CES 2008 Gates keynote

Bill Gates

Last year the queues for getting into see the Gates keynote were beyond a joke so this year we took a new strategy: Sit in the bloghaus (kindly provided by Seagate and Podtech) and watch the live webcast of the keynote from the comfort of a sofa in the Bellagio. So without further ado – here are the highlights.

The keynote opened with the announcement that this is Gates’ last time on stage at CES. There was some nice comic relief from a video showing what might happen when Bill retires this year and looks for new work, featuring people such as Bono and George Clooney.

There was a recap of mobile technology and microsoft’s involvement in that. There ave been 10 million windows smartphones sold to date, which is a fair number on one platform by anybody’s standards. Bill seem to think that mobile devices will play an increasingly important role in our lives, with high-def displays and more powerful devices enabling more things to be done on the move.

There was a throwaway reference to the healthcare market, which is not something I know much about – are we going to see Windows for Xray machines? They didn’t spend any time on this so I guess it’s something they’re looking at for the future.

Bill sees a vision of Windows as a building block for future platforms (no surprise there) with mobile devices playing a key role in our lives as we move forward.

A nice demo of MS Surface came next. I’m still not convinced about the ergonomics of touch screen interfaces in general (think about it – do you want to hold your hands up for 8 hours a day making huge sweeping motions to operate the PC? Didn’t think so) but for specific apps they have a place and Surface looks like a fair implementation of the "minority report" idea.

There was also a plug for MS Silverlight. Silverlight is very cool technology. It could be written off as "Microsoft Flash" but it’s actually much more than that. The problem is that the only people who care about it are developers; to most people it’s another way of making pretty websites so I’m not sure how much impact that branding will have.

MS is a sponsor of the 2008 Beijing Olympics, so we had a video montage of the NBC/MS offering. MS are providing video streaming tech for NBC to brand and distribute.

Spending on xbox360 games is outselling the wii and PS3 games combined. Interesting statistic, it proves that the console is striking a chord with gamers.

There was a demo of some upcoming technologies from Microsoft Research. One was a system that used a mobile phone camera to identify people and objects the phone is pointed at, then brings back relevent information.

After that it was mostly old news. The xbox media extender doing digital TV, which we saw last year. The Ford partnership, announced last year, has a shipping product this year in the 2008 model Lincoln.

The finale was a plug for Guitar Hero 3, which does look like fun. They did it in the form of a "play off", with Kelly "TipperQueen" Law-Yone demonstrating a convincing mastery of the Guns ‘n Roses song "Welcome to the Jungle". She was facing Slash though, who had the two advantages of performing the original song with Guns ‘n Roses, and playing the keynote with a real guitar…

And that was it. Sad to say no real new news, or at least nothing that MS watchers haven’t seen during the past year. Is Bill right – will mobile devices play the leading role in our lives over the next few years? Or will we still be bound to desk based systems for anything more than the most cursory browsing and contacts?