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Gates disappoints in CES farewell

Partnerships not products announced at CES

Microsoft chairman Bill Gates focused on the company's drive to provide digital content via the web, consoles and smartphones in his final keynote speech at the Consumer Electronics Show on Sunday night. But those hoping for something new and innovative from Microsoft were left disappointed, as no major new products were announced.

Along with Robbie Bach, president of Microsoft's Entertainment and Devices Division, Gates announced new partnerships for the company's Xbox Live and Mediaroom IPTV services, with the likes of BT, NBC and MGM signing up to deliver key services alongside products in Microsoft's consumer electronics lines over the coming months.

Gates has given a keynote speech at CES on 10 occasions, but this year's was his last as he prepares to step down from his full-time position at the company in July. The Tablet PC, Windows Media Center and Windows Vista are among the products to have been announced during previous CES keynotes, but this year there was no showstopping announcement from the software giant.

See our CES 2008 Blog for all the latest news from the Consumer Electronics Show

Nonetheless, the partnerships Gates and Bach announced could prove significant. In particular, Microsoft unveiled an exclusive deal with NBC to provide 2,200 hours of live event coverage through its MSN portal of the Beijing Summer Olympics, which is scheduled to begin on August 8. NBC will use Microsoft's Silverlight browser technology for video playback to provide users with not only live coverage of the games on MSN, but also 3,000 hours of on-demand access to events.

Plus, Bach revealed that BT would be the first telecom firm in the world to deliver Microsoft's IPTV technology via the Xbox 360 console. Consumers will be able to buy an Xbox 360 from BT, and use the it as both a gaming machine and a set-top box to control the TV.

But that wasn't it for the Xbox. Microsoft announced that ABC and Disney would soon start to deliver TV shows via Xbox Live in the US, while MGM has signed up to offer its library of films via the service. Xbox Live users will get access to a range of MGM titles, including Rocky and Terminator.

However, the lack of any major new products will have disappointed those who queued enthusiastically to see Gates' final keynote. Instead of showing off anything new and exciting, the product demonstrations focused on the hardware and software Microsoft expects to take off over the next 12 months. Windows Live, Windows Mobile and the Zune were among the products favoured by the Microsoft executives sharing the stage with Gates.

The Microsoft chairman's demonstration of the company's surface computing concept did impress. However, this is not a technology consumers can expect to see in their homes anytime soon. The device is a table with a touch-sensitive screen, which Microsoft wants to see in retail outlets the world over. In his demonstration, Gates took on the role of a skiing enthusiast visiting a shop to buy a new snowboard. He used the computer to personalise the snowboard with different designs, and then sent his final design to a friend using a phone placed on its surface.

Check back for further updates from Gates' CES keynote.


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