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Bill Gates: 'Vista is key to the era'

For 95 and the web, read Vista and multimedia

Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates told an audience in New York last night that Windows 95 ushered in the internet era, but Windows Vista, released in the UK today, sets the stage for the multimedia hub the PC is set to become in the future.

Released 12 years ago, Windows 95 was the first version of the OS to include Internet Explorer, "an obscure feature" at the time, Gates said, speaking at a Vista and Office 2007 launch event. And the things people are doing with PCs today - such as saving and editing digital photos, recording and viewing digital video and other multimedia activities - were just "a gleam in our eye" when Windows 95 was launched, he said.

That will all change with Vista, which will make all these features standard and let a PC become a home's media center, Gates said. "Windows 95 was key to its era and Windows Vista is key to the era we have today," he said.

Comparing Windows Vista to Windows 95 was a clever move for the software giant, which hopes Vista will be as groundbreaking a launch as the older iteration was.

In his comments at Monday's launch, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer compared Vista to Windows 95. Earlier in the day, he predicted Microsoft would sell five times as many copies of Vista in the first few months as it sold of Windows 95.

"In 1995, the PC was solitary - people didn’t own cell phones or digital cameras," Ballmer said. "Here we are 12 years later, and there are many technology products. The product that brings it all together - the hardware, the photo frames, the connectivity, connections to websites - it really is the PC running Windows, and partially Windows Vista, that enables that next generation."

Perhaps knowing that much of what could be said about Vista has already been said by the company and the press in the years preceding its long-awaited release, both Gates and Ballmer kept their remarks short yesterday.

The two appeared briefly on stage together to thank some of their key partners, such as Intel and Hewlett-Packard, and to present executives with some of the first copies of Windows Vista. There was a demonstration of Vista, and to officially hit the "start" button on the launch, Gates and Ballmer brought onstage a family who participated in a Vista test program that let "regular" consumers test the product in their homes.

But the event was short on corporate substance and long on glitz. And Office 2007, which was released to consumers alongside Vista on Tuesday, was scarcely mentioned, as entertainment was more of a focus of the event than software. The rock band Angels & Airwaves performed to kick off the presentation, taking the stage after a three-man drumming outfit warmed up the crowd with a sweaty performance. Following the executives' remarks, Angels & Airwaves took the stage again and performed a concert for attendees, which included press and beta testers as well as Microsoft employees.

Perhaps Microsoft focused on entertainment because many of those attending the launch waited a long time in below-freezing temperatures to get in. An hour and a half before the official presentation was set to begin, the line to enter the event stretched more than a block down Broadway in midtown Manhattan.

When the plight of attendees was mentioned to a high-ranking executive at Microsoft's main PR firm, Waggener Edstrom, he remarked dryly, "we didn't do this event." Indeed, it was Microsoft's other agency, Edelman, that planned and hosted the Vista launch event yesterday.

Vista launches in the UK today. For a full, in-depth review of Windows Vista, click here.


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