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CES : Gates pitches Microsoft for 'digital lifestyle'

No new products suggests 2005 a slow year for the giant

In his ninth keynote speech at the annual International Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas, Bill Gates did not unveil any new Microsoft products, opting instead to promote the company's existing products and highlight partner offerings.

In previous years, the Microsoft chairman and chief software architect has used his keynote at the annual consumer electronics industry confab to unveil products such as the Xbox game console, wireless displays or smart watches. Not this year.

In addition to making no new product announcements, Gates did not set out a new or updated Microsoft vision of computing and electronics for consumers.

In a mock episode of US chat show Late Night with Conan O'Brien, Gates instead discussed his vision of a digital lifestyle. Interviewed by O'Brien, Gates told the audience that Microsoft can enable that lifestyle with products available today, such as Windows XP Media Center Edition, Portable Media Centers, MSN online services and the Xbox.

"Look at today's living room, you have five remote controls and you still can't get your music where you want it," Gates said. Microsoft can overcome this problem by integrating its products, he said.

O'Brien was on stage with Gates to provide comic relief for the audience. He did a standup routine making fun of Microsoft and technology industry executives and got unsolicited help from botched product demonstrations, including the demonstration of a Windows XP Media Center Edition PC that repeatedly refused to show a slide show of pictures taken of O'Brien and Gates out for a night on the town.

Microsoft has divided its vision of the digital lifestyle into five categories that align with its products: music, pictures, television, communication and gaming. The company, helped by hardware makers, has delivered products that can integrate all of these categories, Gates said.

Gates' speech this year was short on news because Microsoft has no major consumer products coming out this year. The next big product introduction is expected to be Longhorn, the successor to Windows XP due in 2006.

The keynote address, which Microsoft sees as an annual overview of its consumer strategy, was not entirely void of news. For example, Microsoft is working with South Korea's LG Electronics on a device that combines a digital video recorder with a DVD recorder and is also able to access content on Windows PCs, Gates said.

Also, Microsoft has struck a deal with MTV to build content services based on Windows Media technologies. The MTV content will also be available to Windows Media Center users, according to Microsoft. Additional content agreements have been signed with Yahoo and Fox Sports, Gates said.

Additionally, looking to further improve the Windows user experience, Microsoft will also work with rival Tivo to extend the recently announced "TiVoToGo" service. The collaboration will enable users to transfer recordings from their Tivo device to Windows Mobile devices such as Pocket PCs, smart phones or portable media centers, Gates said.

But Gates talked mostly about momentum for Microsoft products. For example, Gates noted that Windows Media Player 10 has been downloaded over 95m times since its release a few months ago and that Microsoft has now sold 1.4m copies of Media Center Edition, up from 1m at the end of September.

Furthermore, the Smart Personal Objects Technology (SPOT), announced at CES two years ago, is finally moving beyond watches. At CES, will Microsoft announce that Oregon Scientific Inc. will sell alarm clocks that use the technology to download weather information.

Back in 2003 Microsoft envisioned SPOT in a raft of appliances, even fridge magnets that could download the latest special offer from a local pizza restaurant. SPOT uses a portion of the FM radio spectrum to deliver information to devices equipped with the technology.

On stage, Gates and O'Brien also demonstrated a Nikon digital camera with support for Microsoft's Media Transfer Protocol (MTP), a synchronisation protocol that promises to make transferring data from portable devices to Windows-based PCs simpler and faster. Canon already supports the protocol.


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