Bill Gates kicked off his keynote today talking about the recent successes in the technology space over the last year. "We're just scratching the surface of technology today," Gates opined - "More and more can be done."
Whilst recanting the various announcements of the past year - terabyte hard drives, increasingly massive LCDs - the Microsoft king said that the key thing missing was the connected experience, and this connected experience was the theme of his speech.
Key to the connected world is Windows Vista. "This is, by far, the most important release of Windows ever," assembled attendees were told. "It's also the highest quality we've ever done."
Whilst Vista continues to be the centre of Microsoft's vision, the vision is to make the ecosystem work together. A major part of this ecosystem is Microsoft office, and Office 2007 launches alongside Vista at the end of January. Gates suggested that hardware is the major reason for the coincidence - "The last time we released Office and Windows together was in 95, with the arrival of the 32-bit generation, just as Vista is about the new 64-bit generation of hardware."
When it comes to Office, the new interface appears to have been a risk that has paid off, on the back of over a million sessions of work observed. "All these features they used to asked about that we had but they couldn't find, now they find them."
Justin Hutchinson, one of the product managers for Windows Vista, joined Gates on stage to demo the new operating system. He showed off the new search feature, as well as a new feature called Shadow Copy, which keeps previous versions of documents in case of inadvertant error. In a dig at Apple, Justin claimed the feature was "Better than going back in time," a snide reference to a similar function in the upcoming version of Mac OSX, Time Machine.
Full Motion Desktop won some "Oohs" from the audience, as Justin illustrated a video running as the Windows Desktop. FMD seems like a great way to catch up on your downloaded shows whilst working!
As Gates took the focus back, he introduced the availability of Windows Home Server, a new software package that will launch first with the newly-announced HP Home Media Server. This is software designed for mass storage of media at the centre of the home. It will backup automatically, connect within the home to PCs and Xbox 360 consoles as well as allowing secure remote access. It features hot-swap RAID technology with zero configuration required. The product is supported by reference designs from Intel, AMD and Quanta.
Robbie Bach, head of the Entertainment divison at Microsoft, delivered a talk primarily focused on the centrality of Xbox 360 to the entz strategy at MS. Entertainment, he claimed, was about having whatever you want, wherever you want it, and building a community around that experience.
Gears of War, MS' flagship title for the Christmas season, has sold 2.7m copies in 8 weeks, we were told, and Bach called it a "Halo-like property, ever great, that we can leverage for a long time." Showcasing a trailer for Halo 3, he said it would be "The story of 2007."
He also demonstrated Xbox Live on Windows, which will roll out this summer. Using this, gamers will be able to connect to each other cross-platform, using an interface on the PC identical to the Xbox and plugging their Xbox controller into the PC's USB port. Titles taking advantage of this will be Shadowrun, Halo 2 and the multitude of casual games such as Uno.
Also rolling out on the 360 later this year will be the Microsoft TV platform, supported in Britain by BT, which will enable the 360 to act as a set top box for digital HDTV.
Gates introduced Ford as a partner for Microsoft's Auto platform, and Ford will deliver its Sync product across 12 new vehicles this year. Sync allows you to use your bluetooth phone in car with just voice commands. Text messages can be read alound, and you can also voice navigate through your music and play back media from Zunes, iPods and USB storage devices.
Gates ended the night with a look at what the digital home of the future might look like. Showing off some outrageous concepts - such as a kitchen where recipes are projected onto the work surface and a bedroom where the walls are made of video screens that change wallpaper - it was a fun, if lighthearted, look at Microsoft's direction.