CES 2009: Microsoft Keynote

The latest on Windows 7, Windows Live and Xbox including the release date for Halo Wars...

So it’s the Microsoft keynote and well, to be brutally honest it was a bit dull boys and girl(s). We’ve seen the vast majority of stuff before so I’ll do my best not to give you too bigger sense of déjà vu.

Popping his CES cherry this year – quite remarkably – was Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer now Bill is off saving the world (something he rightfully got a round of applause for early on). Sadly there were no explosions from Steve, no chair throwing and only a brief jab at Apple.

Of course the big news we all wanted to see and hear about was Windows 7. The public beta has long been mooted for release today (even if it leaked onto the torrents weeks ago) and here the keynote didn’t disappoint with Steve announcing it is now immediately available to all. Let us know your thoughts… (not on some of the blurry shots, the lighting was horrendous).

We get a run through of Windows 7 but there’s very little we haven’t written about before. We get demos of the Jump Lists (context sensitive right clicks for applications lodged in the new taskbar), how windows can snap to half the screen when dragged from view to the left or right and the transparency effect which lets you quickly see your desktop widgets. Ho hum.

What was new however were claims of super simple home networking setups taking as little as three clicks and the rather cool ability to ‘direct’ the content from one shared computer and tell it to play on any machine on the network. For example, using a laptop to access your desktop music collection and making it to play on the Xbox 360 in the living room. Very cool.

Getting arguably more attention than Windows 7 surprisingly however was the news a new edition of Windows Live (non beta) is also being announced today. “It is our cloud solution for communication, sharing and keeping your life in sync on the PC, mobile and on the web” proclaims Steve.

Highlights include a ‘What’s New’ feed which unites almost any social networking tool (Twitter, MySpace, FaceBook, Bebo, etc – there are more than 50 partners) and puts all their content in one place. FaceBook in particular is heavily integrated and content posted to it or Windows Live can be automatically posted to one another. The Windows Live feed will also be accessible from any Live app – including Hotmail.

Indeed it was Hotmail which received possibly the coolest new functionality of the keynote in the shape of ‘Quick Add’. This expandable or collapsible sidebar enables users to quickly search for maps, addresses and more allowing the information to be quickly transferred to an email at the click of a button. No more separate window searching, copying and pasting.

By way of yin and yang however Microsoft then announced ‘all’ Dell PCs will come with Windows Live and Live Search installed on them by default – so for many that’s yet another thing to uninstall from the world’s leading PC shipper of bloatware.

Lastly we get Robbie Bach, president of the Microsoft Entertainment Division, giving us an update on all things Xbox. We’re told more units have shipped this year than ever before but that’s hardly surprising given the price cuts and that more people are using Xbox Live than ever before – price cuts = more users = more people on Live. It isn’t rocket science, Robbie.

Of more substance was news that the eagerly anticipated Halo Wars demo will be available for download on 5 February with the full title launched later that month on the 28th. Mark your calendars gamers.

Separately the ‘Primetime’ – the console’s own interactive channel is imminent with interactive almost Wii-esque simple games. We’re shown an example of a quiz show where online users not only play the contestants but one takes the role of the host.

We also get a demo of a Little Big Planet look-a-like dubbed ‘Kodu’ and are treated to the terrifyingly competent skills of a 12 year old girl. It’s all a little twee and the only thing I can fully conclude is I’m never playing her at anything. Ever.

And that’s your lot people. We get Steve back wishing us well, still refusing to throw chairs or insult Google and a poor closing band. Nothing more to see. Move along…

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