista a “magic.” “The software is where the magic is. As broadband and high-definition content becomes ever more ubiquitous, if you’re going to have all this power be simple enough, appealing enough and cool enough, it’s going to be because the software is right,” he said.

    Gates also promised safer and more stable performance of the software, which is set to hit stores in the second half of this year.

    Security weakness of the Windows operating system has always aroused worries. Although Microsoft publishes security alerts and updates monthly to patch the leaked software, many professional computer users have turned to the open-sourced Linux operating system.

Even as Gates promoted Microsoft’s next computer operating system, it continues to be dogged by criticism for the security breach in its five-year-old operating system.
Still, Gates made the point that Microsoft is staying its course on technology vision. Like others, he wants to make it easier to download movies and other entertainment onto PCs that will then send them to the TV and share it with other gadgets. To make it move along more quickly, the software giant is partnering with entertainment and consumer electronics companies from MTV to DirecTV.
The crowd looked on with interest Wednesday as Gates showed his idea of a futuristic PC a few years from now. The PC could be a large flat display on a wall, or three connected screens with a lot more glass, or even a table top on an airport table. By putting a cell phone and a business card on the table, Gates said, someone would be able to automatically scan the card’s contact information into the phone and the computer. Such ideas are currently under research at Microsoft.
Consumers are getting more connected, and software is the center of that,'' Gates said.The idea of holding meetings is different. The phone is different. That’s because software is the center of it.”
Gates also paid lip service to advances in technologies such as instant messages and broadband Internet connections. To further build on that progress, Microsoft plans to enable people to personalize entertainment choices on their PCs and then put them on gadgets that they can take wherever they go.
In saying so, Gates is echoing the familiar themes of many other tech companies that are enabling consumers to watch videos on handheld computers and cell phones.
Meanwhile, industry observers are already buzzing about two other technology companies — Google and Yahoo — scheduled to make announcements Friday at the trade show. While early rumors that Google would unveil its own PC have been denied by the company, analysts are watching closely to see what innovations or surprises the two companies might deliver.
By the end of the week, showgoers will have a chance to judge whether Gates and his company deserve center stage at the show — and in the digital revolution — or whether it was just the a sideshow to the headliners from Silicon Valley.
Gates stuck to his traditional theme Wednesday, saying said that more than 6.5 million PCs have sold with Microsoft’s Media Center PC software, which allows someone to operate a PC with a remote control and display movies, pictures and music on a TV set. In December, he said 47 percent of all desktop computers sold had Media Center Software.
On another front, Gates didn’t disclose how many Xbox 360 video game consoles Microsoft sold over the Christmas season after its November launch, but he said it is on track to sell 4.5 million to 5.5 million units worldwide by June.
Gates noted that Microsoft’s technologies are still reaching huge markets. Among the updates that the company has introduced or plans to are:
· An improved version of its Windows Media Player software, which plays movies and music. Gates said it has been downloaded more than 200 million times, and he expects that to accelerate as MTV launches a music service this year in partnership with Microsoft. That partnership is how the company will counterattack Apple in digital music.
· In cell phones, where rivals once got the best of Microsoft, Gates noted more than 100 phones are now using Microsoft’s Windows Mobile software in 55 countries. The newest ones include the Treo 700W smart phone — from former enemy Palm — and the Q phone from Motorola. On top of that, Philips and Uniden will launch cell phones with Microsoft’s instant messenger software on them.
· Gates said that several more manufacturers are beginning to make improved versions of Microsoft’s portable media players, which are running a distant second to Apple’s iPod. He also disclosed a deal with Starz Entertainment Group, which will launch on Internet movie service with 1,000 films for $9.95 a month. The so-called Vongo service will debut in early 2006.


   

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