Gates To Kick Off CES, And Big Push By Microsoft - InformationWeek

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1/4/2008
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Gates To Kick Off CES, And Big Push By Microsoft

Linux, Yahoo, AOL, and other companies and technologies will compete for attention at the annual display of consumer electronics.

When Bill Gates takes the stage this weekend at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, it will be one of his last big appearances as chairman of Microsoft. His presence as the opening keynote speaker makes clear that the consumer electronics industry, once focused on the latest gadgets and gizmos, increasingly relies on software.

Gates' keynotes is likely to set the tone for the entire show, and judging by the volume of expected announcements next week, it's likely that mobility will be a major topic of conversation. Microsoft's Windows Mobile, Smart Personal Objects Technology, and automotive business units also will be at the show. Windows Mobile 6.1 is expected to be released sometime early this year.

Meanwhile, some companies are using Microsoft software to power their own software and hardware, like Ricavision, which is coupling Bluetooth with Windows Vista's SideShow capability to display e-mail notifications and other information on a remote control.

As usual, Microsoft will have a strong presence at CES. The company unveiled Windows Home Server at last year's CES, and that team is back again this year after the product's release last summer. Microsoft's also bringing along teams representing Xbox, Windows Live, its Surface multi-touch computing group, Windows Vista, the Silverlight browser plug-in, automotive technology like Ford's new Sync software, and a Smart Personal Objects Technology group that includes things like Microsoft-powered watch software.

Microsoft will have competition from Linux at this year's CES as well. OpenMoko is showing its Linux-based smart phone, while a start-up that's already gotten its software packaged into cheap PCs at Wal-Mart will be releasing the latest version of its operating system at CES. Good OS' Ubuntu-based Rocket makes heavy use of built-in links to Web apps to bolster its functionality.

The Web won't be left out either. Yahoo will be at CES in full force, including a keynote by CEO Jerry Yang and "several announcements centering on the company's mobile strategy." Google is nowhere to be seen, but several companies have built Google software and services into their systems, including Thompson's new GE-branded DECT 6.0 phones, which have a built-in "auto-dial GOOG-411 button" for free directory assistance. AOL will be there as well, continuing its reinvention into a portal player.

A British start-up named Invu will be exhibiting an interesting take on Web search at CES with .NET-based downloadable search software called Ergo. The software does desktop or Web searches and then clusters results. For example, a search on "baseball" might bring back clusters labeled "baseball players" and "baseball cards," among others. Ergo aggregates results from several different search engines and has a social aspect to it: users can annotate and share search results with one another.

RealNetworks will also be announcing new technology at the show. The multimedia software maker is participating in CES Unveiled, the pre-CES press preview, on Saturday. Last year, the company announced a series of partnerships with companies like Tivo. Other multimedia software companies in attendance include Cyberlink Corp., ArcSoft, Nero, and Corel, all of which are showcasing their latest wares.

Gaming software will also have a showing, though CES isn't known as a mecca for gamers. LucasArts will unveil new games, and Microsoft and Sony may have something up their own sleeves. Sony has already announced on its CES Web site that the voice-over IP service Skype will soon be available on Sony's PlayStation Portable gaming system.

The real software story this year, at least in preview, should be Microsoft. The company's massive presence plus a valedictory address from its chairman shows an intention to put on a full court press with its consumer-facing applications at the show.

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