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Microsoft Pri0

Welcome to Microsoft Pri0: That's Microspeak for top priority, and that's the news and observations you'll find here from Seattle Times reporter Sharon Chan.

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January 10, 2009 12:06 PM

Windows 7 marketing, Apple 'iStick' are butt of 'Wait, Wait' jokes

Posted by Benjamin J. Romano

NPR commedy news quiz "Wait, Wait, Don't Tell Me" took a few swipes at the tech industry on this week's show. In the segment, "Who's Carl This Time," a listener contestant has to put a quote from the week's news in context. The quote:

"The company has essentially changed its marketing message to, 'It's not as awful as you think.'"

Continue reading this post ...


Comments | Category: Apple , Consumer Electronics Show , Macworld , Windows 7 |Permalink | Digg Digg | Newsvine Newsvine

January 9, 2009 12:48 PM

CES: Sustainability data the next domain of ERP software?

Posted by Benjamin J. Romano

LAS VEGAS -- One of the more interesting conversations I had at this year's International Consumer Electronics show was with Craig Ramini. He works for Planet Metrics, a Bay Area software company that helps companies measure the carbon footprint of their entire supply chains, not just their own operations.

Continue reading this post ...


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January 9, 2009 8:57 AM

CES: Video of Ford Sync demonstration

Posted by Benjamin J. Romano

LAS VEGAS -- Here's a short video of Microsoft's Velle Kolde demonstrating new features of Ford Sync, the in-vehicle entertainment and information software that Microsoft has helped the car maker develop. Check out this story for more details on the Seattle-area companies involved in the effort.

Comments | Category: Commuting , Consumer Electronics Show , Mobile , Natural user interface , Video |Permalink | Digg Digg | Newsvine Newsvine

January 8, 2009 12:01 AM

Microsoft Songsmith gives amateur songwriters a backup band

Posted by Benjamin J. Romano

LAS VEGAS -- Amateur singers and song writers, it's time to come out of the shower.

Microsoft has a new tool that automatically generates backup music to go with original melodies and lyrics sung into a computer. Listen to songs created with the software after the jump.

Continue reading this post ...


Comments | Category: Consumer Electronics Show , Miscellaneous , Music , Research |Permalink | Digg Digg | Newsvine Newsvine

January 7, 2009 11:55 PM

CES: Q&A with Microsoft entertainment boss Robbie Bach

Posted by Benjamin J. Romano

LAS VEGAS -- Robbie Bach, president of Microsoft's Entertainment and Devices Division, talked about layoffs ("you won't hear us comment"), the great 2008 for Xbox and its impact on profitability, Microsoft's deal with Verizon Wireless (creating a good mobile search experience is the key), where entertainment fits in Microsoft's mobile strategy and more. Read on for a condensed transcript of my conversation with him Wednesday afternoon.

Continue reading this post ...


Comments | Category: Consumer Electronics Show , Games & entertainment , Mobile , Music , Personalities , Xbox 360 , Zune |Permalink | Digg Digg | Newsvine Newsvine

January 7, 2009 6:36 PM

CES: Ballmer realistic about economy, optimistic about technology

Posted by Benjamin J. Romano

LAS VEGAS -- Steve Ballmer is on stage now. For a rundown of what he's expected to announce, see this post.

He asked the audience to join him in a round of applause for Bill Gates -- Microsoft co-founder and chairman, and his predecessor on the International Consumer Electronics Show stage -- for his decision to devote the majority of his time to helping people around the world, particularly children in Africa. The full house (though not overflowing) obliged.

Continue reading this post ...


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January 7, 2009 6:30 PM

CES: Microsoft announces Windows 7 beta, partnerships with Verizon, Dell, Facebook

Posted by Benjamin J. Romano

LAS VEGAS -- Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer is set to take the stage here now. Here's a rundown of the news he's planning to announce, along with some analysis, based on an advanced briefing from Microsoft and an interview earlier today with Robbie Bach, president of the company's Entertainment and Devices Division, who is expected to join Ballmer on stage. Check back for color from the speech and any surprises.

Continue reading this post ...


Comments | Category: Consumer Electronics Show , Games & entertainment , Mobile , Search , Steve Ballmer , Windows 7 |Permalink | Digg Digg | Newsvine Newsvine

January 7, 2009 10:59 AM

Bloomberg: Microsoft search to be on Verizon Wireless phones

Posted by Benjamin J. Romano

Bloomberg is reporting that Ivan Seidenberg, CEO of Verizon Communications, told an investor conference today that Verizon Wireless is partnering with Microsoft "to provide Web browsing services to mobile-phone users, beating out search leader Google Inc." Details are expected during Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer's keynote speech here at the International Consumer Electronics Show, which begins at 6:30 p.m. Check back here at that time for complete coverage of this and other Microsoft announcements.

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January 6, 2009 11:07 PM

CES: State of the Consumer Electronics industry

Posted by Benjamin J. Romano

Here's a preview of a story running in tomorrow's paper on the outlook of the Consumer Electronics Association's own economist and analyst.

CEA consumer spending slide.JPG

LAS VEGAS -- The consumer electronics industry gave a sober assessment Tuesday of the hits its primary customers -- consumers -- have taken in the past year. But the industry's economists also had plenty to cheer about as their products are accounting for a growing share of consumer spending.


"As you'd expect, as consumers lost a tremendous amount of wealth in real estate and in equity holdings, you saw them cut back on what they were buying," Shawn DuBravac, economist with the Consumer Electronics Association trade group, said Tuesday as the International Consumer Electronics Show chugged to life here.

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January 6, 2009 9:36 PM

CES: Netbook maker Asus partnering closely with Microsoft on Windows 7, but showing new Eee PCs with XP

Posted by Benjamin J. Romano

LAS VEGAS -- The netbook market exploded in 2008 with significant implications for Microsoft's flagship Windows business. The Consumer Electronics Association says in 2008 manufacturers shipped 10 million of these low-cost, lightweight computers meant for Web surfing, e-mail and other light-weight, connected activities.

One of the leaders in the market is ASUSTeK Computer, the Taiwan-based global computer hardware giant, whose Eee PC line helped kick-start the trend. Today the company rolled out the latest in that line, as well as several other new hardware devices, and highlighted its relationship with Microsoft.

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Comments | Category: Consumer Electronics Show , Hardware , Windows , Windows 7 |Permalink | Digg Digg | Newsvine Newsvine

January 6, 2009 5:52 PM

CES: The Vegas economy through the eyes of a cab driver

Posted by Benjamin J. Romano

LAS VEGAS -- Lim Seng, 45, has been driving a cab in this city for 15 years. When he picked me up at the airport today, I peppered him with questions about the International Consumer Electronics Show ("everything is smaller than usual") to his outlook on the Vegas economy (not so good).

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January 5, 2009 10:20 AM

CES: More predictions and a first wave of 'news'

Posted by Benjamin J. Romano

A few more CES previews and predictions out today. "[D]efinitely underwhelming" is Kara Swisher's outlook on "the annual egregious gadgetfest in Las Vegas," as well as Macworld in San Francisco.

Mini-Microsoft turns attention away from the layoff scuttlebutt to note that the company has a heap of negatives piling up. "No where to go but up? Opportunity certainly abounds."

Continue reading this post ...


Comments | Category: Consumer Electronics Show , Devices , Digital media , Games & entertainment , Tech Economy , Video |Permalink | Digg Digg | Newsvine Newsvine

January 4, 2009 9:15 PM

CES preview: The economy's impact

Posted by Benjamin J. Romano

Here's an early look at a story running in Monday's paper on the outlook for the International Consumer Electronics Show against the backdrop of the worst consumer-spending environment in years. I'll be in Las Vegas covering CES beginning Tuesday. Check back here for updates throughout the week.

The world's largest consumer technology trade show revs to life in Las Vegas this week in the midst of a deep recession with consumer confidence at an all-time low.


But there may be few signs of the economic woes inside the cavernous exhibit halls and hotel ballrooms at this year's International Consumer Electronics Show.

Continue reading this post ...


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January 4, 2009 8:34 PM

CES preview: Ballmer takes the keynote torch from Gates

Posted by Benjamin J. Romano


Paul Sakuma / The Associated Press

Slash joined Gates on stage at CES in 2008.

One significant change at the International Consumer Electronics Show is who will deliver the preshow keynote. Bill Gates delivered it for more than a decade. Now, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer will do the honors on Wednesday night. Check out this preview of a story on what the change could mean from Monday's paper. I'll be in Las Vegas covering CES beginning Tuesday. Check back here for updates throughout the week.
Not that he needed one, but Bill Gates had rock star Slash help him cap his performance at the International Consumer Electronics Show last year.


After keeping Microsoft on center stage at the annual gathering of all things silicon and circuitry for more than a decade, Gates said goodbye to CES last year, six months before he dialed-back at Microsoft to pursue philanthropy full time.

But Microsoft has managed to hold on to the coveted preshow keynote at CES.

Continue reading this post ...


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September 24, 2008 10:01 AM

Microsoft's Ballmer to be in limelight tomorrow at Churchill Club and January at CES

Posted by Benjamin J. Romano


Kevin P. Casey / AP

Ballmer at an event in Seattle in April. The Microsoft CEO will give the pre-show keynote address at the Consumer Electronics Show in January.

Slightly old news: The Consumer Electronics Association announced at the end of last month that Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer will take Bill Gates' high-profile spot at the huge Consumer Electronics Show early next year.

For 12 years, Gates gave a keynote address the night before the show kicked off. Attendees lined up for hours in advance to hear Gates talk about the future of technology. He typically invited rock stars, comedians and entertainers to share the stage with him. After Gates' last CES keynote earlier this year, speculation has swirled around who would replace him and whether Microsoft would still be given the prime slot on the industry's biggest stage.

Ballmer will give the keynote on Wednesday, Jan. 7, 2009, at 6:30 p.m. Other keynoters include Sony Chairman and CEO Howard Stringer, and Ford President and CEO Alan Mulally, formerly president and CEO of Boeing Commercial Airplanes.

Ballmer is scheduled to take a slightly smaller stage tomorrow night in Silicon Valley. Ballmer will be interviewed by venture capitalist Ann Winblad at an annual dinner of the Churchill Club, the top Valley business and tech club. The conversation will cover "the future of the software industry and the opportunities and challenges facing Microsoft." Ballmer's talk is set to begin at 7:15 p.m. Thursday. A scheduled Web cast can be found here.

Update, 12:29 p.m.: I should hasten to add that Ballmer is speaking at the Bellevue Chamber of Commerce Annual Dinner tonight. The Meydenbauer Center event begins at 5:15. The deadline to register was yesterday, but maybe they can make an exception if you really want to go. Info here.

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January 6, 2008 10:42 AM

CES: Microsoft hints at possibilities for advertising in video, mobile, gaming

Posted by Benjamin J. Romano

LAS VEGAS -- Microsoft has made clear its intentions to become an advertising company. Today, in a session at the International Consumer Electronics Show, executives in charge of advertising within the company's Entertainment and Devices Division outlined their strategy for giving advertisers a way to reach consumers online outside of the Web browser -- where search and banner advertising currently represents the majority of online ad spending.

Mark Kroese, general manager of marketing and strategy within the Entertainment and Devices Division, said the off-browser focus areas include ads in and around video games, mobile devices and video.

Those three categories represent about 25 percent of online advertising spending, compared to 75 percent for traditional Web-based advertising. And all three categories are growing faster than search advertising, and of course, much faster than traditional advertising venues, which are contracting.

Continue reading this post ...


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July 5, 2007 8:42 AM

Gates headlining Consumer Electronics Show in '08

Posted by Benjamin J. Romano

Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates will again take his place at the head of the line to open the 2008 International Consumer Electronics Show.

Gates, whose keynote presentation has been a major attraction at the show for years, indicated at this year's show that 2008 would probably be his final time in the spotlight at the giant technology confab. He plans to leave behind his daily work at Microsoft next summer and move to working full-time at his philanthropy.

This morning, the Consumer Electronics Association, which puts on the show, announced that Gates' will have his customary pre-show keynote at 6:30 p.m. Sunday, Jan. 6 at the Venetian Hotel in Las Vegas (no, it's not too early to start lining up, based on last year's crowds.)

Other big names due to speak at the show are Intel CEO Paul Otellini and Toshihiro Sakamoto, president of Panasonic AVC Networks Company.

Gates has traditionally used his keynote presentation to unveil new Microsoft products or features. At his presentation this year, it was the expanded abilities of Microsoft's Xbox 360 video game console. Gates shared the stage with Microsoft Entertainment and Devices Division President Robbie Bach.

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January 12, 2007 1:21 PM

CES: Stick a fork in it

Posted by Benjamin J. Romano

Here are links to stories and blog posts out of the 2007 International Consumer Electronics Show, which officially concluded Thursday. The show's promoters say this year was its biggest ever in terms of floor space -- more than 1.8 million square feet -- and exhibitors -- more than 2,700.

Before the show really got rolling, Ford and Microsoft announced a partnership on new in-car media technology. It elicited some intense comments from readers of the Tech Tracks blog. Sony was one of many other companies to make noise Sunday.

The scene before Bill Gates' Sunday night keynote was crazy. Microsoft announced the launch of new capabilities for Xbox 360. Here's Brier Dudley's take on the new Windows Home Server, also announced during the keynote and a follow-up blog the next morning. He and other reporters chatted with Bill and other Microsoft execs at an on-the-record reception after the keynote.

To get a sense of the size of the show and how companies prepare for it, check out this story from Monday. Tech Tracks posts cover the scene at Microsoft's booth, and from Brier the evolution of "booth babes"; the big items on display at CES; his experience in a race to assemble a PC; life in the Bloghaus; and hot cars on the show floor.

The keynote presentations continued with Motorola's Ed Zander, Dell Chairman Michael Dell, and Robert Iger of Disney.

The "new convergence" of platforms -- notably the PC and the television -- was a big theme at the show and at Macworld with Apple TV. Here's a run down of TVs from Brier, and a look at new remote controls.

Steve Jobs stole the spotlight from CES with the announcement of the long-awaited iPhone at Macworld in San Francisco. These links are to coverage from our Practical Mac columnist, Glenn Fleishman, who also noted that Apple aimed more barbs at Microsoft than he'd seen in years.

Not everyone is charging full-speed ahead toward the new convergence. Actors, directors and other content creators have concerns about what anytime, anywhere access will mean for their professions. Readers worried that it might already be too late.

Check out our Personal Technology section on Saturday for a look at some of the coolest gadgets on display at CES.

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January 11, 2007 4:14 PM

CES: Are the creatives keeping up with technology?

Posted by Benjamin J. Romano

LAS VEGAS -- I reported today on representatives of the actors and directors guilds who were at CEStrying to learn about new technologies for delivering content and how their profession may be impacted.

Creative types have been showing up at mobile communications industry conferences, too, according to my colleague Tricia Duryee, who attends plenty of them.

A reader of today's story was worried whether the entertainers and artists are doing enough to catch the anytime, anywhere content wave:

They seem passive in the face of a juggernaut of challenges to their copyright and moral rights, the foundation stones of their income stream. I remember when digital photography emerged as a new medium in the late'80s and photographers pounced on it like a cat on a mouse. The old timers wanted to kill it with insults and insinuations, while the youth embraced its potential. The youth were right, but they didn't foresee the arrival of huge digital libraries that have turned photography into a commodity. This is going to happen to movies, just like it's happened to music, with radical impact on incomes. In your article, actor Carlton traces the lineage of his royalties from Robocop. He may not know it, but those days are over. Movies are becoming commodities, too, and Robocop is one selection among hundreds of thousands. YouTube is the model, and the Screen Actors Guild membership is going to be hammered.

On that last point, the guild members I talked to are very aware of and concerned about YouTube.

"Essentially YouTube is built with the use of copyrighted, unlicensed content and many of those video presentations have Screen Actors Guild members in them," said Brian Hamilton, a SAG board member who serves on the union's new technologies committee. "How will they be compensated?"

He thinks he knows the answer, and it doesn't sound all that good for his members: "I'm envisioning a lot of backroom compensation going on that will short-change the performer."

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January 9, 2007 12:54 PM

CES: News at local companies

Posted by Tricia Duryee

At CES, if you don't have a 16,000-square-foot booth like Microsoft, how do you get heard? With so much big stuff at the show, as our columnist Brier Dudley points out, here are a few of the smaller things Seattle-area companies want you to know about:

-- Bellevue-based VoiceBox announced today a joint venture with Nuance Communications to develop advanced voice navigation applications for the personal device, automotive and mobile phone markets. The goal is to develop and deliver something so accurate and intuitive that it further enhances the way people use navigation devices.

-- Seattle-based Volantis, which helps media content be delivered to mobile phones, said today that it launched Volantis Content Services. The service offers a tier of offerings that lowers the cost for content providers wanting to quickly launch a mobile presence.

In addition, Volantis said it was launching a more agressive push into the mobile advertising market by partnering with Bango, a mobile payment platform, and Third Screen Media, a mobile advertising software and services, to provide mobile billing and advertising capabilities.

-- Seattle-based RealNetworks made a series of announcements yesterday.
It said it has integrated its Rhapsody digital music services into the TiVo service to give TiVo subscribers access to more than 3 million songs on demand right from the TiVo remote. The service will be available starting later this year.

RealNetworks also announced a collaboration with Reigncom, which makes the popular iriver portable multimedia devices. Reigncom will bring two new Rhapsody portable players to market. The MP3 players will come Wi-Fi enabled and will allow consumers to download their favorite music over the air directly to the device. Both devices are expected to ship in the U.S. in the first half of this year.

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January 9, 2007 11:17 AM

CES: Dell keynote with Dr. Evil

Posted by Benjamin J. Romano

LAS VEGAS -- Michael Dell, founder and chairman of Dell, took the stage this morning to unveil a handful of new products and initiatives from the Round Rock, Texas, computer maker.

On the environmental front, the company is allowing customers to pay for "offsets" of the emissions generated by the electricity their PCs use. Under the "select my environmental options" tab of Dell's online PC store, customers can add $2 to the price of a laptop or $6 to a desktop. The money will go to plant trees, Dell said.

To balance the good, Dell's presentation needed some evil.

A lookalike of Dr. Evil -- the enemy of Mike Myers' movie super spy Austin Powers -- helped Dell introduce another new service, due out later this year, to allow people to upload the contents of their old computer to be stored by Dell and then installed on a new machine

Dr. Evil also took a few pot shots at the show in general and Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates in particular.

"I have come to interrupt your little Pampered Chef, ... Amway meeting or whatever the hell it is you're doing in here," Dr. Evil said. "Though I must say, it's an exciting time at CES. So many evil geniuses together in one hotel is breathtaking."

Evil on Gates: "He's a hero among megalomaniacs." And his philanthropy: "I haven't figured out his angle yet, but it's breathtaking."

Among the new products Dell announced: a 27-inch ultra sharp monitor, included along with a printer, wireless router, revved-up PC with a digital high-definition cable TV tuner card and printer as part of the Home Media Suite.

"It enables Vista PCs to tune, view and pause live television and record TV right on the hard disk," Dell said.

The company is also introducing a new cooling system for high-performance gaming PCs and another home media machine, this one from Alienware, the specialty PC maker it recently acquired. The Hangar 18 is in a form factor reminiscent of a DVD player complete with media controls on the face. Clearly designed to go right under the TV in the living room.

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January 8, 2007 1:02 PM

CES: MSFT = big

Posted by Benjamin J. Romano

LAS VEGAS -- So this is a bit obvious: Microsoft is a really big company.

Seeing its presentation here at CES really brought that home. I made a few laps around the Microsoft "booth" today -- its 16,000 square feet of carpet so well paded you want to lay down and take a nap on it -- and got a physical sense of the breadth of the company's products and "partner ecosystem." Countless kiosks for Xbox 360, Games for Windows, Zune, Windows Live, Windows Vista... all the big product names regular readers are familiar with.

And this is only the consumer-facing stuff; never mind the business products. Seeing them set out so pretty, all in one place was and with all their various features up and running gave me a better image of Microsoft's scope than a walk around the company's large, forrested campus ever has. I guess that's partly the point of this show.

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January 8, 2007 11:03 AM

CES: Treo 750 out of box

Posted by Tricia Duryee

From my seat here in Seattle, sure looks like there is a lot going on at CES in Vegas.

One item that I am privy to is the launch of the Palm Treo 750 by Cingular Wireless that runs on the Windows Mobile 5.0 operating system. The smartphone is the equivalent to the Palm Treo 700w, which was announced in partnership with Verizon Wireless more than a year ago.


PALM
The new Palm Treo 750,
with service from Cingular.


The 750 runs Cingular's 3G/UMTS network, whereas the 700w runs on Verizon and Sprint's CDMA 3G network architecture.

A couple of differences are readily apparent about the two. First, the 750 is slightly smaller, mostly because it has an internal antenna, and it has a smooth, almost plastic finish that's nice to hold. It also supports mini-SD cards, instead of the full SD.

Another item worth noting is that the default search bar from the device's home screen is Google, not MSN, even though the operating system is Windows.

"When I'm on a PC, I use Google," said Palm product manager Andy Clipsham. "How is it different" if he's searching on his mobile phone? he asks.

Clipsham said in order to make it the best customer experience, Palm decided to go with Google. He said Microsoft was fine with that. In fact, he said one Microsoft executive was really happy that Palm felt comfortable going against the grain.

"He said if Palm has an ability to stand up to Microsoft, this is how we are inviting; it's about what is best for customer experience," he said.

The inviting attitude is something Microsoft has been working on for a while. In February last year at 3GSM, Steve Ballmer said that he wanted to make it clear that Microsoft was not trying to dominate every aspect of the wireless industry.

It was there that Ballmer delivered this strong message, which the troops apparently are following: "Many people ask me if we are your friends or your foes," Ballmer said. "We come as a friend."

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January 8, 2007 8:30 AM

CES: Bill Gates' crowd

Posted by Benjamin J. Romano

LAS VEGAS -- Not to dwell too much on this, but the power of Bill Gates to draw a crowd, particularly at this show, is underscored this morning.

I'm in the same cavernous room waiting for Consumer Electronics Association head Gary Shapiro and Motorola's Ed Zander to give keynote presentations. There was no crush of tech humanity crowding the doors. People are calmly strolling around, picking from among the 4,000 chairs.

Last night, people were practically sitting on each other's laps and standing up in the back. Granted, Gates' keynote took place in the evening, while the big show floor was closed.

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January 7, 2007 5:52 PM

CES: Gates about to lecture

Posted by Benjamin J. Romano

LAS VEGAS -- The woman sitting next to me said it best. "This is a zoo. Look at this just to go to the lectures."

Well, a Bill Gates keynote -- at least for the crowd at the Consumer Electronics Show -- is something more than a lecture. I fought through a mob to be among the first in line at the big white doors to the Palazzo ballroom in the Venetian here in lovely Las Vegas.

When the doors opened for the press and VIPs to enter, it was a no-holds-barred sprint to the best seats. I feel pretty lucky to have gotten to a center spot, four rows back from the stage. In front of me are three rows of photographers and then Bill. But now we wait.

The keynote isn't set to begin for another 50 minutes. People are sipping on beer and wine, watching jugglers on stilts and chatting in several languages over the non-descript rock and pop music (to my ears, anyway) thumping through the cavernous room. I can only guess at how many people will pack this place -- they're still filling in -- but I'd guess it will be several thousand at least.

The staging for this lecture is elaborate. Dozens of spotlights on gyroscopes hang over head. On stage, there are several large screens, a demo station, a futuristic living room scene complete with a huge hi-def flat-screen TV connected to an Xbox 360, another scene that could be a home office, and another one that looks like a bedroom. It's all set in front of a blue-green background emblazoned with "Microsoft" no fewer than seven times.

So, what's he going to talk about? That's under embargo for a little while yet. We know about the Ford announcement from earlier today, which certainly drew some visceral responses from readers of this blog.

Check back here and on Brier Dudley's blog for all of our CES coverage.

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January 7, 2007 12:02 AM

CES: Have you driven a Microsoft lately?

Posted by Benjamin J. Romano

Ford and Microsoft have teamed up to put software in vehicles that links a driver's cellphone and digital-music player to the car.

The hardware and software combination, called SYNC, will be available in a dozen of the automaker's 2008 vehicles. Ford aims to have it in all of its cars and trucks by the 2009 model year.

The partnership is being announced as part of the North American International Auto Show kicking off this weekend in Detroit and the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.

SYNC, based on Microsoft's Windows CE operating system, will automatically establish a wireless link with Bluetooth-equipped phones brought into the car. The phone's function -- making and receiving calls, selecting contacts from the address book -- will then be accessible through the car using speaker phone, a readout on the center console, voice commands and controls on the steering wheel.

Velle Kolde, product manager in Microsoft's automotive business unit, said the system's voice-command capabilities are state of the art. It requires no training, he said, and will understand English, Spanish and French Canadian. It will read text messages -- including emoticons -- in concert with some higher-end phones.

SYNC cars will also have a USB port to connect iPods and other portable music players. Players can be fully accessed and controlled in the same way as the phones. Kolde said the system supports virtually all players and music file formats.

This is a high-profile win for Microsoft's 10-year-old automotive business unit. Kolde said it represents an effort by the company to put its software in more places beyond the home and office.

"There was a lot of opportunity in the car that hadn't really been addressed so we're very excited about what we're announcing with Ford," he said.

The business unit, part of the mobile and imbedded devices group, has about 120 employees and benefits from the work of several other groups that make the base operating systems that it optimizes for use in automobiles.

Ford and Microsoft did not disclose the financial terms of their agreement. Microsoft did a similar partnership with Fiat in July 2004. And Kolde said Microsoft is open to working with other automakers.

The company's products are already in lots of cars today, but the deals have been lower profile for Microsoft.

"We power a lot of the screen-based navigation systems that are available in many of the vehicles today, although you wouldn't know it because there's no branding on it," Kolde said.

Not so with SYNC. Gary Jablonski, manager of Ford's "infotainment" systems product development, said consumers would be very aware that there's Microsoft software under the hood.

"Vehicles equipped with the system include promotional badges with the brand name SYNC along with the word Microsoft," he said.

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January 7, 2007 12:02 AM

CES: Have you driven a Microsoft lately?

Posted by Benjamin J. Romano

Ford and Microsoft have teamed up to put software in vehicles that links a driver's cellphone and digital-music player to the car.

The hardware and software combination, called SYNC, will be available in a dozen of the automaker's 2008 vehicles. Ford aims to have it in all of its cars and trucks by the 2009 model year.

The partnership is being announced as part of the North American International Auto Show kicking off this weekend in Detroit and the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.

SYNC, based on Microsoft's Windows CE operating system, will automatically establish a wireless link with Bluetooth-equipped phones brought into the car. The phone's function -- making and receiving calls, selecting contacts from the address book -- will then be accessible through the car using speaker phone, a readout on the center console, voice commands and controls on the steering wheel.

Velle Kolde, product manager in Microsoft's automotive business unit, said the system's voice-command capabilities are state of the art. It requires no training, he said, and will understand English, Spanish and French Canadian. It will read text messages -- including emoticons -- in concert with some higher-end phones.

SYNC cars will also have a USB port to connect iPods and other portable music players. Players can be fully accessed and controlled in the same way as the phones. Kolde said the system supports virtually all players and music file formats.

This is a high-profile win for Microsoft's 10-year-old automotive business unit. Kolde said it represents an effort by the company to put its software in more places beyond the home and office.

"There was a lot of opportunity in the car that hadn't really been addressed so we're very excited about what we're announcing with Ford," he said.

The business unit, part of the mobile and imbedded devices group, has about 120 employees and benefits from the work of several other groups that make the base operating systems that it optimizes for use in automobiles.

Ford and Microsoft did not disclose the financial terms of their agreement. Microsoft did a similar partnership with Fiat in July 2004. And Kolde said Microsoft is open to working with other automakers.

The company's products are already in lots of cars today, but the deals have been lower profile for Microsoft.

"We power a lot of the screen-based navigation systems that are available in many of the vehicles today, although you wouldn't know it because there's no branding on it," Kolde said.

Not so with SYNC. Gary Jablonski, manager of Ford's "infotainment" systems product development, said consumers would be very aware that there's Microsoft software under the hood.

"Vehicles equipped with the system include promotional badges with the brand name SYNC along with the word Microsoft," he said.

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January 5, 2007 12:00 PM

CES coverage starts Sunday

Posted by Benjamin J. Romano

We'll start our coverage of CES -- the 40th annual International Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas -- with Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates's pre-show keynote presentation Sunday night.

CES is the world's biggest technology event and North America's biggest trade show of any description. You can check back here for blog posts describing my experience there. It's my first time going and everyone says to drink lots of water and wear comfortable shoes -- there are 35 football fields' worth of official exhibit space to cover.

My CES posts will be tagged with the Consumer Electronics Show category for ease of access on this blog. Brier Dudley, our technology columnist, will also be attending and blogging from the event. He's been several times. When I asked him what to expect, he said imagine standing in a Best Buy on the busiest day of the year with every device turned on as loud as it goes. And it's busier, louder and crazier than that.

The Consumer Electronics Association, which puts on the event, has some statistics to put the show in perspective, if that's even possible: More than 2,700 exhibitors are expected along with something north of 140,000 attendees. Starbucks sold almost 100,000 cups of coffee there last year. The U.S. consumer electronics industry sales probably surpassed $135 billion in 2006.

Much of my focus at the show will be on Microsoft, which is launching Windows Vista and Office 2007 at the end of January. But the company will be talking about more than just its operating system and productivity suite. Product groups from across the company will be represented.

Of course, we'll also be reporting on other big news from the show, as well as trends in digital entertainment, Internet television, high-definition video, gaming and gadgets that might actually be useful -- like maybe a digital foot massager.

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